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Riverwest FemFest 2017 – In their words

By Joey Grihalva

Wisconsin has some incredibly talented female artists. That is not an “alternative fact.” 

But you might not know it if you went to any random concert, art gallery or comedy club. In an effort to address this gender imbalance, multiple venues in Milwaukee’s Riverwest neighborhood played host to a parade of female and female-identifying creatives for five days last week — from teenage rockers to soprano singers, visual artists to spoken word poets.

What was originally intended simply to be a basement party thank you to the inspiring women in Olivia Doyle’s life three years ago, has blossomed into Riverwest FemFest, possibly the state’s largest female-focused arts festival.

The third installment of FemFest took place amid an international outpouring of support for women and disapproval of President Trump. It also served as a fundraiser for the Milwaukee Coalition for Justice and the Milwaukee Women’s Center.

Rather than recap the festival, I interviewed over a dozen organizers and performers, allowing them to describe the significance of FemFest in their voice.

[All photos by Jessi Paetzke.]

Olivia Doyle, founder

I started it because I was feeling empowered by the women around me, to the point where it really changed my life. I went back to school. I started wanting more of myself because they reminded me that I deserve it. It was a truly powerful experience for me to meet all these women in Riverwest, so the first fest was really just a thank you. It was never meant to be what it is now. 

Why is the diversity of arts at the festival important?

Because women and femmes are creative in other ways that aren’t just music. And we want to showcase as much of their creativity as we can.

Have there been any growing pains with the festival over the years?

This year especially has been a real learning process for us, with the expansion of everything that we’re including and also with how big we’re getting. We’re reaching a lot more people. So it’s really like a community event and there’s lots of different people in this community, so learning to be as inclusive as possible is a process. 

What are some of the things you’re most proud of in terms of the festival?

As a whole, watching all these people perform that I love and I’m inspired by. I’m very proud to have created this platform. In terms of a specific moment, Jenna Knapp did spoken word, she’s a childhood friend of mine. Being able to introduce her and tell the audience why she’s so inspiring to me and then have her read her poetry, which people loved, it made me feel like a proud mom. It’s really wonderful to see all these people that I love and care about do what they love and care about.

Jenna Knapp [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

Ellie Jackson, organizer and musician (Scape)

I’ve been involved in music and radio from an early age. I joined a community radio station when I was in college. When I got involved with music I realized there was like a 20-to-1 ratio between the bands I was playing that were male and the bands that were female. Not because I wanted to, but those were the numbers. I asked the station manager if I could do an all-female focused show and they told me that that was sexist. I said, “It doesn’t feel sexist though. The music industry is sexist!”

So for me FemFest is an opportunity to celebrate those female artists that I wasn’t given permission to celebrate before. Now we’re taking the permission. Riverwest is also where I live so the community here is very important to me. But certainly supporting creatives everywhere is also very important to me.

Why is it important to have a diversity of arts at the festival?

I think that we as a culture underestimate other arts. Like a great example is that here we are in this venue (Company Brewing) where you can come and buy a beer and watch music almost any night of the week, which is a beautiful thing. But there isn’t really that culture around 2D art, there isn’t exactly that culture around the Milwaukee Art Museum and other performance arts. They’re not quite as celebrated as musical art. We have a culture with bar venues and theater venues that make it easier to celebrate musical art, but we’re really excited to have a variety night with comedians and other performance art. There was a burlesque performance, we have an art gallery and we have a Maker’s Fair upstairs, so we’re trying to sort of spread out all the creativity.

Were you a part of the festival last year?

No, I just came to it. I came to it on Saturday, one year ago today, and I remember walking into this space and just being so impressed with all the performances and I guess just feeling like, “Duh. Of course we should celebrate this, these people are amazing!” And the fact that the ratio is still not even.

It’s a no-brainer that this festival needs to happen and people need to come and experience the talent that these female performers have. And then to be in a room with people that are genuinely interested in celebrating femme creativity and supporting Milwaukee organizations, because it’s all a fundraiser. Also actively working on not being sexist and being allies for that cause. It felt great, so as soon as it happened last year I was like, “Who do I talk to? How do I get involved in this?”

Britney Freeman-Farr, musician (B~Free, Foreign Goods)

I got involved with FemFest last year when I was a part of another show with one of FemFest’s organizers, Johanna Rose. We were in Prince Uncovered together and we just connected musically.  She said, “You and Cree Myles have to be a part of FemFest!” So we called Jay Anderson, and I wasn’t even in Foreign Goods at the time, but we were all friends because my husband is in the band. They backed us and the experience was so incredibly invigorating. Not only performing, but also watching all of these women command the stage and the audiences.

There was one group in particular, Mary Allen and the Perculators, and I was just blown away. I couldn’t believe that we have this much power! And then when I saw that the festival was coming back around and I was more developed with my own solo stuff at this time, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to recreate the same magic that I experienced. I’m very happy to have the opportunity.

What does it mean for you to be a part of female focused gatherings?

It makes me feel like what I’m doing is purposeful. As we mentioned in the show this evening, ‘It’s really hard out here for a pimp.’ (laughs) It’s hard being a woman in this industry, let alone in this world. And to be able to be a thriving example of someone who not only has a craft but also makes a livelihood with it, that sets the tone for all the generations to come. I feel really good about letting the young ones know that no matter your background, or gender or creed, you can do whatever makes you happy. Forget everybody else’s standards that they place on you. I really feel like that’s the spirit behind FemFest. Celebrating that we’re not going to let you think of us as the lesser gender or anything, we’re equally as talented and important.

B~Free [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

Gabriella Kartz, music organizer and performer (Faux Fiction)

It’s about supporting each other and celebrating people who add a lot to the Milwaukee scene in general through their various art forms. I think we’re really trying to make sure that we’re inclusive of all groups. People who are women or identify as women, we’re really trying to embrace all of that diversity. It’s what makes the fest a wonderful thing.

For me, last year was just a really positive experience. We got great feedback about our music and it was a really comfortable space to be able to express yourself. I think that’s what I really liked about it and why I wanted to be more involved this year.

Faux Fiction [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

Kelsey Moses, comedian (Goodlanders)

This was the first time we’ve done anything outside of ComedySportz. , so it was a great opportunity to share what we do with people who might not come to ComedySportz.  How could you not enjoy a giant collaboration of beautiful, strong, powerful women being funny, being creative, being artistic, being musical? Women coming together to celebrate women, I love it.

Goodlanders [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

Ashley Altadonna, filmmaker and musician (The Glacial Speed)

One of the great things about FemFest is that it is so inclusive. I know that they’ve had other transgender performers besides me at the festival and I think that’s great. I also had two films in the film showcase, plus all the workshops and community organizing they’re doing is fantastic. There’s just so much to see and do.

The Glacial Speed [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

Jessi Paetzke, photographer

I attended last year because a friend invited me and it was really inspiring for me, so I wanted to get involved and photography is what I do. It’s really encouraging to see a bunch of diverse and talented women doing what they’re supposed to be doing and living out their passions. And also hearing about other people’s struggles, those of us who aren’t white men, what we face in society, how people might try to make us feel small or not welcome, and knowing that we’re not the only ones who feel that way.

Mary Joy, organizer and musician (Fox Face)

I didn’t have a strong female role model growing up and I had a lot of self-esteem issues. For me, music became that outlet of expression and that confidence builder. I’ve been playing in bands since I was 16 and that’s really where my female role models emerged. Music has been such an essential part of my identity and I realize that my story, my feminism, can relate and intersect with other people’s feminism. Our stories can come together and change a community. Our stories can help us find that self-esteem and whatever is missing in our lives.

It’s been a very empowering experience for me to have my own journey, but also to bring together other people’s journeys, wherever they’re at. And I hope they find something at FemFest, find something that they’re looking for, find a new relationship, find meaning somewhere.

Fox Face [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

D Kirschling, volunteer (Ladies Rock)

This year the fest has really expanded and added all types of artists. I’ve known about women in the arts and music scenes for a long time and it’s great to see everybody getting together to spread the word and get to know each other and share. It’s a pretty awesome feeling. I’m hearing bands I’ve known and loved and I’m hearing new bands I haven’t been exposed to before.

Anskar Thorlac, performance artist (Maplewood Gardens – Chicago)

We’re really interested in intersectionality in our audiences. Our rituals are meant to be public and shared by large groups of people. It’s really exciting to find different communities and especially a femme identifying community, being femme identifying artists ourselves. It’s exciting to have an entry point into that community in a different city. It’s also sort of liberating doing a shared ritual for people you don’t know. Plus all of the femme organizers have been so generous and supportive and responsive.

Anskar Thorlac (Maplewood Gardens) [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

Katie Lyne, musician (New Boyz Club, Ruth B8r Ginsburg, The Grasping at Straws)

It shows that if we have to put on a whole entire festival of female or female-fronted acts, there’s obviously something missing. We have to do this to put it at the forefront. It’s not a female-dominated scene, but it’s going to be one. The dynamic is changing. And it’s just such an awesome festival, having safe places for women like Company Brewing, places that include everyone and bring the power back to where it belongs.

I love hearing the poetry too. Hearing females tell their stories of sexual abuse or whatever it may be, especially friends of mine who I see everyday. Everyone has a struggle as a woman and to have that on stage alongside these awesome bands, it’s such a great place for women to collaborate and remember that we’re all in this together.

Rachel Clark, gallery team

FemFest is an opportunity to bring a lot of people together to talk about females and female-identifying folks. Like when we did the interviews for gallery artists, we had meetings at our houses just so people could meet and have conversations. So not only is the festival important to me because of what it stands for, but also it’s an opportunity for people to get to know each other and build community.

Groovy Dog Gallery [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

Alexandre Maxine Hill, musician (LUXI)

FemFest means a lot to me. In the past it was harder for me to book shows as a female artist. I’m not sure people really took me seriously. So I think it’s really important that we have a place where we can have a voice and express ourselves in whatever way we want and just be the awesome women that we are.

Gabriela Riveros, gallery and Maker’s Fair artist

I think these kinds of fests are needed, especially for all the creatives that exist in Milwaukee. We need a space for other women creatives to come out of their own neighborhoods and communities and be a part of a larger project. I love the fest. There’s so much going on.

Jovan [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

Casey O’Brien, festival-goer

I feel that women tend to have a somewhat secretive supportive role that isn’t always publicized. It sort of feels like the foundation that supports something else. And this festival puts a spotlight on people who don’t normally get a spotlight.

I think it’s easier for a woman or femme-identifying person to get up on this stage versus being on an everyday Milwaukee lineup, when too often girls are judged based on how they look or people say stuff like, “Oh she’s good for a girl.” Here no one is looking at the stage and saying, “Look they have a girl in that band!” It feels more comfortable.

Katie Lafond, musician (Siren)

I want female-focused gatherings to be unnecessary. We shouldn’t need to have an all-girl thing for people to start putting more girls on shows. I think it’s more important for the guys because it gives them something to look at and be like, “Oh, this has been in our city this whole time and I just never knew it.”

But it’s also good for younger girls to see there are women out there who are doing what they might want to do. So I think it’s good to educate men and to show kids there are better opportunities and that we’re able to do these things on stage. It’s kind of like a teaching moment where we’re saying, “You can do this too, you’re not alone.”

See more of Jessi Paetzke’s photos from Riverwest FemFest 2017 by clicking the links below.

Day 1 (Wednesday @ Art Bar)

Day 2 (Thursday @ Groovy Dog Gallery & Riverwest Public House Cooperative)

Day 3 (Friday @ Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts and Company Brewing)

Day 4 & 5 (Saturday & Sunday @ Company Brewing)

Devin Settle [Photo by Jessi Paetzke]

With confidence and determination, Clinton accepts nomination

Madame secretary accepted the presidential nomination from the Democratic Party July 28, putting the deepest, widest crack in the glass ceiling yet. Driving roar after roar from the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Hillary Clinton forcefully explained why she is the best candidate for the White House and how she will become madame president.

Clinton, the first female nominee for president from a major U.S. party, had a lot of support from family — daughter Chelsea and husband Bill — and many friends, a solid contingent of progressive activists and political powerhouses, rising political stars and even entertainment stars.

On the fourth and final night of the convention, Katy Perry and Carole King performed for an audience in the center and millions in TV-land.

King performed “You’ve Got a Friend.” The song she wrote in 1971 echoed what so many of Clinton’s friends and colleagues said about the candidate from the podium:

“When you’re down and troubled

And you need some love and care

And nothing, nothing is going right

Close your eyes and think of me

And soon I will be there

To brighten up even your darkest night

You just call out my name

And you know wherever I am

I’ll come running, to see you again

Winter, spring, summer or fall

All you have to do is call

And I’ll be there

You’ve got a friend.

Perry performed “Roar,” the pre-anthem to Clinton’s anthemic address, and, “oh, oh, oh,” did the crowd roar: “I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter/Dancing through the fire/ ‘Cause I am the champion, and you’re gonna hear me roar.”

The pop star, who has been campaigning with Clinton since the primary start in Iowa, urged people to vote. “On Nov. 8, you’ll be just as powerful as any NRA lobbyist,” Perry said. “You’ll have as much say as any billionaire. Or you can cancel out your weird cousin’s vote.”

Chelsea Clinton followed Perry to the stage to talk about a caring, compassionate woman with steely resolve to help people.

“People ask me all the time how she does it,” Chelsea Clinton said. “How she keeps going amid the sound and fury of politics. Here’s how. It’s because she never forgets who she’s fighting for.”

She left the stage while a video told the story of Hillary Clinton’s life and then the daughter returned to welcome her mother to the stage. To borrow from another Carole King song, the earth moved — or at least the arena rocked.

“Thank you! Thank you for that amazing welcome,” Clinton said.

She called for unity, because the nation is “stronger together” and the party is “stronger together.”

“America is once again at a moment of reckoning,” Clinton said. “Powerful forces are threatening to pull us apart. And just as with our founders, there are no guarantees. It truly is up to us. We have to decide whether we all will work together so we all can rise together.”

She recited the national motto, e pluribus unum, out of many, we are one.

“Will we stay true to that motto?” Clinton said and then referred directly to general election opponent Donald Trump, who defeated a crowded field of candidates, including Scott Walker, for the GOP nomination.

“Well, we heard Donald Trump’s answer last week at his convention,” Clinton said. “He wants to divide us — from the rest of the world and from each other. He’s betting that the perils of today’s world will blind us to its unlimited promise. He’s taken the Republican Party a long way, from ‘Morning in America’ to ‘Midnight in America.’ He wants us to fear the future and fear each other.

“Well,” Clinton continued, “a great Democratic president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, came up with the perfect rebuke to Trump more than 80 years ago, during a much more perilous time. ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.'”

Aides said Clinton worked weeks on the speech, in which she had to tell the American people she is not the cartoon that the far left and the right has drawn.

Clinton made a direct appeal to independents, whose choice is a longtime Democratic leader or a Republican who’s abandoned traditional Republican values.

And she made a direct appeal to supporters of Bernie Sanders, the Vermont senator who waged a hard-fought primary campaign with his progressive, political revolution.

“I’ve heard you,” she said to Sanders supporters. “Your cause is our cause.”

Still, in the arena, there were occasional boos from Sanders supporters, who wore neon shirts to stand out in the crowd and held signs that read “Get it done,” “Walk the walk” and “Keep your promises.”

Clinton supporters drowned every “boo” with rousing chants of “Hillary.”

After the convention, hard feelings remained evident between Sanders and Clinton supporters in the corridors of the Wells Fargo.

But when the red, white and blue balloons and confetti came down and golden fireworks shot up, there seemed to be only joy in the hall.

 

The general election

The Democrats ended their convention with polls showing Clinton and running mate Tim Kaine locked in a tight contest with Trump and running mate Mike Pence. Trump has no record in public office, but Pence is known nationwide for his anti-woman, anti-immigrant, anti-LGBT efforts as Indiana’s governor and a U.S. senator.

Trump had received a slight bump in his poll numbers after the GOP convention in Cleveland. But after a multitude of speeches and videos at the Democratic convention, the numbers already were shifting more in Clinton’s favor before she took the stage July 28.

“I’m an independent and I’ve heard what I needed to hear. I’m an independent for Hillary,” said convention-goer Mary Plumber of Camden, New Jersey. She had arrived hours early to the Wells Fargo Center to  claim a seat for the historic night and was entertained with King’s soundcheck.

Plumber’s friend, Chrissy Nikomi of Philadelphia, also attended. She’s a longtime Clinton devotee who hoped her candidate could bring in more people to the campaign.

“It’s really hard out there, with all the false information and this myth created by the right and perpetuated by some on the left that she’s not trustworthy,” Nikomi said.

 

They’re with her

By the time Clinton took the stage to accept the nomination, dozens of speakers had declared their support and explained why she is the best-qualified person for the presidency.

First lady Michelle Obama and U.S. Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey delivered emotional and rousing speeches the first night of a convention that offered sunny optimism about America’s future but also much sadness about division in the United States.

The next night, Bill Clinton painted a loving portrait of the woman, wife, mother and advocate he admires.

On the third night, Vice President Joe Biden, President Barack Obama and Kaine championed Clinton’s candidacy.

“She’s been there for us, even if we haven’t always noticed,” Obama said.

And those are just the biggest names to make the case.

Many others talked about Clinton and her years of dedication as activist, attorney, first lady, senator and secretary of state.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin joined other Democratic women of the U.S. Senate at the podiums on July 28.

“I entered public service to fight for health coverage for all, especially children and young adults. Hillary Clinton has led that fight for decades,” Baldwin said. “With the help of her relentless advocacy, 8 million children are insured and their families more secure. …That’s Hillary. As president, she’ll fight for healthier families and a fair shot for all.”

U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin also addressed the convention on the fourth night, sketching contrasts between Clinton, who famously went to China decades ago to declare women’s rights are human rights, and Trump, who infamously has called women “pigs” and “dogs.”

“Pigs? Dogs? Disgusting? Too many women know where this toxic language leads,” said Moore. “Too many women have experienced sexual violence and abuse. And I’m one of them. But we are not victims. We are survivors. We have been bullied, beaten and berated. Told to sit down and to shut up. Well, my voice matters, and I won’t shut up.

“Our voices matter, and we won’t shut up. Women make our communities better — stronger each and every day. That’s why Hillary Clinton has spent her life fighting for us.”

Others spoke about Clinton’s work and policies on jobs and industry, civil rights and equality, immigration reform and the environment, diplomacy and national security. They also spoke of Trump’s lack of experience, as well as the Republican’s disinterest in national issues and disrespect for many people.

Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar introduced a film about Capt. Humayun Khan, one of 14 U.S. Muslim soldiers to die in the service since Sept. 11, 2001. In an unscripted moment, Abdul-Jabbar introduced himself as Michael Jordan because, he said, Trump can’t tell the difference.

Sarah McBride, the first transgender person to address a major party’s political convention, said, “Today in America, LGBTQ people are targeted by hate that lives in both laws and hearts. Many still struggle just to get by. But I believe tomorrow can be different. Tomorrow, we can be respected and protected — especially if Hillary Clinton is our president. And that’s why I’m proud to say that I’m with her.”

Chad Griffin, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBT civil rights group, introduced McBride with a high-energy speech that paid tribute to the victims of the massacre at the Pulse gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in June.

“While the nation mourned, Donald Trump strutted before the cameras and exploited a national tragedy,” Griffin said. “He had the audacity to tell the American public he was the true champion for LGBTQ people in this race and that our community would be better off with him in the White House. He even challenged his skeptics to  ‘ask the gays.'”

Griffin, met Clinton as a closeted kid growing up in Arkansas. He said, “Long before Donald Trump struggled to read the letters ‘LGBTQ’ off a teleprompter, Hillary Clinton stood before the United Nations and boldly declared that gay rights are human rights.”

Twenty years before Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination for president in Philadelphia, Bill Clinton accepted the nomination for his re-election in Chicago.

At that convention, LGBT people anxiously waited to hear whether and how Bill Clinton would refer to gays in his acceptance speech.

At the Philadelphia convention, there was no question. Speaker after speaker spoke about equality and justice as delegates waved “Love trumps hate” signs and rainbow flags.

Hillary Clinton told them, “We will defend all our rights – civil rights, human rights and voting rights, women’s rights and workers’ rights, LGBT rights and the rights of people with disabilities! And we will stand up against mean and divisive rhetoric wherever it comes from.”

There was little rest for the candidate who, following the convention, was embarking on a bus tour of Pennsylvania and Ohio, crucial states in the general election. The tour was to begin with a rally at Temple University in Philadelphia.

 

On the Web

Read Hillary Clinton’s acceptance speech online.

CEO quits after sexist comments about women tennis pros

The tournament director of the BNP Paribas Open who said women’s pro tennis players “ride on the coattails of the men” resigned on March 21, ending his 29-year association with the event.

Tournament owner Larry Ellison said in a statement that Raymond Moore was quitting as chief executive officer and tournament director of the $7 million event featuring men’s and women’s players in the California desert. Moore informed Ellison of his decision when they spoke earlier in the day.

“Ray let me know that he has decided to step down from his roles as CEO and tournament director effective immediately,” Ellison said. “I fully understand his decision.”

A tournament spokesman could offer no further details on Moore’s resignation, citing only Ellison’s statement.

CEO apologizes

Moore apologized after he was roundly criticized by executives from the women’s and men’s pro tours, players Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka and on social media for his comments Sunday.

The 69-year-old former touring pro from South Africa had been CEO of the tournament since 2012. He was involved with the event for 29 years as a former owner and managing partner before assuming his most recent post. He oversaw the operations of the tournament and the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, which Ellison also owns. Years ago, Moore and fellow ex-player Charlie Pasarell started PM Sports Management, which oversaw the tournament as it expanded.

“In my next life when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA because they ride on the coattails of the men. They don’t make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky,” Moore said. “If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born, because they have carried this sport.”

He also referred to women’s players as “physically attractive and competitively attractive.” Moore later apologized, calling his comments “in extremely poor taste and erroneous.”

“I am truly sorry for those remarks, and apologize to all the players and WTA as a whole,” the statement said. “We had a women’s final today that reflects the strength of the players, especially Serena and Victoria, and the entire WTA. Again, I am truly sorry for my remarks.”

Moore clearly had no intention to leave his post based on comments he made to reporters Sunday on the last day of the two-week tournament. Before the backlash over his controversial comments began, he was asked how long he planned to remain in charge.

“Firstly, I love what I’m doing. I’m passionate about it. I enjoy it,” Moore said. “Who knows who the face of the tournament will be down the road. But I don’t think that, oh, I’m going to stop next year or three years.”

Ellison, a billionaire and co-founder of Oracle Corp., credited Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova and Serena and Venus Williams, as well as other female athletes, for their leadership in treating women and men equally in sports.

“I’m proud to say that it is now a decade-long tradition at our tournament at Indian Wells, and all the major tennis tournaments, to pay equal prize money to both the women and the men,” Ellison said in his statement.

Ellison thanked the “great women athletes” who fought so hard in pursuit of equal prize money in pro tennis.

“All of us here at the BNP Paribas Open promise to continue working with everyone to make tennis a better sport for everybody,” he said.

Statement from the tennis tournament

“Earlier today I had the opportunity to speak with Raymond Moore,” said BNP Paribas Open Owner, Larry Ellison. “Ray let me know that he has decided to step down from his roles as CEO and Tournament Director effective immediately. I fully understand his decision.”

“Nearly half a century ago, Billie Jean King began her historic campaign for the equal treatment of women in tennis. What followed is an ongoing, multi-generational, progressive movement to treat women and men in sports equally. Thanks to the leadership of Billie Jean, Martina Navratilova, Venus Williams, Serena Williams and so many other great women athletes, an important measure of success has already been achieved. I’m proud to say that it is now a decade long tradition at our tournament at Indian Wells, and all the major tennis tournaments, to pay equal prize money to both the women and the men.”

“I would like to personally thank all the great women athletes who fought so hard for so many years in the pursuit of equal prize money in professional tennis. And I’d like to congratulate them on their success. All of us here at the BNP Paribas Open promise to continue working with everyone to make tennis a better sport for everybody,” concluded Ellison.

UPDATE: Saudi voters elect 20 women to office

UPDATE: Saudi voters elected 20 women for local government seats, according to results released to The Associated Press a day after women voted and ran in elections for the first time in the country’s history.

The women who won hail from vastly different parts of the country, ranging from Saudi Arabia’s largest city to a small village near Islam’s holiest site.

The 20 female candidates represent just one percent of the roughly 2,100 municipal council seats up for grabs, but even limited gains are seen as a step forward for women who had previously been completely shut out of elections. Women are still not allowed to drive and are governed by guardianship laws that give men final say over aspects of their lives like marriage, travel and higher education.

Though there are no quotas for female council members, an additional 1,050 seats are appointed with approval by the king who could use his powers to ensure more women are represented.

Around 7,000 candidates, among them 979 women, competed in the election for a seat on the municipal councils, which are the only government body elected by Saudi citizens. The two previous rounds of voting for the councils, in 2005 and 2011, were open to men only.

The conservative capital of Riyadh saw the most women candidates win, with four elected. The Eastern Province, where minority Shiites are concentrated, saw two women elected, said Hamad Al-Omar, who heads the General Election Commission’s media council.

Saudi Arabia’s second largest and most cosmopolitan city, Jiddah, also elected two women, as did one of the most conservative regions, Qassim.

The mayor of the city of Mecca, Osama al-Bar, told the AP that a woman won in a village called Madrakah, about 93 miles (150 kilometers) north of the city which houses the cube-shaped Kaaba to which Muslims around the world pray.

Another woman won in Medina, where the Prophet Muhammad’s first mosque was built.

Other women hailing from the kingdom’s northernmost areas won, with two elected in Tabuk, one in al-Jawf and another in Hail. Additionally, a woman won in Saudi Arabia’s southern border area of Jizan, another in Asir and two won in al-Ahsa. 

Many women candidates ran on platforms that promised more nurseries to offer longer daycare hours for working mothers, the creation of youth community centers with sports and cultural activities, improved roads, better garbage collection and overall greener cities. 

In October, the Saudi Gazette reported that harsh road conditions and long distances to the nearest hospital had forced some women in the village of Madrakah, where one female candidate was elected, to give birth in cars. The local newspaper reported that the closest hospital and the nearest university were in Mecca, prompting some students to forgo attending classes. The article said residents were also frustrated with the lack of parks in the village.

It is precisely these kinds of community issues that female candidates hope to address once elected to the municipal councils. The councils do not have legislative powers, but advise authorities and help oversee local budgets.

Most ran their campaigns online, using social media to get the word out, due to strict gender segregation rules that ban men and women from mixing in public. This meant candidates could not directly address voters of the opposite sex.

In an effort to create a more level playing field for women who wear the traditional full-face veil, the General Election Committee banned both male and female candidates from showing their faces in promotional flyers, billboards or online. They were also not allowed to appear on television. 

Still, al-Omar said the historic election drew a staggering 106,000 female voters out of some 130,000 who’d registered. Out of 1.35 million men registered, almost 600,000 cast ballots. In total, some 47 percent of registered voters took part in Saturday’s election.

In Jiddah, three generations of women from the same family voted for the first time. The oldest woman in the family was 94-year-old Naela Mohammad Nasief. Her daughter, Sahar Hassan Nasief, said the experience marked “the beginning” of greater rights for women in Saudi Arabia. 

“I walked in and said ‘I’ve have never seen this before. Only in the movies’,” the daughter said, referring to the ballot box. “It was a thrilling experience.”

‘Explorers Club’ explodes gender stereotypes

Phyllida Spotte-Hume is a female anthropologist of the first degree and an adventurer who has discovered a lost civilization armed with little more than her intelligence and a spoon. She now faces her greatest challenge — convincing a stodgy British scientific society that it’s OK to have a woman in the house.

But then that’s 1879 for you.

Such is the stuff of which The Explorers Club, which opens Soulstice Theatre’s 2015–16 season, is made. The farce by author Nell Benjamin (who earned a 2007 Tony Award nomination as co-author of the musical Legally Blonde) skewers Victorian-era social mores with an eye toward turning the era’s gender politics on its head. 

“Science is as science does,” the club’s members seem to say, but admitting someone from the “weaker” sex into membership simply sets the Explorers on a road to ruin. It’s the goal of Spotte-Hume (Amber Smith) and her sponsor, club president Lucius Fretway (Bryan Quinn), to set the odd lot of scientific eccentrics straight, in a most amusing fashion, according to director Jillian Smith.

“The Explorers Club is a light farce at heart, with wonderfully witty and intellectual humor throughout,” says Smith, who also serves as the theater company’s president and artistic director. “The beauty of this particular piece, I think, is that nothing is ‘dumbed down’ for an audience. We expect our patrons to watch intently and stay alert. There’s always something afoot.”

This story is far from unrepentant man-bashing, Smith says, given that characters on both sides of the gender divide have flaws. Those flaws, along with a fairly absurd premise clothed in a rich historical context, provide grist for the humor that runs blithely throughout the narrative.

“The author’s writing is tight, the humor clever and smart,” Smith says of Benjamin, who was a year ahead of her at Harvard University. “Unlike a lot of popular farces, this one isn’t all about doors slamming or mistaken understanding. The best comedic moments unfold when these characters are simply interacting face to face.”

Part of that interaction centers on a NaKong tribesman whom Spotte-Hume has nicknamed “Luigi” (Phil Sepanski) and has brought with her to The Explorers Club to support her discoveries. In a scenario driven by its opposition to gender bias, Smith has worked hard to keep Luigi from becoming a racial and cultural cartoon stereotype.

“(Stepanski) and I worked closely to develop a background for his character that is rooted in an understanding of modern tribal cultures,” Smith says. “From his costume design to his presentation of the NaKong language to the physicality he employs onstage, each element offers a true, unique character that is rich with appreciation and sensitivity to indigenous peoples around the globe.”

That doesn’t keep Luigi from contributing to the play’s funny bits. He’s a rich contrast to the high-collared buttoned-up club members, who manifest a social primitivism of their own in the way they treat women scientists, Smith says.

“I think Phyllida’s character is typical of female scientists of the period, who were considered women first and scientists second, if at all,” Smith says. “Victorian-era anthropologist Mary Kingsley is considered one of the 10 greatest British explorers ever and yet even she was widely seen as needing to be a dutiful daughter first in caring for her parents.”

The play, of course, does a lot to deconstruct historical constraints while treading its humor on a set that Smith says is remarkable for its wealth of cultural bric-a-brac and historic detail, something in which she take obvious delight.

“This is my wheelhouse!” says Smith, who studied biological anthropology and archeology in college. “I always had a passion for antiquities, fossils and other tchotchkes of historical relevance. Researching those kinds of articles and finding ways to incorporate them into Mark Schuster’s wonderful set has been a really fun adventure.”

Smith says that all these various elements are what in her mind will make The Explorers Club appeal to a wide-ranging audience.

“I just love how smart it is,” Smith says. “I love how it dismantles the gender and Western-centric biases of the time in a most systematic and undeniable way. I love the way it threads real science into the dialogue. It’s so much fun.”

ON STAGE 

Soulstice Theatre’s production of Nell Benjamin’s The Explorers Club runs Nov. 6-21 at the company’s playhouse at 3770 S. Pennsylvania Ave., St. Francis. For tickets, call 414-481-2100 or visit soulsticetheatre.org.

Soulstice Theatre’s New Season

Nell Benjamin’s farce The Explorers Club launches the 2015–16 season for Soulstice Theatre. Upcoming shows continue to illustrate the company’s broad range of topics and interests.

With the help of Milwaukee playwright Liz Shipe, Soulstice welcomes the holiday season with Upon a Midnight Clear. Shipe’s whimsical look at Jack Frost’s life as a human being and whether or not he should remain human to be with the woman he loves runs Dec. 4-19.

The company welcomes the new year with Starlings, a play by local playwright Ben Parman that claims to be “too Christian for the gay demographic and too gay for the Christian demographic.” Parman’s fast, funny and profound look at the tensions between religion and contemporary society runs Jan. 14-30.

The unlikely romance between an Irish fisherman and a woman from Liverpool he’s seen only once before forms the narrative for Sea Marks. Written by actor Gardiner McKay, the bittersweet romance takes the stage March 4-20.

The season closes with a lush musical version of The Secret Garden, an updated version of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s story of little orphan Mary Lennox. Discover if Mary finds the family she needs — and the family she finds needs her — June 10-25.

School uniform rules relaxed for LGBT students in Puerto Rico

Students at public schools across Puerto Rico for the first time can choose to wear pants or skirts as part of their uniform regardless of their gender without being punished, a move that has unleashed a debate in this socially conservative island.

Education Secretary Rafael Roman said this week that the new regulation he recently signed is meant to be inclusive of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. He added that teachers will no longer be allowed to discipline students who prefer to wear pants instead of skirts or vice versa.

“No student can be sanctioned for not opting to wear a particular piece of clothing … that he or she does not feel comfortable with,” he told reporters.

Girls at public schools in Puerto Rico traditionally wear skirts as part of their uniforms and the boys wear pants.

LGBT civil rights activists and some school officials praised the measure, which comes months after Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla signed an executive order prohibiting bullying in public schools based on sexual orientation.

“It’s a bit late, but it was approved, which is important,” said Cristina Torres, director of a high school in Ponce, Puerto Rico’s second-largest city. “Changing people’s mentality from one day to another will be hard … The most incredible thing is that young people can accept this with an open mind, but it’s the adults who discriminate.”

Torres is familiar with the issue. Teachers filed a complaint against her two years ago for appearing in a picture with a student who wore women’s clothing at his graduation. The student was a victim of bullying and had received an award for overcoming difficult circumstances, she said.

“Our responsibility is to protect students’ rights,” Torres said.

However, critics of the new regulation accused government officials of acting like dictators and stripping parents of their power.

“Once again, this government and the Department of Education work against what’s best for our children,'” said officials with Alerta Puerto Rico, a conservative group that says it was founded to promote family and childhood values.

But Roman argues that parents have the final word on how their children dress for school since they’re the ones buying the uniform. He added that several school districts in the U.S. mainland have adopted similar regulations.

Messages left with the U.S. Department of Education were not immediately returned.

Paola Gonzalez, a 39-year-old transsexual woman who grew up in Puerto Rico and now lives in Albany, New York, said she wished the measure would have been approved years ago.

“It would have simplified my life,” she said, adding that she has some concerns about the new regulation given what she described as Puerto Rico’s “macho” culture.

“For a student to come out and say I identify with this gender and wear these clothes … that will be a big step,” Gonzalez said. “The school may also have to consider the safety of the student.”

Garcia’s administration previously approved several measures in favor of the gay community, including one that allows transgender and transsexual people to change their gender on their driver’s license and another that protects their rights when seeking medical services.

Finding their voice: Speech clinic helps transgender clients

Sylvia Wojcik was making reservations for a beach getaway in Maine when the receptionist on the other end of the line called her “ma’am.” Nothing could have delighted her more.

Wojcik, 66, is transitioning from male to female. For her, that proof that she sounded like a woman was an important moment. 

“It felt like I had just been validated,” she said. “It just gave me a great sense of being at ease with myself.”

Wojcik has undergone several years of voice therapy, the past 18 months at the University of Connecticut’s Speech and Hearing Clinic, one of a growing number of clinics with programs to teach transgender people how to sound more like the gender with which they identify.

“You can be well kept, present well, but if your voice is masculine, you get pegged right away,” said Wojcik, of Enfield, north of Hartford. “I really didn’t start getting success with my voice until I came to UConn. And I’m sure glad I did, because it’s made all the difference.”

The program at UConn is in its fourth year, with about a dozen people participating at any one time. The typical participant will spend an hour a week in a group session, and another 11/2 hours working one on one with a speech pathologist.

They learn not only how to change the pitch of their voice, but also its resonance (males speak more from chest, females from the head) and delivery (males tend to be more staccato, females more fluid).

It involves a lot of voice exercises — humming to find an ideal pitch, naming five words that start with the letter “T.”

The idea is to condition and change the voice without harming the vocal chords, said Wendy Chase, the clinic’s director.

“Pitch up, shoulders back … whatever you’re doing wrong, she tends to help you correct it,” said 61-year-old Brianne Roberts, also of Enfield. “It really works.”

The majority of the transgender clients at the clinic are transitioning to female.

Hormone therapy will naturally cause a lowering in the voice of someone transitioning to male, Chase said. Many “F to Ms,” as they are sometimes called, need to learn the other subtleties.

But clients transitioning either way need to work on articulation and patterns associated with male and female speech, even how to use their hands differently to gesture and touch during communication.

“There is tremendous irony in the fact that we use information based on stereotype to make people feel better about themselves,” said Chase. “But that’s what we do.”

The clinic also has served some people who are not transgender, such as men who wish to sound less effeminate. And some clients, including people who are only considering a change in gender, want a voice that is more neutral, Chase said.

Literature in the field dates back 50 years, but until the past 20 years only a handful of people were doing voice work with transgender people, and the work is still in its infancy, Chase said.

Richard Adler, who retired this month from Minnesota State University-Moorhead, was one of those pioneers. The field has been growing exponentially and internationally, he said, as the world has become more accepting of transgender people and people like Caitlyn Jenner have shared their stories.

“There are still people opposed to the work we do,” he said. “We still get hate mail, but it’s less and less.”

UConn charges clients $192 for a voice evaluation to determine what needs to be changed. It’s then $10 per session for individual treatment and $25 per semester for the group sessions. 

Some insurance companies may pick up some or all the cost if a doctor gives a diagnosis of gender dysphoria. But Chase said that it is still rare.

A typical patient will spend about 18 months in therapy, Chase said, but the number of sessions varies widely.

Roberts, a freelance copywriter, has been attending sessions since February. She expects to participate for at least another semester.

Before the transitioning process, Roberts was a radio personality, voiceover artist and actor. She is now returning to the stage as an actress and doesn’t want her voice to impede her winning roles. 

“For me, passing is important,” she said. “But, in some cases it’s a matter of survival. There are some places where you do not want to be read as being anything other than female. It’s dangerous.”

The sessions also help in other ways, Roberts said. She’s able to talk to other people going through the same experience about progress and problems. And the environment is supportive and respectful, something Roberts said affirms her decision to transition.

As for Wojcik, she is just happy to be able to order sliced bologna at the deli without getting a strange look.

“I want to just be one of the girls,” she said. “I just want to blend in with the woodwork and people not notice that I’m trans.”

Rebel with a secret | The story of Lucy Ann Lobdell and the 1st same-sex marriage in the U.S.

Lucy Ann Lobdell was in her 20s when she wrote a short self-published memoir about her early life in New York in the 1800s. She hunted in the mountains, an unusual pastime for a girl and a young woman. She went to a learning academy, getting a better education than most girls of the time. And she briefly married a man who abandoned her in pregnancy.

About 41 pages into this 47-page memoir, Lobdell tells the reader, “I made up my mind to dress in men’s attire to seek labor, as I was used to men’s work. And as I might work harder at house-work, and get only a dollar per week, and I was capable of doing men’s work, and getting men’s wages, I resolved to try … to get work away among strangers.”

And that Lobdell did, setting out to find independence and earn a living.

“So, I stole away with a heavy heart, for I knew that I was going among strangers, who did not know my circumstances, or see my heart, so broken, and know its struggles.”

On the next page of Narrative of Lucy Ann Lobdell, the Female Hunter of Delaware and Sullivan Counties, Lobdell writes, “I must now leave the reader for a short time, and then I intend to write another book, in which I shall give a full account of my adventures whilst I adopted male attire.”

If Lobdell did write a second narrative, it was never found.

So William Klaber wrote the book for her — The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell, published this spring by St. Martin’s Press and described as “historical fiction.”

Fact or fiction, Klaber’s memoir is riveting for readers.

And also resurrecting a debate familiar to queer studies scholars about Lobdell’s identity — a pioneering transgender person who lived as a man among strangers or a pioneering lesbian who was joined by an unsuspecting judge in possibly the first same-sex marriage in the United States.

Klaber, a part-time journalist, lives in Upper Eddy in upstate New York, not far from where Lobdell lived 160 years ago. He and his wife bought the farmhouse in 1980, and it was there that Jack Niflot, a local historian, delivered to him a satchel containing recollections and articles about Lobdell. The historical record contains details of how Lobdell took the name of Joseph, taught music, song and dance, traveled from east to the frontier, married a woman named Marie Wilson and was committed to an asylum as a case of “sexual perversion” with a history of “Lesbian love.”

Niflot had collected a lot of information about Lobdell, but couldn’t find a second memoir. He turned his research over to Klaber, who made an unsuccessful search for the book and then decided to write his own.

“Lucy lived at a time when women did not commonly carry a rifle, sit down in bars or have romantic liaisons with other women,” said Klaber. “Lucy did these things in a personal quest — to work and to be paid, to wear what she wanted and to love whomever she cared to.”

Klaber’s story — brilliant and beautiful — begins about where Lobdell’s own memoir ends, with Lobdell quietly leaving home and catching a train, a transformative journey.

Lobdell, near the end of her narrative, writes of passing a neighbor on her way to the depot, “I heard him say, ‘There goes the female hunter.’”

Klaber, in the opening chapter, writes of Lobdell settling on the train: “There were no leaves yet on the trees, and as the sun flickered through the gray branches, I could see on the glass a faint reflection of myself, appearing and disappearing like a spirit trying to enter the world.”

Restroom research: Study examines bathroom graffiti by men, women

A new article published in Gender, Place & Culture examines how men and women express themselves in the seemingly private and anonymous spaces of public bathrooms.

Texts or drawings in the bathroom stalls, while created in a private space and presumably during a very private moment, are meant to be public — transmitting ideas, images and even responses.

Using data collected in 10 university bathroom stalls, the study examines differences in communication patterns in women’s and men’s bathroom stalls through an analysis of graffiti content and style.

The research indicated that that while communication patterns tend to be supportive and relationship-focused in women’s bathrooms, the graffiti in men’s bathroom walls are replete with sexual content and insults.

In addition, an analysis of the response-and-reply chains suggests that, in the bathroom stalls, hierarchies of power are established and reinforced even in anonymous, unmoderated spaces, and even when no humans are physically present.

The first major study of bathroom graffiti was produced by Alfred Kinsey in the 1950s, which found that many wall inscriptions were highly sexual, but sexuality was defined quite differently among men and women. Men’s bathroom graffiti centered on sexual acts and sexual organs, women’s graffiti referred to love and relationships in non-erotic terms.

Further studies in the 1970s and 1980s suggested that women’s graffiti was becoming more sexual and political.

In the latest study, 60 years on from Kinsey’s work, Pamela Leong, an assistant professor of Sociology at Salem State University, monitored graffiti in 10 single sex bathrooms.  Leong found that women were more prolific, accounting for 70 percent of graffiti, and male graffiti was what she characterized as overtly sexual, crude, competitive and aggressive.

She characterized female graffiti as less sexually explicit — messages were more relationship oriented, confided private thoughts and feelings, as well as messages of support to fellow writers. She also said women often referred to bowel movements, indicating a need to discuss such things privately for fear of being judged “dirty” or “unfeminine,” a contrast to social acceptance of male lavatorial behavior.

ABC keeps tight lid on Jenner interview to air April 24

The first on-air promo for the April 24 broadcast interview with Bruce Jenner didn’t even show his face, an illustration of the line ABC News is walking in trying to drum up interest for the program while saying virtually nothing about it.

The two-hour interview special with the 1976 Olympic decathlon champion and estranged patriarch of television’s Kardashian clan is expected to touch on transgenderism and reports that Jenner may be transitioning.

ABC has released only a couple of non-specific quotes by Jenner and is not expected to reveal much more in advance of the Friday program, preferring to give Jenner the opportunity to address the topic in the full context of the interview.

Diane Sawyer has not spoken to outside media about the interview, which was conducted in February — one day in Los Angeles, another in New York. She’s scheduled to promote it on ABC properties Friday: “Good Morning America,” `’Live with Kelly and Michael” and “The View.” ABC News executives also haven’t spoken about it, not even confirming publicly until April 6 that the interview had taken place, until this the airdate was set.

“In producing this special, one of our goals has been to respect Bruce’s story,” said ABC News spokesman Van Scott. “We want Bruce to speak for Bruce. We’ve had this top of mind throughout the process from the booking and interviews to the promotion and final product.”

The tight lid enables ABC to avoid the issue of potentially “outing” a public figure before the person has had a chance to publicly address the topic. Not everyone is waiting: The New York Daily News this week published a front-page picture of a person they said was Jenner wearing a dress.

“I respect the way that (ABC has) handled this,” said Brad Bessey, executive producer of “Entertainment Tonight” and “The Insider.” “You have to separate Bruce Jenner and Bruce’s story from the media circus that is the Kardashians.”

The approach has left his syndicated entertainment newsmagazines starved for news. Bessey said they’ve done stories on the three 15- or 30-second promos that ABC has released.

The first ABC promo showed two Jenner images — one from behind and the other from the side as he talked with Sawyer, his face obscured by shadows. In the other two, Jenner is heard more clearly, and with two soundbites. “My whole life has been getting ready for this,” he said. He also talks of the importance of not hurting his children.

ABC’s handling of the story so far has been respectful, said Nick Adams, program director of transgender media for GLAAD. The organization that represents gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders has spoken little about Jenner.

“Sharing one’s story is something a person should be allowed to do in their own time and in their own way,” Adams said. Media speculation about a public figure’s gender identity increases harmful scrutiny on other transgender people, he said.

The interview was conducted before Jenner was involved in an auto accident in which another motorist was killed. ABC is expected to address the topic, although the timing precludes it from being raised with Jenner.

Some of Jenner’s children, pictured in one of the promos, also are expected to be interviewed.

Bessey predicted big ratings for the special. ABC is airing it on a Friday night, when TV-watching is usually low. Two big interviews are among the top 100 most-watched telecasts of all time in the U.S.: Oprah Winfrey’s 1993 talk with Michael Jackson, seen in 36.6 million homes, and Barbara Walters’ 1999 interview with Monica Lewinsky, seen in 33.2 million homes.

Friday’s interview likely won’t approach those numbers, but should certainly exceed the Friday “20/20” average of 6.2 million viewers this season.

“I think people will be watching,” Bessey said. “I hope they’ll be listening.”