Mocking the institution of a women's music festival is like shooting fish in a barrel. The briefest mention of Lilith Fair, with its dreadlocked, peasant-blouse-clad granola girls and cozy sisterly vibe, and eyes start rolling. Events like Lilith -- and its esteemed older auntie, the Michigan Womyn's fest -- attract a lotta flak within circles that you'd think would embrace them.
The Michigan fest has been embroiled in heated debates (if not all-out boycotts) over its stuck-in-the-70s separatist politics, which alienate a lot of transgendered folks and their allies. At the other extreme, the late Lilith's been hit by allegations of hypocrisy that stem from its boy-welcoming environment.
No wonder feminists can't shake the humourless tag.
The novelty of girlie music wore off around the time the Rolling Stone Year Of The Woman covers left newsstands. And say what you want about Britney -- she and her Destiny's Child pop-tart siblings are making the charts a femme-friendly place.
It's enough to make a girl wonder if there's any point in having a chickstravaganza of a concert these days. So why, I want to know, are the organizers of this weekend's Ladyfest -- brilliant women, all -- delivering another estro-charged event?
Maggie MacDonald, part of Barcelona Pavilion and a performer at Ladyfest, is horrified by the question.
"We need things like Ladyfest so that women have a chance to breed their artistic pursuits, 'cause we're not always encouraged to do so. We're not even encouraged to be human beings!
"So many people claim they're anti-feminist and for "equal rights,' but it's crazy -- women can't fart, women can't shit. We're nowhere near being on an equal footing at a basic level."
Trust a semiotician to break things down. Named after a Mies van der Rohe structure, Barcelona Pavilion create revolutionary music for geeks who like to think while they boogie.
Anchored by a two-person early Talking Heads/New Orderish electric bass attack, homemade shirts and beat-heavy laptop wizardry, the two-year-old band (rounded out by Katarina Gligorijevic, Hidden Camera Steve Kado and computer boy Ben Stimpson) raises hell by challenging the status quo.
"We're all about growing up and getting to work," offers Gligorijevic. "Quit whining in your bedroom about your epistemic boundedness. Get out there!"
Inspired by the original Ladyfest run by Riot Grrrls in Olympia, Washington, Shannon Mitchell and Cheryl Steele (both members of Toronto grrrl-punks the Plath) decided to organize their own version. A pilot one-day Ladyfest touched down at the 360 a year ago. The 2002 version is hugely expanded. The posters invite all female-identified individuals to attend and check out the workshops (everything from alternative menstrual products to self-defence), film screenings (G.B. Jones's Yo-Yo Gang is a highlight) and awesome music. Proceeds go to Interval House, a shelter for battered women.
The Ladyfest lineup is almost 50 per cent boy-based, but that's the beauty of the art-packed event. One of its goals is to strip the woman-centred weekend of its exclusionary connotations.
Mitchell and Steele are adamant about the anti-separatist stance. These ain't no man-hating feminists. They're also -- importantly -- trans-positive feminists and stress the importance of consciousness-raising workshops and giving transwomen like local writer-activist Trish Salah (a spoken-word artist with an upcoming book) a voice.
"We tried really hard to get representatives of all different sorts of music, genders and sexualities," declares Steele. "I have mixed feelings about Michigan. They're going back to 70s politics, and we can appreciate that and learn from that. But times are changing, and not to include all people who identify as women in a women's festival is ridiculous."
OK, so why call it a women's fest? Does that pigeonhole women's art?
"Everyone's gonna get pigeonholed eventually," admits Mitchell. "But this isn't womyn-with-a-y's music. The other day someone asked me how I felt about the "new' feminism. I do think there's a new breed, and that's what we're representing. This isn't Lilith Fair."
LADYFEST featuring the Barcelona Pavilion, the Plath, the A Cups, Rocket Tits, LAL and others, at KYTES (466 Bathurst), Saturday and Sunday (September 7 and 8), from 11:30 am to 4 pm, and at the Raging Spoon (761 Queen West) from 4:30 pm to 11 pm. Day pass $12, weekend pass $20. 416-926-1062. For full schedule, see www.ladyfesttoronto.cjb.net.