Ladyfest started in 2000 in Olympia, Wash., the erstwhile birthplace of riot-grrrl. It was organized by members of seminal riot-grrl bands Heavens to Betsy and Bratmobile alongside others in Oly’s artistic community, and it was a weekend festival of performances, workshops, panels and more. While riot-grrl was a crucial proving ground in the early 90s for radical women in punk rock, the movement’s aim was not to produce a cookie cutter riot-grrl army. Tobi Vail of Bikini Kill writes on her blog that the point of riot-grrl was to take the principle – that women can, and should, organize and celebrate their own power and creativity – and shape it for one’s own life. This is, essentially, what Ladyfest has done.
Since 2000, there have been Ladyfests all over America and the world. There is no centralized Ladyfest organization – ladyfest.org is more than 6 years out of date – and so Ladyfests pop up sporadically whenever and wherever ladies & lady-identifying folks feel the impetus. The different gendered terminologies here are interesting, and I think very deliberate. While the word “lady” has myriad historical connotations, and might conjure a lot of upper-class and genteel ideas about how to perform femininity, it’s also used as an alternative to the “women/womyn/wimmin” dilemma, which “riot-grrl” also plays on. Ladyfests have always been open and supportive of all female-assigned and/or female-identifying folks, and are more interested in smashing patriarchal organization than in creating a gender-essentialist idea of what a lady is or is not capable of.
The proceeds from these DIY festivals often go to a local organization, space or initiative. This weekend is the first one ever in Boston, and all proceeds are going directly to the Eastern Massachusetts Abortion Access Fund. A lot of the onus of Ladyfests is on action. The organizers are actively forging a space in which women can be creative, but also organize and create the change necessary for their immediate communities.
In the last 12 years since Ladyfest began, the Internet has changed a lot of the ways that ladies can find each other, fundraise, and share their work. Whereas when riot-grrl was first starting, the only way to know about it was to pick up a zine at a show. Now a quick Internet search can unearth everything one ever wanted to know about the history of Ladyfests and DIY feminist spaces. One can even hear a sample of what a night at Ladyfest Boston might sound like by listening to their mixtape at ladyfest.bandcamp.com.
Although the times have made proliferating a message easier in a lot of ways, a polarizing national political moment have made these sorts of events a necessity. Times and methods change, but history and politics have a tendency to repeat themselves. It’s no coincidence that it’s an election year, that the economy’s slumping, and that there are vicious national attacks on women’s health; riot-grrrl, after all, went from an idea to a movement under similar circumstances in 1992. With the news this week that the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer foundation is withdrawing funding for breast exams from Planned Parenthood, it is further necessary for women to take health and reproductive justice into their own hands, and seriously.
For all of you in the Boston area, Ladyfest is happening at the Cambridge YMCA in Central Square, starting tonight, Feb. 3, through Sunday Feb. 5; more information is available at http://ladyfestboston.blogspot.com/. There are Ladyfests set for New Orleans and Ottawa in coming months, and if you’re elsewhere, DIY!