“Please fill out your name tag with something that empowers you.”
I have just walked into a room lined with exhibition tables and filled with a group of people – mostly women – whose attention is directed towards the stage in front. A young woman, Lisa Molinaro, is addressing her rapt audience, explaining the event, how it started and why it is so important. I sit down in the back of the room, nestled among smiling women from all walks of life – young and old, in business suits and “hippie” skirts, black, white, tan and brown – each with a name tag depicting something that makes them feel empowered.
This is the first-ever event hosted by FemEx – DC, a celebration of women’s empowerment and mecca for all those who are interested in issues that affect women’s health, rights, sexuality, sensuality, leadership and education (to name a few). The event is called Engage.Explore.Empower and is a concentrated example of FemEx’s mission to “engage with and explore different aspects of the female experience, in service of women’s empowerment everywhere.”
FemEx (previously FemSex) is a community-based organization that began 17 years ago as a women’s empowerment class created by and for women at University of California, Berkeley. In 2008, after both taking and facilitating this class at Berkeley, Lisa Molinaro moved to Washington D.C., bringing FemEx with her. She adapted the class to bring women from the D.C. community together spanning across age, class, race, sexual orientation and other life situations, to discuss their female identities in a meaningful, safe and supportive environment. The curriculum remained similar, covering topics that one might typically expect of a general Women’s Studies class: anatomy, gender, body image, communication, menstruation, childbirth, sexual practices, violence against women and more. Now in an informal/non-traditional classroom setting, the once-weekly class relies on optional readings, fun self-exploration projects and candid discussion to engage participants in these subjects.