Our first set of wheels was a trailer house. The "good plates" were the coated rather than the single-ply paper plates. New school clothes meant a six-pack of Hanes, but at least we had two TVs--one with sound, one with picture. We weren't members of the jet set, but we weren't unaware of the social niceties that are revered in the South. A lady speaks in a calm, low tone. She sits up straight with her knees together, ankles demurely crossed. She would never pursue a beau; they must court her. She knows when not to wear white. And if our grandmother is right, a lady must know how to make sourdough and the perfect pecan pie if she ever expects a man to look at her. So, one might expect a get-together called Ladyfest Biblebelt to be full of workshops on doily-making, the Good Book and how to marry money. We don't know how ladylike of us it is to say so, but you'd be hella wrong.
"Traditionally, Southern belles were supposed to be graceful and polite and not express any emotions that were not considered polite," says Lovely Murrell, co-organizer of Ladyfest Biblebelt. "Sometimes, being a woman in the South, it's very different organizing politically than someone from up north." Up north--Olympia, Washington, to be more exact--was the birthplace of the original Ladyfest in 2000. In the following years, that fest inspired dozens of other Ladyfests across the United States and the globe. 2003 brought the first Ladyfest to the Lone Star State, Ladyfest Texas, held in Austin.
Though Ladyfest Biblebelt advertises itself as a "not-for-profit (non-religious) feminist community-building festival," Murrell is quick to add that the f-word shouldn't scare people away. "We're letting people know that, hey, feminism doesn't have to be all uptight; it can also be fun and very creative," she says. As fun as a "DJing for Dummies" seminar with DJ Kelly Trance of Oklahoma's Iconoclast Crew. As creative as learning to make a wallet out of duct tape. Murrell will present a workshop on "basic, affordable health care" using herbs, vitamins and relaxation techniques.
Other events include an art show/meet-and-greet and a festival of short films. Local and traveling bands, with musical styles ranging from country to punk (all lady-filled or lady-friendly), will perform throughout the weekend. On Saturday night, you can get a little funky at the Ladyfest Breakdancing Battle and DJ Tournament. And the festivities are open to all. "Some people, they see the word 'Ladyfest' and they automatically think 'men-hating women,' and that's not what we're about at all," Murrell says. She says that those who think feminism has won, has maybe even outlived its goal, don't see the long road to equality that still lies ahead. "People are convinced that we're done, that feminism has served its purpose and that we don't need to do anything else," she says. "There are those of us who come from not only being women, but come from other traditionally oppressed groups, who know that's not true." And that's why Ladyfest Biblebelt proceeds will go toward building Safe Space, a community house in Denton that will provide a safe environment for people of any gender, race or orientation to gather. And maybe in the future--or so the Ladyfest Biblebelt organizers hope--the groups that assemble at Safe Space will spawn more events like Ladyfest, events designed to influence progress toward equality and empowerment.
Ladyfest Biblebelt supporters might be first to agree with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's adage, "Well-behaved women rarely make history." Stirring things up, brainstorming new ideas and fomenting change are prime objectives of these ladies. "Basically, the reason why we're doing this is for those outspoken women who really have really strong characters and have done what they wanted to do despite their challenges," Murrell says. "We really wanted to throw this festival to let them know, hey, you're not alone; there are other girls out here like you." And if Ladyfest Biblebelt can reach like-minded lasses, then it's quite likely to make history.