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The gloves are off

Times Staff Writer

When Ladyfest Los Angeles kicks off Friday, it will be one-stop shopping for the aspiring renaissance woman. Not only can attendees learn how to create online comics, write songs and cook soul food, they can also take sweatshop tours and learn to become political activists. And they can do it between watching bands, movies and various other performances, all of them pro-girl, anti-corporate and do-it-yourself.

It’s all part of the eclectic and empowering mix that was pioneered two years ago at the original Ladyfest -- a six-day festival in Olympia, Wash., of all things feminist that was attended by 2,000 or so teen and twentysomething women (and a handful of open-minded men).

“It was amazing that this one little event in this tiny town brought together all these women from all different backgrounds. I was blown away because I’d never experienced anything like that before,” said Christene Kings, 30. An L.A. musician, she traveled to Olympia to see the bands but was so inspired that she gathered a bunch of like-minded friends to re-create it in L.A.

Kings and the other dozen organizers of this weekend’s event are doing exactly what Lady- fest’s founders had challenged women to do: Live up to the festival’s do-it-yourself ethos and bring Ladyfest to their towns. New York and Chicago stepped up to the plate last year. This year, in addition to L.A., there will be events in Georgia and Europe. Next year, there will be a minor explosion, with Ladyfests scheduled to take place in Philadelphia; Seattle; Florida; Texas; Colorado; Manchester, England; Hamburg, Germany; and Melbourne, Australia.

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“Revolution grrrl style now!"-- the early ‘90s battle cry trumpeted by third-wave feminist icon Kathleen Hanna -- is, it seems, not only alive today, but thriving.

Lead singer of the political pop-punk band Bikini Kill, Hanna was a key player in Riot Grrrl, a controversial and often misunderstood underground musical and social movement founded in the early ‘90s. While Ladyfest is not officially affiliated with Riot Grrrl, some of its founders were the same and, thus, the sensibilities are similar.

The Riot Grrrl movement encouraged young women to form their own bands, writing lyrics to combat the rampant sexism they not only heard on the radio but experienced in their lives. It suggested they reject traditional women’s magazines that told them how to act, look and think, and to start creating their own. And it helped them form support groups to talk about personal issues with other women.

The schedule for Ladyfest Los Angeles encompasses many themes. There will be panel discussions on health and gender issues, workshops on songwriting and cameraless animation, and performances by any number of women who’ve rejected what society says is acceptable to pursue their artistic visions -- all offered in the hopes that attendees will come away from the event a more self-aware and inspired to do their own thing.

The lineup for Ladyfest Los Angeles is not as aggressively countercultural, politically biting or as wide-ranging as the original, which included workshops on self-defense, traveling solo, auto mechanics and the making of alternative menstrual products.

Though this weekend’s event touches on some hot-button issues, i.e. sweatshops, and will donate all proceeds to a women’s center that treats victims of domestic violence, it is, overall, far more arts-oriented.

At that, the program excels. Significant time is given to a wide variety of literary talks, spoken-word performances, film screenings and bands, mostly localIn a city as spread out and isolating as L.A., Ladyfest has another goal: community-building.

“I started making movies when I was 15. It took years for me to meet other girls who made movies,” said Brooke Olsen, 32, the festival’s production coordinator.

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Idealistic and inclusive, Ladyfest is open to both genders and all age groups, from a 6-year-old skateboarder to a 17-year-old transsexual or 70-something filmmaker.

“When I was 15, I had no idea that something like this could exist,” Kings said. “Had I known, I think my life would have been way different.”

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Ladyfest Los Angeles

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Where: Downtown L.A. Daytime workshops, panels and readings will be held in the Spring Tower Bank Building, 453 S. Spring St. Afternoon and evening performances are two blocks away at the Palace Theater, 630 S. Broadway. (Security escorts will be available.)

When: Nov. 8-11

Price: Single-day pass to one venue, $15; single-day pass to both venues, $25. Full pass, $65.

Info: www.ladyfestlosangeles.org

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