Arts & Culture

Women’s History Month yields variety of programming

As part of month-long women’s history celebration, DJs encourage female empowerment

By
Staff Writer
Friday, March 21, 2014

The Sarah Doyle Women’s Center has sponsored events all month discussing women’s history and social change. Organizers have made an active effort to include speakers of different races and backgrounds.

“It took me a while to even realize (DJ K-Swift) was a woman because her songs were pretty filthy,” said Jackson Morley, a local DJ and the workshop manager for the Avenue Concept, a public art program, at the Ladies DJ Workshop Tuesday night. Morley and Samantha Calamari, professionally known as DJ Sister Squid, co-hosted the workshop in the Underground as part of the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center’s Women’s History Month.

This year’s Women’s History Month focused around the theme “Action, Activism and Advocacy.” Outside of the DJ workshop, the month’s events included movie screenings, readings and discussions on dieting, grieving and social justice.

Juhee Kwon ’14, who led a screening and panel discussion about the role of women of color in activism, noted that this month’s theme captured the center’s efforts to bring together individuals actively involved in social change.

“A lot of what we do on this campus is we sit around in a circle,” she said. “We should somehow transition from this closed-off intellectual conversation in an ivory tower to really bringing about change.”

 

Herstory of DJing

Students trickled into the Underground Tuesday to listen to the Ladies DJ Workshop discussion and were transported back in time by the fully equipped turntable — records included — dominating the center of the floor. As students glanced uncertainly at the display, Morley told the crowd that one of the biggest barriers DJs face is acquiring equipment, which can cost up to $400.

Morley dove into a brief outline of the history of DJing, highlighting famous female DJs like DJ K-Swift, DJ Sheron, DJ Heather and Miss Kittin.

“With all these women, there’s definitely a presence, but there’s not a majority role,” Calamari said. She went on to describe her own experience as a female DJ, which began spontaneously when she spun at a friend’s birthday party as a child. She ended up joining an all-female artist collective, known as Herstory, in San Francisco in the early 2000s.

“I guess I didn’t realize it was not just about showing up with a bag of records,” Calamari said. She discussed how she had to learn how to curate music and facilitate the party atmosphere. “I was getting a lot of attention just because I was a female and I was playing music.”

As a member of the collective, Calamari hosted monthly speakeasies that promoted visual art, music and spoken word. She said the collective sought to promote music with a positive message, a characteristic not always present in hip-hop. The speakeasies were supposed to be a “nurturing experience,” where food was often provided and artists would paint live interpretations of spoken word pieces as they were presented. Calamari described the events as a  “multi-sensory definition of who women were in an artistic space.”

The collective also discussed the work of other female DJs like Pam the Funktress, who was known for using her breasts to spin records “as a sort of gimmick to show off,” Calamari said. Herstory members debated whether this action presented a positive or negative image, she added.

Calamari described how technology often shaped her career as a female DJ. “It was really about having to prove oneself a little bit in a technical way,” she said. But after the shift to more digital equipment, there was no longer as much of a technology barrier. It “shifted from me being a female DJ to just being a DJ,” she said.

With so few students in the room, the lecture turned into an informal discussion where students contributed their own questions and observations. Later in the evening, participants had the opportunity to work with the turntables, experimenting with beat matching and sound controls.

“It looks like we have a scratch DJ,” Morley joked as one of the audience members worked with the equipment. Scratching is a DJ technique where artists manipulate the playing of records to create a distinctive sound.

 

Tagged-on identities?

Throughout Women’s History Month, participants and coordinators have grappled with issues of diversity and representation.

Kwon said it is important to ensure the conversations throughout Women’s History Month feature people from many different genders and races, adding that she believes women’s history often focuses on white women. She said she felt marginalized at other female-focused events on campus, citing FemSex, which she alleged fails to represent students with diverse identities.

Comparatively, she said, the center has done a great job of incorporating other identities into its Women’s History Month programming.

“We try to include speakers and workshops from people from all breadths of feminism,” said Elisa Glubok ’14, one of the coordinators of Women’s History Month. She pointed to an event with Cristy Road, a Cuban-American graphic novelist, as an example of these efforts.

Kwon helped coordinate a screening of “Mountains That Take Wing,” which also featured a discussion with activist Yuri Kochiyama and other local female activists. Now that the event has passed, Kwon hopes she and her fellow coordinators will continue to reflect on whether the members of the panel “view their identities as women of color as being really, really relevant to their work,” she said.

“Was (woman of color) just an identity we tagged on? Who composed the panel? Were a lot of people more light-skinned than others?” Kwon said, citing several questions she hopes the coordinators will continue to address.

Glubok noted that these events allowed the Women’s History Month coordinators to see problems students will need to tackle in the future.

She said she especially enjoyed a film screening and discussion with Julia Liu ’06, who as a student co-directed a film looking at various social movements throughout the University’s history. Glubok said the event was small enough to facilitate a productive discussion, which featured diverse perspectives — including those of a few Brown alums.

“It was simultaneously really encouraging to see what progress we have made and discouraging to see a lot of the same battles being fought,” she said, noting that many of the issues surrounding sexual assault have remained the same for the past 20 years.

Overcoming barriers

Certain celebrations, such as Women’s History Month or Black History Month, often give rise to fears about further marginalizing these groups by only allotting them a single month, organizers said.

“Sometimes after we delegate that or allocate that month or that time to a specific identity, we forget what the ultimate goal is,” Kwon said. “The ultimate goal is to get rid of the boundaries and the barriers that allowed for the segregation or the need for that separation to happen in the first place.” One problem in achieving this goal is the narrow audience campus events for Women’s History Month often seem to draw, she said.

But Kwon said she thinks these celebrations are important so long as the community can avoid perpetuating the barriers Women’s History Month is supposed to surmount.

“Historically, the voices of women are grossly underrepresented and the history of women doesn’t get a lot of space in other contexts,” Glubok said. “This is a time to specifically focus on that and celebrate women of the past and the present.”

The center will continue to focus on these issues throughout the year, Glubok said, especially going into April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

“The great thing about the themes that we chose is that they never stop being relevant to the campus environment,” she said. “A lot of what we tried to emphasize is that this is an ongoing history.”