December 25th – The Festival of the Silken Escape

The League of Female Independence (LFI) has been around for a long time, and was one of the first groups to affiliate with the Women’s Union, who organised the great Strike of 1553. These women initially joined together as an organisation to support each other, and to ensure that women had a means of supporting themselves outside of the influence of men, who, at the time, were paid more and were therefore more likely to be the largest financial contributor in a relationship. This was a time when middle class women were expected to stay at home to look after children, and therefore many had no means whatsoever of supporting themselves. Working class women were often paid so poorly that they had to rely on male wages to survive. Thankfully, Buentoille is now a fairer and more enlightened place, but for hundreds of years organisations like the LFI were essential to ensuring the very survival of many Buentoillitants.

Mutual support was a central part of the LFI’s work, an ideal which in practice involved childcare sharing schemes, communal living and wage sharing, shelters for victims of domestic violence, and female-only defence brigades who would protect these shelters and would be dispatched to protect some vulnerable women. Most of these defence brigades would publicly identify themselves by wearing blood-red silk scarves around their necks, silk scarves made in LFI-owned factories where formerly jobless women who wanted to be independent from the men in their lives worked. These factories, as well as some of the communal houses, shelters and childcare schemes are still in existence today, though in somewhat modified form, and whilst the defence brigades are no longer necessary, members of the LFI still choose to identify themselves by the scarves, which are a large part of today’s festival.

There is an old Buentoilliçan folk story about a beautiful young woman trapped in a tower that you may have heard of. When she was very young, she declared to her father, her sole caregiver, that she never wanted to marry a man. He laughed this off, but when she stuck true to this sentiment as a teenager, he decided to imprison her in a tall tower until she agreed to marry a man of good wealth, so that she would carry on the family line. Soon rumours about the young woman’s beauty began to circulate, and not much longer they began turning up at her father’s door, petitioning him to convey their gifts to her. The father was naturally delighted with this but the young woman simply threw all the presents out of her windows. All except one, a silk scarf, which she kept. Three weeks later she had enough silk scarves to make a long rope, with which she escaped and never returned.

In the reimagining of this tale, which is acted out in part today, the anniversary of the first meeting of the League, the scarves are not presents from men, but symbolic tokens of solidarity from members of the LFI. In this canny piece of annual advertising, the League uses a story which almost everyone would instantly recognise and therefore broadens the impact of their rhetoric. As in real life, each woman’s input alone may not be enough to save the damsel trapped in the tower, but bonded strongly together they are an effective force to be reckoned with.

Yet the display today is not just a political statement, but a beautiful spectacle, too, a fact which has ensured its lasting appeal all these years. In its modern form, the LFI provides less financial support as since the Revolution this has been less necessary, but instead the support tends to centre around highlighting, supporting and encouraging the achievements of women, and the festival today is one such place to highlight the artistic skills of its members. Instead of one woman descending the red silken rope, a number of women acrobatically descend, unfurling many ropes as they go, twirling in the air with poise and grace. The tower they descend from, the Women’s Beacon, shines brightly each night, like an inland lighthouse, and was itself designed by a woman called Amerlia Gretchan, and built by innumerable LFI members.

An audiovisual display is also projected onto the tower, which is each year designed by a different female artist. Last year over one hundred acrobats tumbled down in a bright display, as angular birds flew out from behind them, all to the frenetic sounds of the electronic music producer Gale Dwenner. At the end the lights cut to black, the music stopped, and then, as the lights slowly came back on, the tower was revealed with no animated overlay, a tall symbol of female solidarity, swathed with knotted red silk scarves.

Other festivals happening today:

  • The Festival of the Brazen Fool
  • The Doctor’s Image Reproduced: a Festival of Fractal Wonderment