Ladyfesto.net was born in 2019 as a “cultural criticism site for women,” a tongue-in-cheek blog in the tradition of the feminist zine. Yet as soon as I dropped the link, I realized this description was at odds with itself. Almost every person interested in writing for the site was trans. The barrage of questions from hopeful participants all had the same shape, “I’m not a woman, can I still write for this site?”
Well shit, I’d think, my heart sinking as I’d type a friendly, “Of course! I’d love to work with you!”
I tacked on, “and nonbinary people” to the site description, but knew it felt shallow and secondary. You can’t facilitate a truly inclusive space for people who are an afterthought to its design. The whole site would need reworking. This is why I have lopped the “Lady” off festo, why I have opened up its writing to people of all gender identifiers, and what I see as its new focal lens.
What’s Wrong With Women-Only Spaces?
I do not believe that “women-only” spaces are inherently bad. (I put “women-only” in quotes to mean–geared towards cis-women, since many of these spaces do not expressly exclude trans people.) Cis women are still persecuted for being cis women, and, as such, it’s useful for us to link up and smash that patriarchy. But if our end goal is gender equity, then women-only spaces are simply not enough for trans people.
When I think of women-only spaces that have made me a transcendently better version of myself, I think of the girls summer camp I attended as a child and have worked at since the age of sixteen. (I am, alas, a white woman from Connecticut, and, as such, summer camp was and is a commendable force in my life.) At best, campers experience a warm, feminist confidence many of them never experience in their home lives. At best, we are still an all-girls camp; do not fully accommodate campers outside the binary because we have designed the camp around cis womanhood, and the campers feel it–use different pronouns at camp so they can still see the friends they’ve grown to love. It’s a powerful space, but it is not, truly, a feminist one.
I’d positioned Ladyfesto along a relation of production that still privileges women. Relation of production is a Marxist term that I will expand here as “relation of production and social reproduction:” forms of naturally-arising difference between humans bestowed hierarchical value by capital. Or, qualities you were born with that the world had long before deemed valuable or invaluable, like the country where you have citizenship (/if you have citizenship to begin with), your sex, or how much money you have.
“Relation of production and social reproduction” is a bear of a term, but it’s a useful one for seeing how all the -isms are interrelated–they all stem from the value we ascribe to these differences. If the relation in mind is race, racism comes from our ascribing value to whiteness and non-value, or social death, to Blackness. (“Colorism” describes the nuance of this hierarchy, whereby more white-presenting people are seen as more valuable, and more Black-presenting people are seen as less valuable.)
Ladyfesto was a women-only space because I’d conceived of it as a feminist site, or, a site intended to lift voices robbed of value by the relation that is gender. But women do not sit at the bottom of this relation: gender non-conforming people do. Gender is not a relation with men at the top and women at the bottom, but a hierarchy that privileges gender legibility–or, cis-presenting cis people, while ascribing social death to transness. Don’t get me wrong, cis women are still paid less than men despite our cis-ness, the gender hierarchy does not totally agree with us, but at least we get studies on how much we make to every man’s dollar. There is money to fund the research, PhDs unashamed to perform the study, enough participants “out” as women that a sample size might be reasonably estimated.
If my working definition of feminism is gender equity, which it is, then making Ladyfesto a women-centered “feminist” space was a contradiction, and not one I could rectify by merely inviting trans people to the table. The table had already been painted pink. Ladyfesto was couched in woman-ness, which would always trump its welcoming of transness, by sheer fact of cis women’s preexisting, privileged status on the gender hierarchy.
Cis women-geared spaces are not necessarily evil and bad, especially if they lend themselves to honest, critical analysis of cis femininity and cis women’s specific role in realizing gender equity. (I’d say there are some men’s magazines in this vein that are doing cool, important work.) That’s an interesting strain of thought to work with, but not what I saw to be the container for Festo.
What’s Festo About, Then?
My answer to this is obnoxiously cagey, but necessarily so.
Festo is a site that looks at culture through various relations of production and social reproduction.
So…it’s a Marxist site for cultural criticism? One might ask.
Yes, and no. I shy away from embracing the term “Marxist” because I welcome writers who have never read Karl Marx, a thinker I am no authority on myself. Further, I seek to explore “class” identity in much broader terms than Marx wrote about himself. The guy was on some potent shit, but his class analysis did not center nationality or race or gender or ability or many other identity categories crucial to our understanding of present-day late capitalism.
A more accurate term for this messy Marxism might be, “neomarxist,” in the tradition of Cedric Robinson and Sylvia Federici—but who even knows what that word means?
If you do, you might be insulted already that I brought up Cedric Robinson, a total Trot! To that I say: write about it! Send it in. I’d love to read. But you will be published next to people who do not know the difference between Bolshevik and Bogdanov, whose class analysis will be privileged as equally as your own. I believe you can be class conscious in your own words; if this is appalling and dogmatic to you, then so be it.
I am more interested in making this site accessible than accurately labeling its genre of criticism in alienating academese, nor do I wish to argue the purity of its label to people who are deep in their own Marxist readings. If that conversation is useful, let’s put it in print. If not, let’s keep it moving.
A Little Coherence At the End of the World
As Festo rebrands in 2020, it would seem that the world is ending. Everyone is in the streets protesting a different nuisance, a different hierarchical relation. “Fuck cishet rich, able-bodied white men!” is a mouthful, as is “capitalist imperialist white supremacist patriarchy.” The American left grows ever more incoherent as we diverge on what relations of production and social reproduction need equalizing first, and how we might go about accomplishing this.
Yet the incoherence makes utter sense. Where does one start with this mess? What does one write on a protest sign?
Festo posits we start by realizing all of this stuff is the exact same. That there is bright, brilliant life in transness, in Blackness, in disability, in queerness, in poverty–life even and especially in the face of social death. Is this not all the proof we need that there is, in fact, life at the end of the world? That confronting this “end” is how we begin to live authentically? Perhaps, the only way?
This bit of hope is where Festo would like to begin.
is still figuring it out.