Herstory of Ladyfest

Ladyfests are annual, non-profit events organised mainly by womyn; they feature bands, musical and political groups, lecturers, spoken word and visual artists, workshops and discussion groups and are organised purely by volunteers. The events are focused mainly on encouraging the talent of womyn and girls, and some workshops are womyn-only, so as to make them feel more comfortable, however, main music events and films/art exhibits are open to everyone.

Ladyfest is also meant to be a place where visitors can discuss and take action on their views on topics such as sexism, equal rights, art, media and others, attend shows by both female and male performers or just have a good time in a space where they feel comfortable to be themselves.

The origins of Ladyfest developed from the DIY ethic movement combined with inclusive feminist philosophy. Ladyfest drew inspiration from Riot Grrrl, an early 1990s grassroots movement also originating in Olympia, that put a feminist face on male-dominated punk rock culture. The first ever Ladyfest was conducted in Olympia, Washington in August, 2000 with over 2000 people attending. Prime motivators in the event were Sleater-Kinney, Cat Power, and Neko Case.

The following year similar events took place across the US (Ladyfest Midwest in Chicago and Ladyfest East in New York) and also in Glasgow, Scotland (Ladyfest Scotland). For the next three years, grrrls from the US and European countries also organised their own, and the trend is definitely not over yet. Many Ladyfests have sprung worldwide since 2000: 64 have already been conducted, and more than 25 are scheduled to take place in 2005 and 2006.

All Ladyfest festivals have in common is their name and philosophy: they are tailored by grassroots volunteer organisers to reflect each unique community with a wide array of arts, music, film, workshops and events. The ideals of antisexism and antihomophobia are addressed throughout the fests and expressed in many ways, ranging from aggressive hardcore music to gentle talks to each other during a workshop.

Ladyfests activities have included “Dismantling racism and subverting privileges” and “I’d Rather be Fat Than Brainwashed” workshops, guitar, skateboarding and car mechanics lessons, open mike sessions,dance parties, brunches and picnics, knitting circles, zine-making sessions and discussions featuring alternative musicians, authors and scholars. But despite different organisers, logos and lineups all Ladyfests have shared Ladyfest Olympia’s mission of a womyn-organised festival: to celebrate womyn’s contribution, as well as to educate, empower and inspire participants to “go home and plan one in your own town.”

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