Cosmetology to Car Care
The Southern Girl Convention is covering all the bases
By Mary Cashiola
AUGUST 2, 1999: Ever since before Scarlett, there's been the idea of a Southern belle. A lady. She's quiet, demure, finely mannered. She sits idly on her porch, drinking mimosas or iced tea or something, and looking beautiful.
She's a girl who's quiet and polite," says Robin Jack. "We think being polite is cool and all, but ... we want girls to be loud and powerful."
Jack is one of the co-founders of the first Southern Girl Convention, an event designed to celebrate the unique culture and experience of Southern females.
"It's to provide awareness," Jack says. "Awareness of what being a girl is about and being happy about being a girl."
Jack and four other Southern Girl Convention organizers -- co-founder Jennifer Sauer, Victoria Brough, Michelle Parra, and Kimberly Mitchell -- are planning the housing for out-of-town convention-goers over vegan nachos and ketchup-smothered french fries. When asked who would be the ideal Southern Girl, the tattooed, multi-pierced young women have one answer: Dolly Parton.
"She is the perfect example of a Southern woman. She's strong, talented, and in control of every aspect of her life," says Jack.
This view might raise a few eyebrows -- the country singer sometime actress is known worldwide, but not exactly for her strength.
"You can keep your cleavage out and be a strong woman," Jack says. Brough adds, "If you like to wear makeup, that's cool, too. You shouldn't feel like you have to wear it, but if you like to, that's cool."
Jack and Sauer decided to organize the convention, which is open to both women and men, after going to a Southern Human Rights conference in Jackson, Mississippi.
"We saw all these people from the South, and they were doing grass-roots stuff that was really affecting people," says Sauer.
"It was really empowering," says Jack. "On the way back, we said, 'Let's have a girl convention.'"
The idea had been kicked around by members of the group before, but never enacted. Girl conventions have been held in Los Angeles, New York, the Midwest, and Washington, D.C., "but never anything for Southern girls," Mitchell says.
Convention-goers will have the opportunity to attend a variety of informative workshops during the day and see bands from around the country in the evenings. The workshops, which will be held at the University of Memphis' University Center, deal with everything from D.I.Y. cosmetology to basic car maintenance. Others will cover topics such as race and class in the South, how to survive sexual abuse, sexism in the activist movement, and body image.
Bands are a large part of the Women's Action Coalition-sponsored event. The latest wave of feminism, much touted in the early '90s, rode in on the strident lyrics and shrieking guitars of Bikini Kill and Seven Year Bitch. It was in Washington, D.C., in 1992 that the first girl convention was held: the Riot Grrrl Convention.
"We wanted to get a mix," Jack says of the acts performing at the convention, "but all we ended up getting was punk girls."
Punk girls and a drag king revue. Olympia, Washington-based drag troupe Drag Attack '99 will perform, followed by a drag king contest. That's right, drag king. Instead of shaved legs and strategic tucking, expect mascara mustaches and sock stuffing.
"It's free-form," says Sauer, "whatever women decide to do."
The winner gets a belt, a crown, and a bouquet of roses, as well as the title Mr. Drag King Memphis -- maybe. "It shouldn't be a contest," voices Parra, who plans to dress up as Ricky Martin and perform "Living La Vida Loca." "It should just be a show; everybody should get something."
In organizing the convention, the group first compiled a list of people they knew from festivals, zines, and activist activities and sent out flyers. From there, word of the convention spread by mouth. The group is expecting about 300 people, some coming from as far away as England, to attend.
"The punk rock/activist community is totally networked," says Jack.
But the convention is not just for activists.
Says Jack: "A lot of it is just to talk about girl's issues in the South."