Elevate Difference

Clit Fest (8/7/2009)

Inglewood, California

Clit Fest Los Angeles: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. I didn’t know what to expect leading up to the event, which featured bands and documentaries on day one and workshops and more bands on days two and three. I obsessed about it for weeks: what if the ladies present thought I wore too much makeup and perfume; what if they were feminists that looked down upon that kind of thing? How would they treat the male friend accompanying me? Would he feel unwelcome? And lastly, the proverbial Los Angeles question: What if we couldn’t find parking?

The quick rundown: No one gave a shit about how I looked, there were other lovely men at day one, and parking was a cinch because there were only about thirty-five people in attendance at the beginning of the night. According to the event’s founders, Clit Fest is a national event dedicated to “womyn,” which they characterize as those born or self-identified as female, queer, gender non-conforming, trans, and people/youth of color. I guess it’s fair to say that women’s rights are really human rights in the eyes of the organizers. The grassroots event aims to promote self sustainability, community, consciousness, and a safe space for all marginalized people. That’s all well and good, but I had some issues with the event.

I often grapple with whether or not I should be critical of an event put on by other feminists in an effort to bring people together, share ideas, and have discussions. It reminds me of a conversation I had with another woman about the presidential elections. She was horrified to learn I was voting for Obama instead of Clinton. She kept saying, “But she’s a woman! She’s a democratic woman! Why the hell wouldn’t you give her your vote?” I’m of the opinion that it’s a step in the wrong direction to vote for a woman simply because she’s a woman. This is very similar to the way that I’m not going to praise an event for and by feminists (not even one called Clit Fest) just because it’s put on for and by “womyn.” If it’s bad, it’s bad—and I, somewhat regretfully, must call bullshit.

The MC for the night, Vanessa Marin, introduced three documentaries whose sum total lasted no longer than thirty minutes. They appeared to have been made by very inexperienced people because they lacked meaning, context, focus (both literal focus—as in they were blurry and hurt my eyes—and focus as in, “what the fuck is the point of this thing?), and a lot of other necessary elements that make a successful documentary.

I stood around after the films ended feeling odd, uncomfortable, and unsure about whether or not this event was really meaningful. Maybe I’d grown old and jaded. (My friend and I felt like the oldest people there—and we are not old.) Maybe I lacked the optimism I once had that would have told me this event was important and meaningful and necessary. Marin instructed everyone to sign a wall covered in a large piece of paper. “Tell someone about your shitty day, teach someone three chords, it doesn’t matter. Just leave proof that you were here tonight,” Marin said. I didn’t sign the wall.

Fifteen-year-old Tina had spiky boy hair and wore a cardigan with a Bikini Kill patch. She'd written “pro-choice” all over her backpack. Maybe she would have loved watching performances by her high school heroes Naked Aggression, or even the newly formed Adelitas, Punch, Bruise Violet, Rabia Al Systema, and Los Sangronas y el Cabron, and thought it to be revolutionary. But twenty-four-year-old Tina—who must worry about paying bills, who will no longer have health insurance in a month, who obsesses over the nightly news, who has deadlines and personal problems and heartache—didn’t stay for all the bands. She only stayed the first, which featured a tall, gangly boy wearing a dress. This older version of Tina didn’t think Clit Fest was enough.

I don’t think it’s revolutionary to be a girl in a punk band. I don’t think calling something “Clit Fest” makes it a feminist event. I no longer understand the importance of having a scene. I think girls shouldn’t just strive to form girl bands, but rather be girls in good bands. I think Kurt Cobain wore dresses nearly twenty years ago, and it’s no longer a shocking sight. I think Clit Fest lacked the maturity, the organization, and the eloquence to be meaningful.

My friend Ernie and I stood around watching the band when I heard a girl yell to her friend, “What’s with all the gutter punks here tonight?” I looked over at a young man, smelling of the street, and standing there in his bare, dirty feet. Once away from the noise of Chuco’s Justice Center, Ernie said appearing barefoot in public "just wasn’t sanitary," and it was at that moment I realized I really am just too fucking old for Clit Fest—because I agreed with him adamantly.

Written by: Tina Vasquez, September 3rd 2009

I am 19 year old riot grrl, and i will not "retired" till we get the ERA passed.

I agree with you, Tina; I am also a 24-year-old "retired riot grrrl", as I've heard a friend say. What's next for us, I wonder? How do riot grrrls enjoy their retirement?

Although I definitely empathize with the frustrations Tina feels with the lack of cohesiveness and focus that this fest seemed to have, I do think the music portion of the fest has some sort of bearing.

As a woman in an all-women punk band, I can say that there is still a revolutionary aspect to being any kind of minority in a punk band. Punk still remains a largely male, white, and straight scene, and as someone who is very immersed in it, it is few and far between that I happen upon a band with a woman, let alone more than one woman, in it unless I seek it out. Not only that, but my band is largely tokenized, sexualized, and belittled by men that are at our shows. It is an uphill battle, regardless of the fact that it is over a decade since Riot Grrrl.

Perhaps her mood was spoiled by the earlier aspects of the fest, but I felt as though Tina was being a little harsh, or at least unappreciative, of the fact that the people who organized this fest were able to put on a largely women-based line-up. I'm confused by her side comments of calling out women to be in good bands, since she didn't stay for the band portion of the fest. It seems like a blanket statement of women in music, and since it appears as though she is not deeply involved in music today, I'm unsure of where the basis of this is coming from.

Hey Arnette-

FR doesn't censor our writers, so the 15/24 comparison wouldn't be cut out just because it may come off as patronizing to some. That being said, Tina contextualizes the age comparison in a way that lets the reader know she's not saying the event is complete shit, just that it's not the life space she's in anymore. In many ways I feel she comes across as self-reflective and empathetic to the young people who were there because she knows she was once like them. That's certainly not the only reading, though.

The "many types of feminisms" applies to all of the reviews and comments on the blog as a whole, so the mission shouldn't be taken in a vacuum of just this review. :) I think a productive method of understanding, as it pertains to FR, is to have a site where the writers have conflicting viewpoints and readers have more conflicting viewpoints still, and we can all discuss these things in a respectful way--like you and I are doing now. That's what I see as productive. That's how I see the FR mission in action. That's how I see weighty questions like the ones you're asking examined on this site. The review is 600 words max, so it's simply an opening point to larger conversations.

I'm not sure classism can be inverted. Similarly, I think racism and sexism are one way situations because they require the possession of systemic power in addition to prejudice. Therefore, I don't think an accusation of classism can be made against a person who identifies as poor or working class. Class bias? Sure, that's an accusation that can be leveled, and I'll openly admit I've got class bias and feel antagonism toward upper and middle classes. No doubt this is based in my own working class upbringing. I feel similarly antagonistic toward others with privilege: i.e., men, heterosexuals, folks in the developed world, white people (despite being white myself, but I won't go into the psychological aspects of that feeling here-LOL!), etc. But I don't write these people off at the jump just b/c they have privilege. Really, my anger and disappointment only comes out when I see somewhat utilizing their privilege in a way that is destructive to others. It's not a constant or generalizable feeling. All of that is to say that I'm fallible, and I try to maintain an awareness of my flaws in order to sublimate them into something constructive. I have a suspicion (based on your thoughtful responses) you do too.

The questions you raise in your third post are really interesting, and I probably need to ponder more over those and investigate them further before making any definitive statements about them, but my inclination is to say it has something to do with the denial of and/or the desire to wish away their privilege (or at least being identified as such by others)... that they haven't figured out how to wield their privilege in a constructive way that can break down oppressive barriers... that they've got guilt they're trying to work through. Also, some folks romanticize poverty, the same way some white suburban kids romanticize urban street gangs. No doubt the answer is not monolithic. These are just random thoughts jumping into my mind... more like a free association than analytical thinking. I wonder what you think some of the possibilities are though.

Why do some MC and UC kids "escape" or reinvent themselves through class tourism? How might that experience alter or reinforce their positions of privilege? I believe that an effective feminism (and by now I think we all recognize that we need a new term for it) acknowledge that the travails and expectations of affluent people are legitamite as well, and we have to investigate them in order to fully understand how privilege gets abused. In light of these questions, I don't find the review especially "critical" in the sense of "interrogative." I think attacking kids who "wear poverty like it's a Gap T-shirt" overlooks the human impulses beyond that desire to flee class labeling, and brushes aside some important questions.

You're also right that it is impossible to be exhaustive in this space, and your quick rundown of social justice theory is interesting. I maintain that some of the comments here operate under inverted classist assumptions, and they are all the more insidious because the class labeling reinforces class hierarchies from the "bottom up," simply reversing existing class antagonisms. Of course a woman understands what it is like to be a woman more than a man does; certainly poor people are in a better position to interrogate that gritty underbelly of privilege, social oppression. But this site credits itself with investigating "many types of feminisms," by which I read "not only the feminisms of the lower classes." Doesn't a more productive method of understanding oppression take people of all class positions into account? Don't we look to cultural constructions of masculinity to understand the history of women's oppression? Shouldn't we ask what our society demands from its more affluent members, and how those systems might recreate systems of social hierarchies within each new generation? I am not calling for a blanket label. I just think that using class labeling as dismissal, exploring some dimensions of class while brushing off others, runs counter to the expressed mission of the site. I think a more productive question to ask is: what is the nature and effect of economic privilege?

Thank you for your response, Mandy. I am Anonymous #2, but I'm using a name now to seem less impersonal :)

Your reasons for the ineffectiveness of CL are instructive, and you're right to state that looking at those types of events as a sort of adolescent phase is patronizing. I think, however, that you overlook the patronizing tone your reviewer has adopted in her reponse to the event. "Fifteen-year old Tina..." "Twenty-four year old Tina..." "Too fucking old for Clit Fest..." "We felt like the oldest people there..." Age is central to the reviewer's perception of the event. The reviewer suggests that the CF is something she would have liked in her adolescence and identifies with the movement as such. Now in her early twenties, however, the reviewer takes on a sort of world-weary detachment, suggesting that someone with the responsibilities we typically associate with adulthood distance her from this scene. I was simply trying to point out that if fringe (or pseudo-fringe) movements were a phase for her, perhaps they continue to be so for some of the attendees at the event.

I think a major problem in social justice movements is the desire to make them palatable and embraceable for larger numbers of people (critical mass theory), but this is counter-intuitive because it requires a lot of one-sided compromise in order to be widely accepted and once something is widely accepted it's no longer transgressive. We see this with feminism today, how it has been co-opted into the mainstream, where it is watered down and easily consumable. As a result, feminism (or punk) is no longer an effective label, aside from (as you wrote) giving people a box they can put themselves into to feel less alone.

I think another problem is the primary focus on fixing what is broken (which is, imho, beyond repair) instead of creating alternatives that live up to our own personal and political ideologies.

As to the authenticity issue... I do think poor people have particular insights into poverty that middle and upper class people do not have in the same way I think women know more about what it's like to be a woman than a man does. And I do think that those who experience the confluence of oppressions better understand how that confluence might function, even when those issues are different from their own. Experience is a big part of learning. Now, this doesn't mean it's impossible for one to have privilege and understand or struggle against the -isms. Of course they can, and it is necessary to be self-aware (to admit to having that privilege instead of denying it) and to have the ability to scrutinize one's own privilege in a social justice context to avoid (if possible) enacting that privilege and to wield that privilege in ways that benefit those without that privilege. Class labeling is not oppressive. It's honest. Disappearing difference through a process of homogeneity is oppressive because it gives value to one standard to which all must adhere to. I don't read this review or the comments as "looking down on the CL participants for their economic affiliations." I read it as being necessarily critical of people who wear poverty like it's a Gap t-shirt (and similarly have the option to shed it at will) to increase their oppression cred.

Gone over word count, gotta post in two sections…

Anon #2 (It makes me feel so impersonal talking to a nameless source.): The questions you're raising are great ones, and I'm going to haphazardly and imperfectly attempt to address them in a concise way cuz to fully do justice would take thousands of words, and that ain't possible here. :)

These events are ineffective because they do nothing to counter the systemic nature of oppression and instead actually replicate oppressive hierarchies and poor behavior. Despite the central tenet of second wave feminism being that the personal is political, in practice feminists frequently separate their politics from their actions. For example, one thing Tina didn't mention in the review is how the organizers promised to answer questions she had about the event then blew her off, which is really disrespectful, particularly to someone who both paid to attend the show and is helping to publicize it. This makes me feel as though the political consciousness wasn't entirely there for the event organizers and that came through in the way the show took place and who attended. There was something else the show's organizers wanted to gain that had little to do with the feminist politics put forth in the event's name. I won't speculate as to what that is because I don't have enough info to do so.

I think you're right to call this event reactionary, though reactionary to what exactly I'm unsure since both feminism and punk are no longer outside of the mainstream. Calling it a "necessary phase for younger people" (however true that may be) is a bit patronizing. I think its less a matter of age, per se, and more a matter of experience with organizing and knowledge of theories of resistance in understanding of the multiple ways oppression functions and the multiple ways of addressing these issues inside and outside of the system. Most of us don't grow up in environments that foster critical revolutionary thinking, so this is where the age thing comes into play. If we establish ourselves as "revolutionaries" in our teens when we get a handle on our own individual identities (as separate from our parents or whoever raised us) then we bumble around following old models of resistance in our twenties to find out what's effective and ineffective while also figuring out how the world works and what we're good at in the process then by our thirties we have a pretty decent grasp on what the more effective strategies are, but we're too f'ing burned out to care anymore so we make do by recycling or buying a hybrid or something, but leave the organizing scene. (Aside: This is an extremely crude--and cynical--analogy and in no way should it be read as the only way this process happens!!!)

And what's more--and I'll stop here, because I don't want to hog the forum--isn't there an underlying assumption here in these responses that the participants at the CF are less "authentic" because they are middle-class, or upper-middle-class? Upper class appropriation of lower-class lifestyles in the service of rebellion is as old as the class system itself. That doesn't mean that MC and UC kids don't experience the (real) issues of racism, sexism, gender expectations, sexuality and everything else that can seem especially sharp and painful in adolescence and early adulthood in this (contrived) version of mass demonstration. Class labelling is oppressive for everyone involved, and its seems to me incredibly counterproductive to look down on the CL participants for their economic affiliations. I acknowledge these types of events may not be politically effective, but for some this type of collective escapism might, one day, be beneficial. Much as it apparently helped to the reviewer, who writes of her Bikini-Kill-Cardigan and punk-band days, but has apparently since moved on to more mature endeavors.

The review is condescending, and the reviewer has a right to be so if she pleases. The reviewer did seem to overreact to the criticism a little (I didn't see whatsername suggesting she was an asshole, for instance, and the reviewer didn't include any of those details that suggested the guy's middle class affiliations in the review itself, so the classist reading makes sense to me). What interests me is why these type of events seem ineffective (aside from the obvious hype and showiness and style, etc). Because it is no longer revolutionary to gather in huge groups and protest? Are we placid "third wavers" who back off from reactionary campaigns like these? I agree with the reviewer that the notion of "clit-fest" is silly. I just wonder if that sort of pseudo-backlash and rebellion is a necessary phase for younger people. Maybe it evolves into something more effective with age and experience.

yea i hit up this event with some anxiety and several buddys, we hung out in our car and in a alley where we met a few locals who said the show sucked so far..so we would eventually get in and i can say that i was impressed with a couple of the female fronted groups. FAST N LOUD PUNK N PROUD naked aggression was pretty cool i liked the feel of the show.. maybe u are too old for the scene tina im all for sanitation but a punk shows a punk show=D i think u were expecting too much anyway oioi to everyone!

To me, this is a version of the oft-made argument over whose interpretation is the "right" one: the author's or the readers'. To which I would answer "both".

As someone who was formerly (and tangentially) a part of a punk rock scene, I read this environment as being a neuvo-riot-girl-punk-rock crowd, which is full of middle and upper class white kids who put on airs of poverty without actually being poor because it's "rebellious" or something equally ridiculous. (This is why I was only tangentially involved. I grew up poor, so it didn't seem so f'ing cool to me.) I read Tina's commentary as pointing out the shallow, short-sightedness of this particular kid's decision to forgo footwear in the interest of seeming anti-authoritarian. There are a lot more of those types at punk shows than there are actual homeless youth.

That being said, I recognize that there are many other ways of reading this review.

Would you walk around barefoot in the city of Los Angeles if you didn't have to?

Well that's kind of exactly it, isn't it?

Why are you assuming that a kid who "smells like the streets" doesn't "have to"?

I mean I wasn't there and didn't see this kid but your post is rather jarring. First we're at a concert/gathering with what I figured from your desriptions were the yuppie hipster fauxgressive or newbie white middle class feminist types, who sort of don't know what they're doing just yet.

And then there's this kid who smells like the streets with bare feet and you're like "how gross".

So, for me, reading it, it's like we went from yuppies to a street kid and you're calling him unsanitary and basically saying "I'm so not down with parties that let homeless people in". Would be far from the first time I'd encountered such a perspective. And yah, it IS classist and it IS pretty assholeish.

Maybe that's not how it was, maybe you used some Los Angeles key words that would have tipped me off on some deeper meaning, but that's how this northern Californian read it.

As for you "being a classist" we all have our moments of some such thing, don't we? I'm talking about an instance, not you as a whole person.

It's factual: he DID smell of the street, similar to the way other homeless people do. There's no denying it.

As far as me being classist, that's just silly. He also reeked of beer, which I know to be costly. He also had enough money to have a face full of piercings- which is very expensive and newly dyed purple hair- which I know from experience to be expensive. I think he could have gotten a pair of shoes without much trouble had he chosen to spend his money other ways. We all make choices and he made his, so I'm within reason to point out the stupidity of it.

And to imply that I'm being an asshole for aggreeing that appearing in a dirty warehouse barefoot is unsanitary is just ridiculous. Would you walk around barefoot in the city of Los Angeles if you didn't have to? Would you let your kid? No, why? BECAUSE IT'S UNSANITARY.

Hmmm... I think this is classist only if one assumes this young man is actually poor. If one assumes, as I do, that he's making the choice to wear poverty to deny his own privilege (as many gutter punks do) then Tina's comment is sardonically funny.

I looked over at a young man, smelling of the street, and standing there in his bare, dirty feet. Once away from the noise of Chuco’s Justice Center, Ernie said appearing barefoot in public "just wasn’t sanitary," and it was at that moment I realized I really am just too fucking old for Clit Fest—because I agreed with him adamantly.

Wow, how incredibly classist!

"Too old" has really nothing to do with the ability to turn up your nose at someone "smelling of the street" daring to invade your space with their "unsanitary" feet.

I mean, I was with you up until here and now I'm just sort of blinking at the screen.

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