Interviewer: I’m here with Cathy Brennan, standing in the line [outside the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival gates]. The line is about 4 miles long?
Cathy Brennan: It’s pretty long.
INT: It’s the longest they’ve ever had it. It goes out into the highway and so some health department people and police officers are trying to get us to go into the gate earlier this year so that all of the women get inside.
CB: Yes, thank you for that! [laughs]
INT: So, Cathy, could you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re from and how long you’ve been attending Michfest ?
CB: My name is Cathy Brennan. I’ve lived in Baltimore, Maryland for the last 20 years and I’m an attorney and lesbian activist. And this is my second Festival.
INT: What do you think makes Michfest different from other festivals?
CB: I think the commitment to women and to having woman-focused experience, allowing women to establish their boundaries and have a safe space away from a male-dominated world distinguishes this festival from any other that I’ve ever been to, and I’m extremely grateful to Lisa Vogel for that opportunity. I know that a lot of women are too.
INT: Could you compare it to specific other women’s events like the National Women’s Music Festival?
CB: No, I don’t think you can compare it. Michigan, if you’ve never been, really is like coming home. Like I said, last year was the first time I came, and as soon as I walked onto the Land I realized I have been here all along; that this was a space that is been created for women like me.
I have regret that I didn’t come sooner in the 90s. I tried to get some of my friends to come and they were like, “Eww, no, woods!” We’re from New York, so it’s like, we’re snotty, and immature like that [laughs]. I’m grateful that I got to come last year and I’m grateful that this year I’m bringing my seven-year-old daughter to the festival and I’m really excited about that.
INT: Lovely. Why do you think Fest is ending after 40 years?
CB: Lisa Vogel has been doing this for 40 years and she certainly has earned her retirement and it’s her festival and she can decide what she wants to do with it. And she’s decided that now is the time. I would never question her. I think she’s incredibly thoughtful woman.
INT: And how do you think women should move forward now that festival is ending?
CB: This might sound corny, but to the extent that you’ve come to this festival, or haven’t come but embrace the culture of it, you have the kernel of organizing women’s space inside of you. I really do hope that it blows like dandelion seeds across the country and across the world (because there are women who come here from many different countries) to organize locally. As we’ve seen over the last 20 years with the gay rights movement — now the GLBT movement — women have really been marginalized and I think it’s time for women to look inward, to put our attention back into women and women’s space, and to withdraw our resources from the male-dominated GLBT movement. I think that’s already happening. Over the last five years, you’ve seen that women have the ability now to actually question where the GLBT movement has gone. I’d like to see that continue. And I think it will continue and part of that has to do with the recharging the women can get from women-only space and Michigan has been an incredibly important part of that.
INT: Is there a message you would like to send society at large about Michfest?
CB: Michigan is about love and it’s about love of women. There’s nothing here but love for women.
INT: Is there a message you would like to send to the activists who have sought to shut down Michfest?
CB: You know, not really. They’re miserable people. I try not to pay attention to miserable people because, ultimately, they eat themselves. People view things, like, “Oh, someone wrote a bad article…”, “Oh, this thing happened…” But this is a movement that is going to go on for decades. So, take the long view. These folks? Eventually women will get tired of them, because women aren’t stupid. I have great faith in women to figure it out. Even five years ago, there were women telling me I was this horrible person and now they’re like, “I love you, Cathy Brennan, you were right!” And it’s not me. Radical feminism is just an accurate reflection of women’s reality on this planet. So I don’t really spend a lot of time thinking about those people that try to shut down and rain on everyone else’s parade. Like I said, they’re miserable.
INT: And finally, why do you think women-only spaces are important?
CB: From the moment the doctor declares “It’s a girl,” we are slotted into roles. This is the system of gender. We don’t even know that this has happened to us; it’s so…it’s every decision that’s made about girls and for girls is infused with these assumptions about who you are. It takes time to unpeel that, and unpack it, and to realize, this isn’t actually necessarily innate, and this isn’t who I am. Women need space. We live in a very quick [snaps fingers like a metronome] 140-character culture. But that’s not how you actually become a thoughtful person. You need time and space. Michigan and women-only space gives women time and space. Also it gives us safe space, because the reality is that male violence is a plague on this planet and the primary victims of male violence are women and children. It’s good for women to take space away from a class that has oppressed them globally. So like I said, spread your seeds — your dandelion seeds — widely and do this in your local community because that is how you will achieve change.
INT: Lovely. Thank you so much, Cathy Brennan.
CB: Thank you