Illustration © Nikki McClure

contentarea top menu

“Is Ladyfest a politics to settle down to?”: A conversation with Maaike from Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Queer feminism
Race & ethnicity
Teaser Image: 


52° 22' 25.7232" N, 4° 53' 27.4236" E

Maaike helped organize Ladyfest Amsterdam 08 and played the final night with her band Dusty Blinds. Red interviewed her on her birthday about Ladyfests, whiteness, and coming up with a Ladyfest trademark plan.

How did you get involved in Ladyfest?

For me it started when I had a boyfriend! I was dating this guy and he was playing a show and needed me to drive. Everyone else was going to Ladyfest - Dominatrix were playing. I wanted to go to Ladyfest, but had to drive his amp to the stupid show. So I ended up not going, and I was really upset about that.

How would you describe Ladyfest to someone who had never heard about it before?

As a non-profit festival; a festival that wants to promote women in the arts, music and film. But not women that already have the means to do it. It’s for women just getting started and those already evolved but who are not backed up by the commercial music industry or art industry.

The fact that Ladyfest ever happens amazes me – how strangers and friends come together and pull this whole thing off. What do you think keeps people involved?

I think it’s the cooperation and also maybe because everyone is volunteering; no one is getting money. So, everyone does it because they are empowered even before they start; though you can’t do it from scratch, you already need some information – to find out that it is possible. There are also no egos – well sometimes it happens [laughs]. People just like what you’re doing, you don’t have to be supergood.

What do you make of the 'Ladyfest' name?

We went to a group discussion at Ladyfest Berlin 05 and it was really awful; it got to the point where it was like “What should Ladyfest be?” There was this really kind of nasty attitude towards guys. The festival was cool but it was really kind of grim, having these hour-long discussions about these really tiny things. Then we were like, “Hey, there should be like this central [convention] or something, where every Ladyfest sends their representative and we should make this European manifesto.” I think if Ladyfest wants to continue to exist in a couple of years, such a manifesto would be really helpful. If you had a really broad manifesto with a couple of key points that you should stick to if you wanna call yourself Ladyfest. [Manuela: Like a trademark]. Yeh, like a trademark. Anybody can call their festival Ladyfest, right, but you get totally different interpretations to what Ladyfest should be. If everyone from every city comes together and sets up this manifesto, then you have this common agreement on what everyone thinks Ladyfest should be. I don’t know if we could achieve this, but it might actually be a nice way to keep Ladyfest healthy – instead of it being infected by disappointment and anger and frustration, which happens.

What would you like in a Ladyfest manifesto?

Politics of course, but this should de defined. There’s always different ideas of how political Ladyfest should be; I heard someone say last night there should be more politics. I disagree on that because you have to narrow down. Right now you can make Ladyfest as broad as possible; you can address queer issues, and that issue and this issue. I think that’s a really important issue to discuss: How far do you wanna go involving every sort of politic there is?

It’s an important question because a lot of people feel demotivated and a bit disgruntled because, is Ladyfest a subculture? Is it having a good time and embracing your DIY ethics and politics? Or should it be more outward looking and reaching new people…

Right, that’s another issue. There’s so much time wasted, oh my god. What is a subculture any way? Are you a subculture because you are united by something the other people don’t know much about and aren’t interested in? Like, it has to do with what you want from your politics. Do you just want to settle down? Get in there and never come out again? Or do you want to reach out? Of course you wanna reach out – this is the whole point. But what do you give up in this whole reaching out process? You can reach out, but still keep your DIY ethics. There are some people who will never be inspired by this whole idea, who will never be interested. And girls, you know. I think that there is definitely a way inbetween.

We tried to reach a more Urban crowd with this Ladyfest. You know, like tiny weeny little effort, and it worked out. I think it’s kind of arrogant to think that these girls wouldn’t wanna be involved anyway, so let’s not do it. There’s also this idea that if you’re into Punk, you’re only into Punk, and you can’t like anything else. And if, Oh you’re into Urban, you only like Urban and you’re never gonna like [Ladyfest]. I mean we had this little Urban thing going on and all the punk girls went crazy! [all laugh]. Oh my god, they were dancing to really bad 90s R&B. And if you reach out you get rewarded. And the people who don’t like that – they’re clearly not meant to be there. Then you filter out the people who are not open to other things, I guess. That’s what I would like Ladyfest to become. Because I really like this discussion, this Whiteness discussion. Or this Western discussion. And I think, of course, it also depends on the country that you’re in; your Ladyfest is influenced by your surroundings. If you do Ladyfest at Belgrade, that’s gonna be different from Ladyfest Amsterdam because they have completely different issues. It should be open for everybody. That space should still be there, but I think that if you want to write a manifesto for Ladyfest, for me it would be important to say, Reach Out to places where you would not initially think about. And the people who are interested in that scene, you’re gonna reach them – the rest, they won’t come, you know? It’s arrogant to think that there’s only going to be feminists within the white community.

We have conversations in the UK about the whiteness of Ladyfest. Like maybe it’s not good enough to have a festival in place and then when you’re programming, you invite different people to “come in”. I totally respect that you had an Urban night, and I wasn’t there so I didn’t see it, but I think that was really cool. But it’s also about thinking about how to get more people involved in the very beginning. Some of us are taking our experiences of Ladyfest and we’re thinking about instances of racism within the organization. Unconscious racism, where it’s like white representation through everything – the people you contact, the images that you show in your flyers, etc; there’s a white norm. Most of the people who call Ladyfests, in the Ladyfests I’ve talked to, have been white. And they call to the existing networks that they have. Should we, as Ladyfest organizers, be more aware of this, at that very first moment?

This is a thing that takes a lot of time. Basically you have to start two years in advance, to start getting people interested in different scenes. For us, it’s something we’re been busy with for 5 to 10 years. For these other people, it’s something they’ve never been busy with or something in another form. I think that it definitely should happen – like what I said, it should move on, evolve.

But of course, when you talk about movement, you have to evolve as a person, we all have to evolve. We have to change our way of thinking when it comes to that. And I would not say that was racism, it’s not racism at all. It’s just what you’re used to and what you’re into. I mean, we were all defined by how we were brought up. You can’t expect us, you can’t expect a 18-year old who’s into Riot Grrrl – when they first get in touch, immediately to think about, Oh my god, it’s so white this Riot Grrrl. No. It’s like, Oh this is so great, I’ve found my group. And then, after a couple of years, you’ve settled down, and you start to think, “Well, what am I gonna do now?” I think we all now have reached that point. There’s a whole generation of girls who have reached that point. But you have to still think about the fact that there’s still girls…they’re 18 years old right now, and they’re in the place we were ten years ago. I think you have to be careful to call this thing racism, or whatever. Because I don’t think it is; it is like an unawareness. It’s like being excited. But first you have to find out who you are, before you can find out what other people want or are.

I mean these things are all in my head because we’re been having intense discussions about this. And a lot has been happening in the zine Race Revolt. We have people who are so burnt out, the only brown people in the scene or whatever, and it’s always down to them at every Ladyfest to do the racism workshop and everything. And they’re just like, “For fucks sake. Do we have to keep doing this? Are we the only ones…” And we’re gonna lose them from the [white] feminist movement because they are so alienated because the white activists, who are in the majority in this scene, are not taking up enough responsibility. Like us doing the work of [facilitating workshops, etc]. I think it's also about not being scared of the term ‘racism’. The way I see it, we’re been brought up in this white dominated society. It’s like: I know that I’m racist in different ways, because I’ve been brought up with white privilege that I don’t even know. I’m not hating on people, so I don’t mean racist like that. I mean racist in that my mind-set has been raised through white privilege. So it’s trying to dissolve the boundaries which make me replicate this behaviour.

But in a way that’s totally natural. Like if you’ve been brought up in a black community, that’s exactly the same thing. That’s a challenge, to realize this but also to want to change that. If you realize this then you can make the decision. But then it also takes the Black community, or the Asian community, or whatever, to also realize. And you have to do this together. But first you have to find each other. And maybe they’ll be like, “What you trying to do? I don’t want to be part of your Ladyfest. I’ve got my own thing.” And they could call it…whatever. We are very analytical. We are always analyzing our behaviour; which is good. We put a lot of responsibilities on our own actions. But sometimes I think you can relegate it, and say “Okay, you can have this discussion in your own group, go crazy and go on and on and on.” But wait, you know. Wait for abit. Okay, let’s invite other people and see how they think about this. And then you have something else to talk about, because right now, in Amsterdam anyway, that’s not much new information coming. Just the same thing going round and round and round.

Doing these interviews, I’ve met women who would reject the term feminism because they associate it with the white dominated movement from the second wave onwards. And they just come up with their own stuff, which is also based in their language...

That’s why I think at a certain point you need to make a decision. Identity politics are not called identity politics for nothing. Then you can say, “I’m…whatever”. That’s why I think a manifesto would be good because then actually you have a choice.

Maybe it would be an idea to give a definition of feminism; because feminism is just a word for so many things. It’s a history attached to a word. Probably there’s papers written about this and stuff. But if you can define feminism as something like ‘Women take their own empowerment’, or something, that is then way more understandable for many people, you know. [Manuela: Just so you know, the word ‘empowerment’ doesn’t exist in Latin languages as a verb. I was having a chat with the Ladyfest Italy girls about this yesterday; it’s like the concept doesn’t exist].

Okay, so now see, there’s already a problem. So you can make it broader by saying this festival provides a stage for various women to get attention for their arts, or something. And I think that was how Ladyfest was actually organized the first time. It was a music festival because the women in punk felt like they were repressed. So they organized their own festival, so that they could be on stage instead of the guys. Actually, I think it is a very European thing to politicize it.

And Ladyfest is quite left-wing tradition, right? Say I’m a right wing woman, and I’m a feminist, I’m a Lady, I feel like a Lady, you know? But I want Bush for President. And I wanna know how to fix my bike. And, yeh, I think it’s important that I know how to knit and make a dildo…maybe I’m a Republican, but I’m really nice and cool. And queer. But I’m not allowed. I come to the Ladyfest and I’m like, Yeh, I’m gonna meet like-minded people. And then I’m like, ‘What the fuck?’ Anarchy, no, I don’t agree with this. So…there’s a problem there. It’s excluding.

There’s a huge conflict and you have to make the choice [as an organizer and participant]. Can you live with the fact that there are always going to be boundaries?

Maaike, Ladyfest Amsterdam 08 organiser and musician
Affiliated organisation: 
Ladyfest Amsterdam,
Red Chidgey
Show on calendar: 


left-wing politics

thanks for this interview, I've seen lot of interesting points on it... just a full disagreement: you CAN'T be a feminist, a lady, queer -or even nice probably- and want Bush for president. I even doubt you can be a feminist a want anyone for USA president, taking into account what that means.

in case we promote an european Ladymanifesto, in my opinion a left-wing position is completely necessary. how can you sustain women empowerment or d.i.y. ethics if not? sure I can live with boundaries: between what I want to live with and what I want to destroy. let's be broad and inclusive, but also don't forget what we are fighting against.