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Femme Wave Is Working To Create Safer Spaces

The music and arts festival wants to create bigger and inclusive spaces for the work of ALL women, trans and non-binary people.

One Saturday afternoon two summers ago, Hayley Muir and Kaely Cormack were DJing a brunch at Calgary's Palomino Smokehouse. It was a bit of a sleepy day, and all they had to do, aside from spinning some old school country and soul, was talk to each other. They started lamenting the lack of women represented in the shows and festivals they went to and realized if they wanted anything done about it, they'd have to fix the problem themselves. Muir dug around in her purse and found a pen and a crumpled envelope. They made a list of all the amazing women in music they knew. That impromptu planning session was the beginning of Femme Wave, a music and arts festival that showcases the work of women, trans and non-binary people. In other words, there will be nary a mansplainer nor a quintessential all-male four-piece in sight.


"I remember saying at the time 'We have to do this because if we don't, somebody else will," Muir tells me over Skype one weekday morning with Cormack sitting wrapped in a sweater beside her. The two are in a punk band called the Shiverettes, and they were out late playing a show last night. "So, really, that insecurity was the driving force behind it. But now, a year later, I don't think anybody else actually would have done it." The second iteration of Femme Wave is happening this weekend from Nov. 17 to Nov. 20. I ask why November and Cormack and Muir tell me it's because the summer festival lineup is so hectic, and they wanted Femme Wave to get the attention it deserves. They thought people could use some added brightness during a typically dreary month. That certainly holds true for feminists this year, given the bright orange out'n'proud lady snatcher newly installed in the White House.

While there are a number of feminist festivals in the U.S. already—the Ohio Lesbian Festival, the National Women's Music Festival, Stargayzer, and the Women's Redrock Music Festival, to name a few — Femme Wave is unique in that it is a leading multidisciplinary feminist festival of its kind, of this magnitude, in Canada at this particular time. (Yes, we had Lilith Fair, but that was 20 years ago, folks.) A comparable festival in scope would be Calgary's Sled Island . But Femme Wave will feature about 30 musical acts, with headliners including L.A.-based lo-fi punk band Peach Kelli Pop and Toronto-based blues duo catl. Aside from the music, there will be comedy, there will be DIY, there will be film and visual art. There will be workshops on everything from tarot and astrology to Indigenous medicine and learning to recognize and avoid cultural appropriation. There will be a panel on harm reduction facilitated by Bass Coast's Stacey Forrester, an Intro to Screaming workshop, children's programming, and a stitching circle wherein people will make vulva-shaped Christmas ornaments. Workshops will be all-ages, and they're free or PWYC. In other words, truly a feminist dream.


The festival has a clear safe spaces policy in place, too. It mirrors what some other bars and organizations are doing, and boils down to no racism, no homophobia, no sexism, no ableism, and no transphobia. Basically, no open and harmful hating on any person belonging to any marginalized group for any reason. The full policy is posted online and a condensed version will be posted on the doors of each festival venue. The goal, Muir and Cormack explain, is to help familiarize people with the idea of safe spaces. "People have been feeling sort of reactionary at the idea of safer spaces and at being called out," Muir says. "We really we hope we can normalize those things. With safe spaces, we're not going to ruin your party. If you want to get fucked up, get fucked up. Just don't hurt anybody else." In case people do feel unsafe, volunteers will be present at each event, and they can be approached at any time for help.

Shaping the festival in this way is a collaborative effort with a board of about 20 people from diverse backgrounds calling the shots together. While the objectives are clear, it doesn't mean there haven't been difficulties when it comes to organizing. In the early days especially, while trying to plan an event in a town with a relatively white music scene, Muir and Cormack were facing the same question white women should be asking themselves. "Our biggest dilemma in the early days was our collective whiteness," Cormack says. "Moving forward, we're looking at how we can exist and be an intersectional festival while being straight white women." Being mindful of that, they say, they've expanded their board to include people with different lived experiences, and they're looking to continue doing that as the festival grows. Throughout the next year, they plan to expand outreach to Indigenous communities, and, as the festival grows and they build relationships, the plan is to increase their programming each year from Black and Indigenous folks and other artists of colour.

Going forward, Cormack and Muir hope they inspire other festivals to pay attention to women's and trans talent. Because really, at this point, any festival organizer stacking bills solely with four-piece man bands needs to face the music.

Sarah Ratchford is a writer living in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter. Photos of Femme Wave 2015 and its organizers by Michael Grondin.