Electric Forest Takes on Festival Culture's "Gender Problem”

Article by: Mia Quagliarello|@miaq

Tue June 27, 2017 | 12:52 PM

Sometimes, a festival-loving lady has to make a choice: go solo or don’t go at all? She might weigh her love of the music, of the experience, against feelings of being safe and supported. She feels she has every right to be here, but it makes her feel vulnerable. She decides to stay in, with a major case of FOMO at best and a sense of injustice at worst. That is this writer’s inner monologue, at least, but surely it’s a common one.

By now, festivals’ "women problem" has been well documented. Whether it’s poor representation on stage or assault and harassment against female participants, women haven’t exactly been welcomed into these places or made to feel safe once they’re here. Note that over 50% of festival-goers are women, and it’s hard not to be Debbie Downer on this stuff.

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Photo by: Electric Forest

Luckily, the festival world is filled with Debbie Do Rights. Awareness — and action — has set in, thanks in large part to women working hard behind the scenes to change the status quo. Dedicated safe spaces for women began popping up in the last year or two at festivals like Glastonbury, Shambhala and Electric Forest. These areas let women know that they are loved, they are badass, and that there is a sisterhood who is there for them, especially if they come solo.

“In 2015, we went into the Forest and asked hundreds of women the question, ‘What do you want?’” recalls Kiki Federico, co-producer of Her Forest, Electric Forest's immersive zone for all who identify as women. “What we heard back was a resounding desire to connect more deeply to one another through guided experiences, to be inspired by female artists and leaders, and to feel more comfortable.”

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Photo by: Electric Forest

Spaces like Her Forest have no time for a victim mentality. The goal here is empowerment, support, comfort and solidarity for the tribe — and we’re not just talking about a workshop here and there. Now in its second year, Her Forest offers an end-to-end experience for anyone who identifies as a woman, including a dedicated camp, a five-hour curated event, panel discussions, meetups, women's circles, and closing circles for the festival at large.

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Photo by: Electric Forest

Federico says she’s most excited for the curated event, a takeover on the Observatory Stage Friday of Weekend One (June 22-25). Not only was there a lineup of talented female DJs, musicians and dancers planned, but there’s also a drag show with members of the LGBTQ community. “The cool thing about creating women-led spaces is to see how it organically evolves to become a platform for other groups,” says Federico. Of the curated event's success during Weekend One, she said: "It was really incredible to see how the artists came together and really embodied the heartfelt, supportive and unifying vibes of Her Forest."

The other surprising thing that happened was that men were present for the Her Forest Women's Circle," she continued. "We asked them to sit along the perimeter and be 'righteous dudes' to quietly observe and hold space for the women. It's really cool to create a space where regardless of how people identify themselves, they are able to really feel and see the light of humanity shining through each individual as a force that unites us."

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Photo by: Electric Forest

It’s heartening to think that what began as an idea for a workshop (for Her Forest) has blossomed into a movement enhancing the experience for the entire Forest Family and beyond. Even men are leading the dialogue in some cases: Our own Eamon Armstrong has spoken about dismantling toxic masculinity at Lightning in a Bottle, What the Festival , and Burning Man .

“The truth is that women have talents, ideas and desires for things that don't exist within many festival experiences,” says Federico. “By intentionally listening to women, and giving us a platform, festivals demonstrate what it means to be an ally.”

Check out Her Forest's programming during Electric Forest Weekend Two, June 29 - July 2, 2017.