BENTON PARK – A pirate who commanded thousands. A swordsman who broke into a convent to rescue her lover. Soviet night bombers that the Germans simply couldn’t catch. All sound like premises for the next blockbuster hit, but these are the stories of real historical women.
Once a month at Shameless Grounds, those hungry for stories about women’s experiences can gather together to listen and be heard. The event, “SHE Stories” has a circulating theme that has spanned from self-love to family to last month’s theme: misbehaved women.
On a Friday night, participants hunkered down in Shameless Grounds, which serves as a café, bar, library and generally just a “radically inclusive” space, to offer up toasts to historical women like Ching Shih, Le Maupin, the Night Witches, and others.
Hosted by Super Heroines, Etc., a nonprofit that strives to “empower women to embrace their inner nerd,” each monthly gathering encourages women in the audience to get up and tell their own stories about themselves or women they knew. Under the banner of “misbehaved women,” five audience members dared to address the crowd, extemporizing upon ideas of ‘goodness,’ the constraints of Catholicism, solo female travel, and even some rule-breaking nuns.
Fox Smith, who led the event, said that storytelling is an important part of human nature but that certain people seem to have their stories told more often.
“Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of community and entertainment that we have,” she said. “And even now, movies, comics, gaming, it’s all based around storytelling. And when you have stories that are only showing certain perspectives, or only being told by certain people, it creates this atmosphere…where people don’t understand each other. People are afraid of each other.”
As an Asian actress, Smith said the struggle to see her community’s stories told is frustrating. “A lot of times the excuse is that…well, people aren’t going to be able to identify with Asian people, which so long as we don’t have these stories being told, no, we won’t. [Storytelling] is how we learn about each other.”
Throughout the event, Smith offered up stories about her own mother, whom she described as leading an “uncooth” life, both growing up in South Korea and then later moving to the United States.
Overall, Smith felt that events like “SHE Stories” will not only help to empower women but also help bring people closer together.
“Having opportunities like this where people can get up in a safer space,” she said, “where people have that arena in which to talk, we can learn how similar we are, we can learn how our experiences are the same, how they’re different. We can connect over these things.”