Michigan Womyn's Music Festival

Michigan Womyn's Music Festival

The Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, called "the Original Womyn's Woodstock" [1] and often referred to as MWMF or Michfest, is an international feminist music festival occurring every August since 1976 near Hart, Michigan. The event is completely built, staffed, run and attended by women, and has garnered such notable performers as the Indigo Girls, Sweet Honey in the Rock, and Tracy Chapman. The spelling of "womyn" in the name of the festival is deliberate and comes from feminist politics.


Functioning, activities and services

Women build all of the stages, run the light and sound systems, make the trash collection rounds, serve as electricians, mechanics, security, medical and psychological support, cook meals for thousands over open fire pits, provide childcare, and facilitate workshops covering various topics of interest to the attendees, who are referred to as "festies". Hundreds of women spend upwards of a month out on the land building the festival from the ground up because every year the festival is torn down, leaving the land as close to how it was found as possible.[2]

Community decisions are made through worker community meetings where the youngest members of the community are given as much access to participate as the oldest. While men are not allowed at the festival, male children age 4 and under are allowed within the festival. Childcare for under 5 girls and boys is provided by Sprouts, and for 5 and over girls the main venue is Gaia Girls. There is also a teen tent. Brother Sun Boys Camp is available for boys aged 5 to 10.[3]

Three vegetarian meals are served daily to festies and festival workers, which is included for all ticket-holders. There are also alternative venues for food, which sell pizza, pretzels, calzones, coffee, doughnuts, etc. Ice is made available for purchase on-site for coolers. There are no buildings on the land, so sanitation is provided through two outdoor dishwashing areas, multiple cold water taps, four sets of outdoor heated shower facilities, as well as rented portable toilets nicknamed 'porta-janes', as john is a male name.[citation needed]

The festival takes great care to provide healing space for various communities; accordingly, there is "Womyn of Color"-only space, as well as separate spaces for girls and teens. In addition to ample "general camping" areas, specialized categories of camping areas include "Chem-Free," "Scent-Free", the (unofficial) "Solo Collective" for those attending Michfest on their own, "Over-50s", families with young children, "DART" camping (Disabled Access Resource Team), and an area for deaf and hard-of-hearing festies to camp together, should they wish. There is also dedicated space for "Loud and Rowdy" adult campers and late-night revellers, called "The Twilight Zone."[citation needed]

Artists and Craftswomen are an integral part of the MWMF experience, and have provided original, visual expressions of women's culture since the festival began.

Production and performances

The festival creates a high tech production in an extremely rural outdoor venue. Built over a month-long period by a volunteer workforce, the festival land starts completely in its natural ecological state. After the week-long festivities, the workers tear down the entire operation and completely remove all non-organic materials from the land. The equipment is then stored in a variety of local barns and warehouses to be used the following year. By the time the last woman leaves the land, nothing remains to bear witness of the event; even the electrical boxes that power the festival are buried at each festival's end.

Three stages feature an eclectic selection of women musicians. Tracy Chapman began her career playing to the festival audience and many singer-songwriters before and since then have built loyal followings across the USA and beyond because of their connection with the festival.[citation needed] The festival has absolutely no corporate sponsorship, with each year's festival paying for the next.

"Womyn Born Womyn" policy and debate over trans inclusion


Since its inception, "the Michigan Festival...always has been an event for women, and this continues to be defined as womyn born womyn" (Lisa Vogel & Barbara Price). This policy has gained notoriety for the festival, as it officially requests that the attendees be "womyn-born-womyn" (WBW) only. That is, those who were born and raised as girls, and currently identify as women. MWMF is one of only a few women's festivals with a WBW policy.[citation needed]


Opponents of the policy believe that WBW is a questionable category created solely to legitimize discrimination against transsexual and transgender women. They point out that very little of the festival's content and language about itself centers around specific experiences of being "born and raised", but rather focuses on the idea that the festival is by and for "all women". Opponents argue for a less deterministic understanding of gender, insisting that "women's space is for all self-identified women," regardless of whether one was assigned female or male at birth. Trans rights activists claim that the festival's policy exerts cissexual privilege and that it establishes and promotes an atmosphere of oppression and discrimination by allowing some women in but not other women.

After a 1991 incident where MtF transwoman Nancy Burkholder was evicted from the festival, an active protest movement has sprung up around the festival. Opposition has included performers criticizing the policy from the stage, boycotts of performers who have played at the festival and not taken anti-policy stances, cutting of gas lines to showers[citation needed], vandalism[citation needed], threats[citation needed], attendees wearing yellow armbands to signal their opposition, and Camp Trans, an annual protest camp that takes place near the site of the MWMF.[citation needed]

In 1999, the then organizer of Camp Trans, Riki Wilchins, led an on-land protest of the WBW policy. Wilchins called a highly charged community meeting regarding the policy. Wilchins invited several people along the gender continuum to the land during the protest as a means of physically challenging the policy. One invitee, Tony Baretto-Neto, a post-operative trans man, infamously took a nude shower on the Land. Baretto-Neto would later argue that he deserved to attend Michfest because he had "paid his dues" as a lesbian.[4] A year later, Wilchins returned for a second protest that included other male identified trans men, such as Simon Strikeback. Strikeback, formerly a female identified member of the Chicago contingency of The Lesbian Avengers during the 1999 protest, had transitioned and was identifying as male by the time he entered the festival in August 2000, as part of the "Son of Camp Trans" action.

Because the festival is defined as a women only space, some individuals who were involved or who witnessed the "Michigan 8 expulsion", questioned the appropriateness of male identified persons having entered the festival as part of the action. The presence of FTM persons at Michfest would later become a sticking point for future Camp Trans activists, including spoken word artist and performer Julia Serano, who would go on to assert that the tolerance of trans men at MWMF undermined the ability of trans women to gain legitimacy in women-only spaces.[citation needed]

Current status

In 2006, an out trans woman and Camp Trans organizer named Lorraine was sold a ticket at the box office. Following a press release from Camp Trans stating that the womyn-born-womyn policy was no longer in effect, Lisa Vogel reaffirmed her support of and the festival's adherence to the policy.[5] Even in light of Vogel's statement that the policy is still in effect and requests that it be respected, Camp Trans continued to maintain that the policy is no longer in effect. A hotly contested debate between members of the Yellow Armbands and Camp Trans over matters of ethics and consent surrounding the press release statements followed during the fall of 2006 and winter of 2007.[citation needed]

Documenting the Festival

Lesbian photographer Angela Jimenez spent five years, from 2003 to 2008, documenting the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, specifically focusing on the workers who create the festival each year.[2] Angela stated that “The worker crews are really at the heart of it and it’s a really important part of herstory that’s been happening for 34 years and I just felt like this is a story that we need to know,” says Jimenez. Her self-published book, Welcome Home: The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival has been sold at the festival and is available online.[6]

See also


External links

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