"Women Center Stage" Festival To Provide Some Much Needed Balance to Macho Media

I'm pretty weary of macho male voices dominating the media, with men as the constant aggressive font of insider wisdom and analysis of all things political. The masculine overcompensation of the Bush era certainly has its parallel in media representation. Every where I turn, for example, I have to see, hear and read Christopher Hitchens, as one over exposed male media icon, among many.

Meanwhile radio shock jocks show no sign of lowering their voices. We don't have Don Imus anymore, but other equally egregious male talk jocks are still with us in large numbers. As one example, Rory O'Connor points out in "Michael Savage and Bill O'Reilly Must Go" that Savage, reportedly on 350 stations with 8 million listeners weekly, again went off on one of his regular diatribes calling gay parenting "child abuse."

Another macho prototype, CNN's Lou Dobbs, the king of immigration intolerance, has for more than four years spread one-sided -- and in some cases outright false -- information to attack undocumented migrants. Most recently Dobbs promoted lies about immigrant leprosy cases.

I take offense to the one-sided tone of much of the media because it is not good for my health or the health of our society. It deprives me of the balance that feels necessary for sanity and equilibrium.

I subscribe to the fundamental tenant of Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls, who understood our psychological makeup in terms of polarities -- e.g., masculine and feminine or "tough and tender." We achieve mental health by reconciling these polarities, not by pretending that men have only one side and women the other, or by men projecting all their softness and vulnerability onto women.

This notion of balance -- yin and yang, if you want to use the Chinese version -- has been with us for centuries and we ignore it at our peril. Today, four-plus years after 9/11, we live in a paranoid, overly militarized society where macho maniacs like Rudy Giuliani are considered serious contenders for the presidency. Giuliani gets in touch with his feminine side when he dresses in drag for a skit but ignores it the rest of the time, while fanning the flames of fear as he campaigns for president.

So it makes me happy, as well as conflicted, to tell you about Women Center Stage -- a festival created by the young singer and political activist
Olivia Greer through the infrastructure of the Cultural Project, one of NYC's true artistic treasures, whose aim is to harness artistic inspiration for the purpose of social change. The festival uniquely weaves together the relatively rare combination of women's political voices with a diverse range of artistic talents. (Disclosure: Olivia once worked for me as an intern, and her parents are good friends of mine.)

I'm happy at the prospect of the festival because it is exciting to know that strong and charismatic women are gathering and their talents are being showcased. I'm conflicted because the seeming gender specific nature of the festival may make it too easy for men to dismiss or marginalize the ideas and talent being presented or not see it as a place where we belong in the audience. I hope that is not true and the Festival finds many curious men in the audience.

The Festival opens on June 25 with two important women leaders -- Gloria Feldt, former head of Planned Parenthood, and Carol Jenkins, veteran New York City newscaster and President of the Women's Media Center -- participating in a panel moderated by foundation executive Jennifer Buffett, which will look at the overarching contributions of women in politics and the arts. (AlterNet closely partners with the WMC, which produces a wide range of voices on stimulating topics.)

Talent, topics and artistic forms are spread and mixed over the course of the festival, which runs from June 25 to July 17. The festival features a range of women artists whose work calls attention to human struggles globally. Participants include Chinese-Jamaican spoken word poet Staceyann Chin, Iranian comedian Negin Farsad the women from Code Pink, and many more.

On July 9, Carol Gilligan and Barbara Ehrenreich will converse on the topic of: On Joy and Pleasure. On July 14, Pulitzer Prize winner Samantha Powers and Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran) will be discussing the power of the individual to make change. And on July 16, powerhouse journalist Laura Flanders whose book Blue Grit takes a close look at grass roots struggles across the country, will be moderating "Reporting Back on South Dakota" -- a discussion of the pluses and minuses of the successful efforts to defeat a Byzantine abortion ban in that state.

Young people will be represented with a discussion of Young Women in the Political Arena led by YP4, the youth arm of People for the American Way (July 2), while a reading of Zak Berkman's Beauty on the Vine will serve as a catalyst for a conversation about beauty, young people, and navigating a world where power and beauty are increasingly blurry and loaded (June 27).

Greer, the Festival's producer says, "We have gathered artists, activists, thinkers to build community and solidarity, share stories and ideas, and challenge one another. A goal of the festival is to lift up the perspective of women, who play a unique and potent role in innumerable struggles for social change. Women tell stories that don't otherwise get told; they hold community memory, wisdom and culture; they bear witness and engage each other to respond."

It all sounds good to me. No doubt there are lots of insights for men in the schedule, including plays about human trafficking and domestic violence, which are on the festival agenda.

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