The last couple of weeks have been rough.
It is never a surprise that there are homicidal misogynists out there. Women are all too accustomed to accumulating insults and hostility from small to large. What has been new over the last, say, year and a half, is the amount of legitimacy afforded by media gatekeepers to the vile idea that women are not human, do not have any right to control what happens to our bodies. Well-respected media outlets have published writings by well-compensated white men positing that perhaps women who have had abortions be put to death and also that women allow femicidal terrorists to sexually assault and rape them for the good of humanity. A humanity which necessarily excludes women.
I hate to be reminded that lots of people don’t think I’m a person. Lots of people enjoy talking about us like we’re merely the life-support system for orifices to be used for mens’ gratification on demand, or for a life-form that not one of these concerned neck-beards gives half a damn about once it can breathe on its own.
Luckily, I have a weekly respite from these reminders, and happily, we had the equivalent of a retreat last week.
I have written about Vox Femina before, and if you haven’t read it, it’s worth clicking through and giving about 2 minutes of your time to. For many artists (and folks, I am from the midwest and am deeply uncomfortable referring to myself as such so please forgive my unbearable pretension) regardless of level of skill or remuneration, the act of creating art – making music, channeling drama, writing, making people laugh, drawing, painting or sculpting – lights up parts of the brain that nothing else can. Paradoxically, my anti-social heart is drawn to singing or performing in ensembles. Go figure.
Vox Femina is the rare amateur group that combines high artistic standards with an explicitly feminist message and every Tuesday I am surrounded by 40 amazing women as we work through the best way to present the meaning of the music. After a week of being reminded that society considers me an afterthought, these women are a balm to my soul. This year we were invited by the Vancouver’s Elektra Women’s Choir to participate in their Tapestry International Festival, along with Japan’s Frisches Ei and Gardabaer Women’s Choir from Iceland. Each choir had a set of their own music, and each director had once piece that we all prepared together to sing as a massed group.
The director of Gardabaer brought a (pleasantly menacing tbh) piece called “Spinna Minni” based on witches referred to in the Voluspa (not the schmancy candle people), written and sung in the first person, where we sang about spinning (like a thread) peoples’ fates. At some point, the Alto 2s got to cackle. This was great! The director of Elektra brought a piece called “Da Pacem”, a traditional Catholic prayer for peace. The Japanese director had us sing a piece called “Sunset”, which had a lush, some might say schmaltzy, feel, and which the cursory translation provided to us indicated was a fairly typical sentiment about the beauty of a sunset, but which the director actually pointed out, was the same color as fire and blood, with a plea for peace near the end. We brought… well, look, I’m going to link to a performance Vox did a few years ago here. Multiply this by three and you’ll get an idea of the scope. This is a song with text written by a member of the Lakota nation, beginning with a woman feeling alone, joined by her mother, sister, daughter. Her extended family comes in to support and finally, the entire community bands together, ending with a rallying cry. *
There were a few things I noticed: despite the language barriers, I really felt like this was just three times the amount of female strength and support I experience on a weekly basis. It was also a snapshot of what made us unique – it was the first time, for instance, that I think I really appreciated how “political” we were. As someone who spent a lot of time importuning or thanking a deity through song in various churches throughout my lifetime, I am quite comfortable with music that has a direct message. The second thing I noticed is that the Japanese song called for us to remember the terrible, and to work for peace, while Da Pacem was asking The Almighty to bring us peace, as if we puny humans were not responsible for all the wars and subsequent peace ourselves. Hmmmm…
This conference, these performances, were all about the power of women. Women supporting and uplifting other women, regardless of cultural differences. Women combining their voices, both literally and figuratively. If there was in-fighting or ego clashes, I didn’t see them. Spending four days almost entirely in the company of women was the vacation, therapy, and church I never knew I needed, all rolled up into one lovely Vancouver retreat.
The world has become terrible – or perhaps it’s more just that the terribleness has become un-ignorable for the white lower-middle-class. It seems like there’s nothing I can do to fix that, but if I could live in a community of singing women, that would help immensely.
(* here’s a thing you didn’t know – I auditioned for Vox the season they premiered this. I did not get in, which was shocking to me, because I usually only stuck my neck out for “sure things”, and also, I have a pretty unique AND blendy extremely deep voice. My friend who was a soprano in the group gave me comp tickets to this concert, which is when I realized they had at least four other women who could sing as low as I did and I wasn’t unique AND then they sang this piece and I immediately got over my butt-hurt and ego-boo and knew I was going to have to keep on trying until I got in. I needed to be a part of a group that understood how great women are, and could also sing. Two years later I tried again and succeeded. And I am so proud to get to sing this song with all these strong women.)