The stories come out when men leave the room.
As she spent time alone with other women, journalist and photographer Katie Sikora noticed a common thread: If someone brought up the topic of sexism, tales flew fast and thick.
"Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's sad, sometimes it's really messed up," Sikora says. "It always happens, but then it's left behind closed doors. It's talked about, but with each other."
That realization — which first dawned on Sikora in a eureka moment hanging out with members of funk band Sexual Thunder! — inspired The Sexism Project, a photography exhibition that opens at Preservation Hall Thursday. The three-day event features Sikora's photographs and excerpted interviews with 60 women involved in the New Orleans music community, in an exhibit co-curated by Sweet Crude bandleader Alexis Marceaux, Bear America Records owner Morgan Thielen and Katie Budge, marketing director for The Howlin' Wolf.
Beginning in June 2016, Sikora photographed her subjects and talked with them about their experiences with sexist behavior. Though originally she thought the project would focus on subjects' experiences in the music industry (including several musicians who related being mistaken for groupies or girlfriends at venues they were scheduled to play, even when they showed up with instruments), Sikora quickly realized the project would be more comprehensive. The women also were photographed in their homes to show their identities beyond their performance personas. Interviews asked about sexism in their lives and how those experiences made them feel.
"[Sexism is] not clear-cut," Sikora says. "There's one big monster. It has a bunch of different heads. You cut off one head, and the other heads are still there."
The exhibition opens as national conversation has sparked about the prevalence of sexist behavior and attitudes, and as a series of high-profile figures from many industries (including politics, entertainment, tech, media and hospitality) have been publicly accused of sexual harassment and misconduct.
Both Sikora and Marceaux say they hope women who see the exhibition will be able to start talking about this aspect of their lives — and that men will join in.
"I think opening up the conversation, and having a safe place for all of us to talk about it ... that's ultimately what we are here to do now," Marceaux says.
"This team is ready for [it] to no longer have to be just women lifting up women," Sikora says. "We're ready for it to be humans lifting up humans."
There also are daytime and evening musical performances by several New Orleans artists, including Big Freedia (midnight Friday), Helen Gillet (1 p.m. Sunday), Maggie Koerner (2 p.m. Sunday), Tasche de la Rocha (1 p.m. Friday), Julie Odell (11 p.m. Friday) and others. A complete schedule is available on the project's website. Many of the women who were photographed for the project will attend, and Sikora looks forward to seeing real-time conversations between interview subjects and visitors to the show.
Members of The Sexism Project team have discussed creating an annual exhibition centering on women in different fields, such as the hospitality industry, to help call attention to the problem and share women's stories.
Since beginning the project, Sikora has seen the women with whom she spoke talking about sexism on social media and elsewhere.
"Something as simple as telling someone that you believe them is so powerful," she says. "Maybe things are starting to change, finally."