A common misconception about GiRL FeST is that it is a festival for lesbians. Although the festival is very much about women empowerment, it involves a lot more culture than the lesbian orgy that might come to mind.
The seventh annual GiRL FeST took place on Nov. 11 – 14. Founded seven years ago by Kathryn Xian, an award winning producer and director, GiRL FeST is an all-volunteer non-profit festival. Their goal is to prevent violence against women and girls through education and art, and ultimately change peer culture to prevent any future violence altogether.
“Their message is to raise awareness about violence against women, but they’re not railing you against men or saying that women should be a certain type of person,” Melissa Kim said. Kim is a student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and heard about the festival through her Women’s Studies professor, so she thought she would check it out. “The festival is more about women getting together and, frankly, being themselves and expressing themselves in a way that is comfortable. And ultimately, accepting women and girls for who they are and raising them to be proud of whom they become.”
GiRL FeST hopes that it creates an environment that is conducive for creating a venue where people can network with other people and organizations that are working to end violence against women and girls. “I love how the festival brings everyone together. It’s an exciting environment to be in,” Adrienne Huang said, “especially hearing powerful voices from positive role models who share their experiences through stories, poems, music, film, and art.” Huang is also a student at the University of Hawaii at Manoa and has been attending GiRL FeST for the past three years.
One such role model, actress and comedian Charlyne Yi, most widely known for her role in the film Paper Heart, attended GiRL FeST this year and performed her own comedy sketch. “I enjoy her work because she’s quirky and witty, but she’s completely down to earth at the same time. There’s something natural about her,” Kim said.
Other goals of the festival include raising awareness about the economic and social issues that face women, introducing positive role models to young girls, and of course entertaining the audience with inspiring artistic and intellectual performances and activities that send a positive message.
“The entertaining aspect of Girl Fest is always enjoyable,” Huang said, “however the serious materials, such as social issues that women face in society today or even just domestic violence itself, are not openly discussed most of the time, so these workshops help bring awareness and perspective.”
GiRL FeST educates audiences while also entertaining them with performances and hands-on workshops that range from topics like healing after abuse through artistic therapy, prevention of violence at a communal and individual level, community resources, positive self-expression, body image, identity and empowerment.
Many of the workshops and performances were held at Fresh Café, a little hole in the wall tucked away on Queen Street. Fresh Café is not only a café, but is also home to many live music, art, and poetry events, and is now the new home to GiRL FeST. These events take place in the concert hall in the back of the café, which is like a large warehouse space filled with comfortable couches and tables accessorized with candles at night.
Fresh Café was where one of the more highly anticipated events, the “SPIT-N-SPIN” Poetry Pow & DJ Party, was held. This nighttime poetry session featured the poets Brenda Kwon, Issil Park, Lyz Soto, Michelle Myers, Natasha “T” Miller, Mindy Nettifee and Amber Tamblyn. Each poet ranged from topics of sexuality and gender, love, freedom, religion, race, and even to more personal family stories.
The poetry duo of Mindy Nettifee and Amber Tamblyn, who one might recognize as the actress who played Tibby in the film The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, have been coming to GiRL FeST for the past five years and never fail to entertain. “I’m a poet…” Tamblyn said after many attempts to set up a lamp on stage so that she could read her poems since she forgot her reading glasses. “Kind of.”
The duo read poems that dealt with various female issues, most of them humorously. “I just did a poem about PERIODS,” Nettifee said after a particularly emotional poem. “How much more womanly can you get?”
“I think she perfectly portrays the themes of GiRL FeST best in her latest book of poems, Rise of the Trust Fall. Her poems stay true to who she is as a poet, and showcases the contemporary experience of womanhood,” Huang said. “Most of her dark work displays an array of vibrant, bitingly funny, and chilling honesty. When she speaks the lines of her poems, it’s coming from a true place inside, with deep rich emotions that evoke a sense of sadness and humor. Her emotions tied in with the raw provocative and edgy words, create a masterful collection of poems that are not only powerful, but moving beyond experience for all to delight in.”
Some young poets from Youth Speaks Hawaii even made an appearance on stage. Nerves were apparent as each stepped up to the microphone, some brave enough to go up without any pieces of paper or prompts and with only the words of their creation engrained into their heads. Some got lost in the beat of the moment and the audience, in the spirit of GiRL FeST and the freedom of positive self-expression, snapped encouragingly while mentor and fellow poet Lyz Soto coached from the side, encouraging them to retrace their words.
“It totally feels like an environment where girls can express themselves without being afraid of embarrassing themselves or feeling pressure,” Kim said. “It’s a great way for women to express their passion for art and music and drama without being judged by a certain standard.”
After all the poetry was said and done, the after party was about to begin, with music provided by the Ladies of KTUH.
“What’s pretty rad about being a poet, or a human, is inventing your own holiday.” Nettifee said while raising her glass in proposal before she closed out the show. “Today is National Fall Madly in Love Day. And by the time the night is over, each of us will have fallen a little bit in love with everyone else.”
This crowd of amazing female poets certainly drew a particularly large audience because it left Xian, who is not only the founder of GiRL FeST, but is also the Non-Executive Director, speechless.
“Thank you for showing up,” Xian said while shrugging her shoulders at the packed venue. People lounged on couches, perched on bar stools, sat in rows of chairs, and even stood lined up along the walls, happy to be sipping drinks from the free wine bar. “Without people like you, GiRL FeST is nothing. Without the volunteers, GiRL FeST is nothing.”
Although GiRL FeST discusses serious issues within the community, it is important to look at the fact that they present the information through media that people can relate to and therefore learn from and absorb more easily. They approach the issues in a positive, proactive way so people watching and listening get excited about change.
“This event definitely exposed young and old women, even men to certain situations of how to handle and prevent violence, sending a positive and meaningful message to all young women out there to speak out and feel good about themselves through positive self-expression,” Huang said. “GiRL FeST is a special tradition of mine. The first time I ever heard about it was back in 2008, and I haven’t missed one ever since, and I’m not starting now.”