It’s hard work being the women behind the masks.

Beasty Girls 

It’s hard work being the women behind the masks.

"I really hope and pray that every one of you die a slow and painful death from the next terrorist attack," George Bush says, addressing a jeering, hissing gathering of greasy garage-rock fans. "Fuck you and go to hell."

"Dumb whores," adds Dick Cheney.

The president and vice president are wearing dresses. Their faces are rubbery, their eyes vacant, their hair plastic. Their lacerating lines come from bogus e-mail addresses such as urmorons@aol.com and youstupidbitch@yahoo.com.

But the strong feelings that inspired people to send these messages to the women behind the masks are real.

Susan Estes (Bush) and Sarah Beasley (Cheney) milked their hate mail for laughs as part of a skit at Davey's Uptown on October 2.

In the past eight months, the organization known as Beauty Slays the Beast has raised more than $7,000 for left-leaning nonprofit organizations and has registered scores of voters while goosing local activism to new levels of creativity.

Beauty Slays the Beast originated in February when Beasley, a 34-year-old marketing executive, and Abigail Henderson, a 27-year-old musician, were sipping whiskey one night. They imagined a one-day festival that would celebrate the work of Kansas City's female musicians, artists and filmmakers while rallying the talent and the audience against the Bush administration. Their plans took shape as friends joined the brainstorming sessions.

"Sarah and I would have long conversations about enhancing our drinking-and-gabbing time," says Skye Howard, a 31-year-old social worker. "Hanging out in bars starts to get pretty pointless."

The group started as Bush Against Bush, but when some members complained that a racy name might sabotage their cause, the group adopted the more ambiguous phrase (KC Strip, May 13). No one had any experience in large-scale event production, and most members had never been particularly active activists. But the group didn't lack enthusiasm or ambition, and eventually a variety show was set for June at Davey's Uptown.

During the planning sessions, Henderson sometimes was loud and confrontational as she steered conversation to feminist topics. Beasley was the diplomat, reframing other members' harsh outbursts. (About a third of her sentences during the meetings started with "I think what she means is ... ") And Christy Hoffman, a 40-year-old publishing-house employee, part-time teacher and outreach chair for the local John Kerry campaign, emerged as a dominant force, handling the group's public relations.

With strong personalities involved, there were plenty of clashes over details. Composing a mission statement took the better part of a three-hour meeting before spilling into a week's worth of revisions by e-mail. Members, says the mission statement, consider themselves "true patriots" who fight "apathy, hesitancy and silence" while using artistic endeavors to "educate, entertain, infiltrate and inspire our community to bring about social change."

Early on, though, Beauty Slays the Beast chose some curiously traditional fund-raisers. Bake sales were understandable; MoveOn.org made more than $750,000 from cookie-cutter events nationwide in April alone. But the group's burlesque car wash at El Torreon in May caused dissent. A few members declined to participate.

"I like the idea of an organization of women using our intellect, not our sex appeal, to further the cause," says Renee Boman, one of the group's organizers. "There is a place for burlesque, but I don't feel like that place is washing some asshole's car to raise money for what is, to me, a feminist cause. Feminism is a large part of my motivation for joining BSTB and a major reason why I'm against Bush and his administration."

"That's part of what women do, bake cookies and dress sexy," Hoffman counters. "We do it because we want to. I think the word feminist is outdated. Feminism, whatever. I'm a person like everyone else."

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