The 2015 Southern Girls Convention: A recap of the weekend’s presentations

For the first time since 2008, the Southern Girls Convention took place this past weekend — June 26–28 — at the Tim Faulkner gallery. Here’s our takeaway.

Day 1

Carrie Neumayer
Carrie Neumayer helped found and run last year’s Outskirts Festival. Now in its second year, the Outskirts Festival hosts discussion panels and rock shops, clinics to engage girls, female-identifying and gender non-conforming youth, ages 10-18, to learn how to create music and grow the community. It’s pretty amazing, and as the father to a very young daughter, I hope that the Outskirts (and the SGC for that matter) create the kind of world that I want for my little girl, and that she can feel like a part of a greater community. Neumayer was an engaging speaker. The crowd was small, and largely comprised of young women, high school age or just a bit older. Neumayer broke down the general logistics of the festival, and discussed who their intended audience is and the general travails inherent to activism. She said to assume everyone has the best intentions and work from there. It was awesome to see the crowd engaged in the discussion, even if they were a bit timid to participate; people were clearly interested if a bit shy.

Planned Parenthood
A group of young folks offered safe sex advice to an even younger crowd. Imagine that anxiety you had as a young person to discuss this stuff in person. Now imagine a room full of people with that same anxiety, all of which are open to learning new things, but none of which are especially eager to participate. Considering all that, it wasn’t half as awkward as it sounds, which I would call a small victory. It was a frank conversation about, well, exactly what you’d expect, proper condom use, etc., and was delivered without any pretense. Clearly, the Planned Parenthood group wants to help and their public demonstrations are effective in educating anyone curious.

Tim Holman
An educator at DuPont Manual High School, Holman has a background as a member of the punk rock community in Olympia, Washington, home of the Riot Grrrl scene. He gave a talk about the male violence at early punk shows and how the Riot Grrrl scene worked to bring feminist ideals to the punk and indie scenes. He explains that it’s about how the Riot Grrrl scene worked aggressively to reclaim that space as a safe spot for women first and foremost, but that also wanted to foster that same sense of acceptance for a broader spectrum of people. Holman recounted stories from his days in the scene, including tales of filmmaker Miranda July getting into the faces of some particularly macho folks, or in the Olympia feminist icons that he was fortunate enough to meet. For Holman, a revelation was the idea that punk — at least in the Olympia music scene — was an inclusive force not tied to any particular musical concept, but anything that went against the grain. Holman was very honest in his appraisal of that scene, which has had a clear impact on a number of people in attendance. He was clear that not everyone was always kind and that the scene as a whole was not without flaws, in particular that some of the constituency that identified with the ideals of the movement were at times overly aggressive and divisive in their approach. He ended with one last story about a student who was brave enough to admit that they identified as a gender other than their biological sex. The student sent a long letter explaining in eloquent detail their decision to come to that change. Holman gave a simple response acknowledging it, but moved on. The idea is that in that instance the casual acceptance he offered helped engender normality, which was his goal.

Day 2

James Miller
James Miller is an educator at duPont Manual, as well as a media critic formerly for WFPK and now for Insider Louisville. His presentation on how the media influences public perception included a slide show presentation. Miller dissected the ways the media frames various instances of crime or violence to skew audience support in one way or another. For example, in a photo of two survivors from Hurricane Katrina, one black male is identified as having looted a local grocery store, whereas a white family is credited as having “found” food at a grocery store. He went on to discuss how violence is rhetorically discussed in media coverage to direct public attention in one way or another, to focus on crime when it may not be as prevalent as portrayed, in order to support the death penalty or higher spending for police or prisons. He extended that concept by juxtaposing how violence is portrayed differently between white and black people, that a white crowd rowdy after a sporting event are just having fun that got out of hand, whereas that same black crowd is presented as rioting. Victim blaming came up often, the idea that women involved in intimate partner violence (domestic in nature) is presented as something preventable by the woman in the situation. Specifically, the problem that Miller delved into is the underrepresentation of rape and intimate partner violence. Miller stated that this underrepresentation is even worse for members of the trans community, especially for people of color. He also pointed out the disparity between legal penalties for whites and blacks, with a disproportionate number of African Americans likely to serve jail time, to merit less parole or appeals opportunities, and to receive larger bail expectations. The underlying theme was institutionalized bigotry, part and parcel to our national conversation as a reflection of all the racially motivated violence in the last year, and supported by statistical data that confirms that narrative of racial violence. Miller suggested the culmination of this narrative perpetuated by the media has lead to the disproportionately African-American population in jails. He suggested that media silence on issues of partner-related violence perpetuates the notion that these assaults are “private.” He offered solutions too: Make your voice heard by being a vocal critic of media, by writing your concerns publicly, creating your own media and working with media outlets who voice a position you support. Miller’s panel was capped off by a high energy Q&A.

Rus Funk
Funk focused on manhood in modern culture, specifically on the expectations inherent to being male and how those expectations are difficult to subvert, not to mention damaging to your health as presented by statistical data. Funk wrote out a list of what it is to be a man, or rather what people think it is to be such, explaining how ultimately those expectations engender an otherness to everyone else, and that to be a man is often portrayed as not to be feminine in any way. Funk believes that in trying to live outside of that box, men are put at risk, which is a reflection of the struggles women face on a daily basis. He discussed his fears as a parent for his son who is about to start public school.

Marissa Booker
One of the Southern Girls Convention organizers, Booker is a member of Sorry Mom, a band formed via one of the Rock Shops at last year’s Outskirts Festival. Booker’s panel addressed issues she faces as a biracial young woman, such as “the silent interview” she regularly encounters as others try to identify her, judging a book by its cover. Booker sought to dissect the experience of identity, not just racial identity, but what it is that makes a person a person, and how we view ourselves. Booker talked about how she was confronted at a job interview with a direct question of her racial identity. It can be a bureaucratic conversation, one that pops up on job applications, on census forms and marriage licenses. Someone who is biracial (at least in Kentucky), has to pick Caucasian or African-American; there is no other option. It’s that bureaucratic narrative, an enforced binary of us and them that Booker skirted indirectly, but seemed to intuitively understand.

Day 3

I showed up a little late on Sunday, but given the fact that I was packing the absolute youngest girl in attendance, I felt relatively justified.

She Shreds Magazine
I came in at the end of the talk, which involved a zine curated by and for young women in music, and the Q&A session seemed pretty robust, with the speaker fielding a variety of questions about the future of her publication, which involves documentaries and, I believe, a concert series.

Liz Palmer
She qualified her work as both a journalism instructor and media critic for Insider Louisville, but astute members of the audience — spoiler: me — knows Palmer as one of the founding figures of the Brycc House, and a writer for Brat Magazine from back in the day. Interestingly, it was the LEO that sparked her interest in journalism and activism, via an article written in the ’90s that posited that teens/youth were destroying the Highlands, punctuated by a stock photo of some goth/punk teens — a caricature of what people expected from area youth in the Highlands — which she and others found offensive as a wholly off-base examination of the subject. This prompted Palmer to the aforementioned Brat Magazine. From here, Palmer and company, including Saturday speaker James Miller, began soliciting publications for advice on how to assemble their own zine. She explained that the name Brat was a reclamation of the word. Brat ultimately developed a relationship with the local punk/indie music scene prior to taking any serious political action, which they went on to as the city enacted a number of youth-oriented policies, such as enforced dress codes, and a skateboarding ban in downtown Louisville. Brat took actions by sending out constituents of its growing and diversifying community to disseminate flyers questioning the legitimacy of dress code policies, which there was little statistical data to prove was a useful policy. Brat took a strong stance against the curfew that the city enacted meant to impose a strict curfew on local teens that many saw as not only ageist, but racially motivated, myself included. So Brat organized a Screw the Curfew concert, which I promise you was awesome, as I was there. I remember that prior to going to the festival that I bought a couch at a Goodwill so that I could relax at the event, which was held in Jefferson Square across the street from the Courthouse. We left it there, less as a means of social protest, and more because we were young and full of beans. Palmer rightfully pointed out that this was for many their first political action, as was the case for me. It was amazing and motivated, and particularly inspiring. Palmer made the particularly poignant point that everyone should be made to feel included in social justice, a point made perhaps even more salient as a reflection of the average age of the crowd, which skewed particularly young.