Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday July 23rd 2019

Archives

FemFest Returns

By Savannah Evanoff

Every feminist journey starts somewhere.

For Kirstin Norris, the founder of FemFest, it was with her mom.

“From the get-go, she made sure that I knew I could do and be whatever I wanted,” Norris said. “She taught me that I had autonomy over my body and allowed me the freedom to make my own choices.”

Norris’ aunts took her to marches in Washington D.C., and her church’s leaders didn’t reinforce traditional gender stereotypes. Throughout her life, many people played a part in helping her figure out what she believed and why she believed it.

“I can be a bit hot-headed,” Norris said. “When I started figuring out how to articulate my frustrations with a patriarchal society, I realized that not only was I a feminist, but I was a feminist with an urge to act.”

In response, she immersed herself in politics, community issues and women’s issues.

That’s how a 20-something-year-old Norris birthed FemFest, she said—out of this “crazy urge” to involve the community in something she passionately believed in.

Never in a million years did Norris think FemFest would come to fruition. It was a pipe dream at best, she said.

As the event—a multi-day celebration of intersectional feminism — approaches its third year, Norris reminisces about the first. She remembers it touching so many individuals and the joy of just getting to hang out with like-minded people.

“It was just really special,” Norris said. “FemFest is my baby. I pour my heart and soul into it. It is a labor of love. The really cool thing is to be able to do it with people I care about and for us to do this together and for us to present to Pensacola something that is so important to us. Really, it’s a privilege.”

“It’s the most fun week of the year for me,” she said.

If Your Feminism Isn’t Intersectional…
This year’s FemFest will feature familiar events—such as Womanhood in Lavender, which is an evening of performances by female artists of color—and new ones, such as a Trans Art Expo.

Intersectional feminism is a term coined by black feminist scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw.

Norris thinks that tidbit of information is the most important.

“It’s a concept from a black woman, but so many of us have no idea who she is,” Norris said. “So often, white voices take over the narrative written by people of color, and the cause becomes gentrified. It’s vital that our feminism is for everyone and that we create spaces in which everyone can not only participate but feel safe and accepted and celebrated.”

It has to be more inclusive, Norris urges.

“You can’t just pull up a chair at the table and expect everyone to sit down when what’s being served isn’t offered to everyone,” Norris said.

Haley Morrissette, the founder of Womanhood in Lavender, developed an understanding of feminism and its intersectional nature as a little girl. Her parents promoted black culture and worked to create a better community.

“I’ve always had conversations with my parents like, ‘What does it mean to be a black girl in our society?’” Morrissette said. “I’ve also had to witness what that means for other people and how it’s hurt them and how it’s hurt me as far as oppression goes and why it’s so important for all of us to be a part of it.”

Morrissette has always seen the big picture.

“This isn’t just me that’s experiencing this; this is everybody,” Morrissette said. “This is all the people that look like me and share parts of my identity.”

Morrissette often looks to her heritage and family for inspiration.

“My father’s father was one of the first black foremen at International Paper, which was formerly Champion,” Morrissette said. “My grandmother, my mother’s mother—who lives around the corner from me and she’s my queen—she was the first black female cashier in NAS Whiting Field’s Navy Exchange.”

“I internalize those stories because it helps me keep going,” Morrissette said. “Like, ‘This is the right thing. You’re supposed to make joy for people and celebrate heritage and being able to overcome so much stuff and having to make it different for everybody.’”

Having role models is essential to intersectional feminism. Women can’t have liberation or visualize what it looks like unless they have people to keep them hopeful, Morrissette said. Her mother did that.

“Thinking back on the things she had to go through and the things she did in her life, it keeps me going, Morrissette said. It’s super important we always have our female role models right here at the forefront and that we’re hearing their voices and we have their stories to go back and listen to, read or just think about.”

FEMFEST 2019
Details: facebook.com/femfestpcola

———————————————————————

FEMFEST 2019 EVENTS

—Trans Art Expo—
Devin Cole was ready for something fresh.

The president of STRIVE—which stands for Social Trans Initiative and serves the transgender community in Escambia County—wanted the organization’s FemFest event to differ from previous years.

“We wanted to do a departure from our normal forum or panel,” Cole said. “We were brainstorming, and we came to the conclusion that transgender artists are not represented enough in the world of art. Usually it’s something very low budget or it’s us, as transgender people, being exploited by other major artists.”

Based on that, STRIVE decided to host the Trans Art Expo, which is an exhibit to display artwork and host performances by transgender people in the community. The event will offer wine and hors d’oeuvres for a suggested donation.

“We wanted to highlight the art we create, our words and our struggles played out through music or visual mediums or poetry,” Cole said.

Cole wasn’t sure how much participation they would have.

“We were a little nervous at first that we weren’t going to get a big response. Maybe people are gun shy and don’t want to promote their art,” Cole said. “We’ve had about nine or 10 people respond, and that’s good for our first time out of the gate.”

The event will feature poetry readings, live music, plus sculptures and paintings on display. Everyone who submitted has multiple works.

“Even though it’s only nine or 10 people, it’s going to be a full exposition,” Cole said.

The idea for an art exposition came from a simple Google search for transgender artists.

“The transgender people you see in media—there are a few, but there’s not a lot,” Cole said. “We want to bring up all aspects of transgender life and put it out for people to see, to let people know, ‘Yes, we are here. We’re creating art. It’s great.’”

The art expo will cover the entire spectrum of transgender people, which is vast, Cole said.

“In order to fully appreciate this exhibition, people are going to have to unravel their minds from the binary way of thinking,” Cole said. “To see things beyond male and female, to see gender fluidity, queerness, no gender whatsoever, non-binary.”

Proceeds will benefit STRIVE and its mission to provide materials to transgender people in need.

“What that looks like is if somebody who is transgender needs food or transportation to and from work, we try to help them,” Cole said. “Our main goal is our emergency housing program. We’re working to create a network of people who can provide safe and secure housing for homeless transgender people in the area because there are currently no shelters in this area that will accept transgender people. They will not accept us as we are.”

TRANS ART EXPO
WHAT: Art exhibit and performances hosted by STRIVE
WHEN: 6-9 p.m. Thursday, April 25
WHERE: Artel Gallery, 223 S. Palafox
COST: Suggested donation, proceeds will benefit STRIVE
DETAILS: facebook.com/socialtransinitiative

—Womanhood in Lavender—
Morrissette dreamt up Womanhood in Lavender—literally.

“I had a dream about black women washed in purple and performances,” Morrissette said. “It was almost like a juke joint. It was beautiful and very central to art and everything that’s magical about black women.”

Norris approached Morrissette a week or two later with the idea for the first FemFest, and from there, Morrissette manifested her dream.

“I said, ‘Can I please have a show that’s just black women performing?’” Morrissette said. “She was like, ‘What do you mean, can you do it? Do it.’”

Womanhood in Lavender is one of FemFest’s most popular and well-attended events, Norris said. The event features a diverse collection of female performers of color—such as singers, actors, dancers, poets and visual artists.

It was held at chizuko the first year, and they outgrew the space instantly.

“There were people standing all the way outside the door still trying to hear the women performing,” Morrissette said.

For more space, she moved the event next door to the Historic Bunny Club its second year.

“Low and behold, we still had a huge crowd show up,” Morrissette said. “I’m still mind blown by it. I can’t even begin to say how much I’ve underestimated the support.”

The 2018 Womanhood in Lavender was the first that was divided into acts with a theme. It was titled “Four Women,” after the Nina Simone song.

“It really focused on the stereotypes of black women in society and how we embrace those stereotypes in order for them to work for us,” Morrissette said. “I want people to get away from viewing black women as one solitary thing. I want them to see how encompassing black womanhood really is.”

Morrissette wrote and performed a monologue. Her segment featured a poet, singer and burlesque dancer.

“One of those stereotypes was the jezebel, how we hypersexualize black women,” Morrissette said. “I wrote a monologue talking about how I do love sex and that is OK. I’m also a mother. I’m someone’s therapist. It’s OK if I drip of sex all the time. That is gonna be OK, and you’ll have to deal with it. That doesn’t distort my magic. It doesn’t make me an object. It makes me a person.”

This year’s theme is “Ode to Black Girl Magic”—shout out to CaShawn Thompson, who popularized the phrase, Morrissette said.

“Black girl magic is basically resiliency,” Morrissette said. “It takes black women from every socioeconomic class status—any type of background—not just cis-gender black women, but also queer black women, trans black women. All black women have this certain magic deep within us that makes us able to be human but still overcome.”

But the magic is not otherworldly, she explained.

“It’s not from space. The magic is embedded in our natural resources,” Morrissette said. “Being able to access that that’s already in us—it helps us keep going.”

This year’s event will feature rappers, singers, actors, poets, photographers, artists and DJ Too Easy (Dee Johnson)—who has been part of every Womanhood in Lavender. All the vendors are black female-owned businesses, such as UnicornCandy, which will provide signature drinks.

Proceeds will benefit the Black Women Empower Collective. Morrissette is its community director.

“We have annual community baby showers for black and brown parents that wouldn’t be able to have baby showers,” Morrissette said. “We do them during the summer here, in Tallahassee, and we’re working on expanding those to a couple of other cities in Florida.”

WOMANHOOD IN LAVENDER
WHAT: A night of performance art built around the theme an “Ode to Black Girl Magic”
WHEN: 7-10 p.m. Friday, April 26
WHERE: Belmont DeVilliers Cultural Center/ Historic Bunny Club, 500 W. Belmont St.
COST: $7 suggested donation at the door, proceeds will benefit Black Women Empower Collective
DETAILS: facebook.com/blackwomenempowercollective

—“Lysistrata” presented by Arrant Knavery—
Ashley McGlothren couldn’t have planned it any better.

When Norris asked the nonprofit theater company Arrant Knavery, Inc. to participate in FemFest in 2018, McGlothren had the ideal performance.

“I had already been working on a female-centric Shakespeare show I was writing, and it all fell into place,” McGlothren said. “It was perfect last year, so we decided to come back this year.”

Arrant Knavery, Inc. will return this year with another fitting performance, the Greek comedy “Lysistrata” featuring an all-female, six-member cast. The theater’s board voted for Aristophanes’ ancient play, because its theme fits well with FemFest.

The plot is about the women of Greece coming together to change their political climate.

“The way the women change the political climate is they’re trying to end the Peloponnesian War,” McGlothren said. “They refused to have sex with their husbands until their husbands signed a treaty with Sparta. Traditionally, this show is about sex, but we tried to concentrate more on the strength of womanhood and the powerful things women can do when they come together.”

McGlothren is excited because Arrant Knavery hasn’t done a Greek show before.

“We like to do classical and under-produced works, so this is our first time branching out with Greek theater,” McGlothren said. “So we’re really excited to show what we’ve worked on and bring a message of female solidarity to the community.”

LYSISTRATA
WHAT: A comedic production featuring an all-female cast
WHEN: 7-9 p.m. Saturday, April 27
WHERE: Pensacola Opera, 75 S. Tarragona St.
COST: $10 (plus $1.26 fee at eventbrite.com), proceeds will benefit the Lakeview Victim Services and Trauma Recovery Program
DETAILS: facebook.com/arrantknavery

—Self Love Sunday—
Norris took a note from #SelfCareSunday for this year’s Sunday event.

She and Madison Anstett co-organized the inaugural Self Love Sunday, in which guests can enjoy different booths promoting self-love and care. The event was a response to one notion culture perpetuates—we aren’t good enough, Norris said.

“We’re shamed for being too fat, having cellulite, going gray, getting wrinkles, struggling with mental health,” Norris said. “And then we’re bombarded by beauty products, diet pills, photo filters, and we spend our days staring at ‘beautiful’ people on screens and then wonder why we’re depressed. “

“Self Love Sunday is the remedy to all of the negative energy that surrounds us,” she told Inweekly.

The evening of positivity will feature music from the all-female grunge band Anti-Queens and a signature drink.

“There is going to be a massage booth and a glitter booth, where you can get all kinds of glitterfied,” Norris said. “Glitter on your hair, glitter on your face—make yourself feel sparkly. We will also have a photo booth where you can use different props and take some fun photos with your friends.”

After three days of FemFest events, this one will be low-key.

“It’s going to be a really fun event—nothing really heavy, nothing intense to deal with,” Norris said. “We wanted to create this space to celebrate who you are just as you are.”

SELF LOVE SUNDAY
WHAT: A body-positivity event featuring self-care booths, live music and more
WHEN: 7-10 p.m. Sunday, April 28
WHERE: chizuko, 506 W. Belmont St.
COST: $5 at the door, proceeds will benefit the Lakeview Victim Services and Trauma Recovery Program
DETAILS: facebook.com/femfestpcola

———————————————————–

Cover Photo Credits

Photographer: Natalie Allgyer
@nallgyer / photosbynallgyer.com

Models: Amanda McAdams @aylajoie
Jordan Washington @jvyythegoddess
Jessica Emerson @jessicaaemerson

Hair Stylist: Alexis Jackson 
@badd_hairday

Makeup Artist: Karen Rush 
@krush_esthetics

Wardrobe: Saturn Collection Vintage
@saturncollection / saturncollectionvintage.com

Wardrobe Stylist: Anastasia Moray 
 @howdypouty

Earrings: Reema Eqab
@convenientfeels / etsy.com/shop/convenientfeels