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After Roe v. Wade was overturned, FemFest organizers brought the event back

Jennie McKeon
WUWF Public Media
Womanhood in Lavender 2018 vendor table.

After a two-year hiatus due to COVID, Kirsten Norris Gartner thought she wouldn’t be planning another FemFest again.

Then Roe v. Wade was overturned.

“The rights of other people were being infringed upon,” she said. “I thought ‘I have to do something.’ And that was the sign. I texted Hale (Morrissette) and said ‘Let’s get the band back together.’”

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Gartner helped organize the first FemFest in 2017 alongside Morrissette. She called it a “feminism festival.” It was, in a way, a reaction to the 2016 election much like the Women’s March. Only instead of a traditional protest, FemFest is a weekend of art and music.

“You can think of it as a protest,” said Gartner. “We’re bringing that same message, but it’s more like a big hug with everyone. It’s cathartic.”

This year, FemFest is raising money for SisterSong, a southern-based activist organization dedicated to reproductive justice for women of color.

“When you help the most marginalized, you help everyone,” said Hale Morrissette, one of the organizers of FemFest and Deputy Director of Dream Defenders.

FemFest is organized with the mindset of intersectional feminism — that is it takes into account how a person’s gender identity, race, sexual identity, social class, or religion could impact their experience of oppression and discrimination. The term was first coined in 1989 by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw.

“Intersectionality is even more important now for us to be able to notice class, gender, and sexuality instead of being blind to differences,” said Morrissette.

The wage gap between women and men is a typical talking point when it comes to feminism. However, organizers like Hale say that the figures being shared reflect a white woman’s pay gap, instead of taking into account that Black and Hispanic women make even less. For comparison, white women earn about 82 cents for every dollar earned by a white man. For Black women, it’s about 65 cents and for Hispanic women, it’s about 58 cents.

When it comes to reproductive rights, Black and brown women bear the brunt of abortion limits — especially those who are working class. Black women in the U.S. are three to four times more likely to experience a pregnancy-related death compared to white women. Black women also experience higher rates of unintended pregnancies due to disparities in contraceptive care and counseling.

Juliana Child, one of the organizers for the 2022 FemFest remembers the exact moment when she understood the importance of intersectionality. It started on Facebook when she shared an article about a Black woman who was a doctor trying to assist with a medical emergency on a plane.

“The airplane staff kept dismissing her,” Child explained. “When I posted the story, I said how serious sexism was because they didn’t believe her, but someone commented and said ‘you can’t ignore the fact that race played into the bias.’ And it made sense to me for the first time.”

It’s those kinds of lessons that FemFest aims to teach, but it’s also a celebration. Friday night’s Her Roots: A Southern Woman’s Song is a series of intimate portraits about the lived experiences of southern women through song and speakers.

“The south is not the story we know,” said Gartner. “It’s a beautiful place full of colorful people from all walks of life that’s clouded by history. I want to tear down that southern stereotype and build up a better one.”

For Morrissette, Womanhood in Lavender came to her in a dream. A dream she fulfilled in 2017 with the first FemFest. As an organizer, she has led countless protests and rallies, especially in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“There’s a serious need for people to have the space for hope and celebration,” she said. “There’s so much to overcome. A lot of people didn’t make it this year. We stand in the gap for them.”

Womanhood in Lavender is everything from visual arts to dancing and it’s all to highlight the experience of Black women.

“We throw a little Black girl magic out there,” said Morrissette.

Jennie McKeon
WUWF Public Media
Hale Morrissette, center, at Womanhood in Lavender 2018.

After FemFest, it will be just a little more than a week until the general election where abortion rights are at the forefront. It’s also a big topic in Florida’s gubernatorial campaign. Earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a ban on most abortions after 15 weeks, but hasn’t said whether he would seek a stricter ban as he campaigns for his second term.

Gartner said there is the hope that people will leave inspired to do their part.

“Hopefully, the audience will take the energy to the polls,” she said.

Child said she believes there’s more power in grassroots efforts than voting.

“Voting is not and has not been the tool to make our voices heard,” she said. “You can make change happen by investing in your community, investing in grassroots movements that do the real work more than my politician.”

FemFest begins 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28 at Artel Gallery, 223 S. Palafox with Her Roots: A Southern Woman’s Song. Womanhood in Lavender: Renaissance Noir is 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29 at Artel Gallery. Events are $10 at the door. For more information, visit facebook.com/femfestpcola.

Jennie joined WUWF in 2018 as digital content producer and reporter.