are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of festivals that celebrate women,
which are attended by men, women and children all over the world. I
was excited to learn that these festivals exist since, in many places,
women are considered less valuable than men, and in some places, not
valuable at all; United Nations poverty and literacy statistics provide
testimony to that disturbing reality.
Since culture shapes gender roles, societies deem very different characteristics
worth celebrating as they honor the feminine spirit, observe women’s
rites of passage, and commemorate women’s achievements. This book
includes celebrations of women as mothers, athletes, killers, goddesses,
providers, lovers, warriors and flirts. Still others praise women as
the sources of wisdom, health and wealth.
Festivals that celebrate women all over the world have never been documented
in a book before. It was a delicious task to decide which festivals
to include. The possibilities were almost universally tempting. My selection
criteria were artistic and subjective. I chose these festivals because
they are geographically disparate, visually sumptuous and richly varied.
The result is a sampling, not a survey and I hope others will continue
the work I’ve begun.
Between 1999 and 2003, I photographed and interviewed at 17 festivals
in 15 countries on five continents, arriving about four days before
each event to document the final preparations. Some of these events
are controversial. I tried not to judge them, just to record what participants
and spectators experience.
To learn about the festivals, I interviewed musicians, singers, dancers,
choreographers; food, balloon, ticket and program vendors; mask makers
and costume designers, security guards and limo drivers, journalists,
priests, mayors, governors, festival organizers, spectators and participants.
Not to mention a Princess and a King.
To gain insight into the relationship between the festivals and gender
roles, I asked local people to finish this sentence: “An ideal
woman is….” and I interviewed local women to give readers
a peek at their lives.
It is an honor to be the one to collect such inspiring evidence that
women and girls are contributing importantly to their communities and
our world. I am humbled to consider the possibility that my work might
help shape our knowledge of one another and of ourselves.
Perhaps other women will discover perspectives that help them understand
more about “why we are who we are---and what we can become.”
As we witness the ways that cultures reward women for very different
behavior, perhaps we can see how arbitrary gender assignments really
are. As we look at the spectrum of women’s behaviors in other
cultures, perhaps we will gather the courage to become more fully ourselves.
How richly-dimensioned life could be if we exploded the limits of what
our societies consider “appropriate.” How much stronger,
more resilient and honest that would make us, and all of our relationships.
It would make my heart sing if this book could help women everywhere
understand one another more completely so we can put to use our similarities--and
differences--to tackle the problems that beleaguer our families: poverty,
hunger, illiteracy, disease, inequality, violence and environmental
degradation. As we enter a millennium in which the distance between
countries and people shrinks almost daily, I hope we will be inspired
to capitalize on the opportunity to collaborate that has never existed