“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. Students enter the 16-session class as strangers, perhaps hesitant to reveal personal information or nervous about their ability to live up to feminist ideals, and leave with the tools, knowledge, passion and supportive community necessary to promote women’s empowerment in themselves and their communities.
I was among the women fortunate enough to participate in one of the FemEx “semesters”. Each week I looked forward to my Tuesday night class, where 15 women took a break from their busy work schedules and personal lives to engage, explore and empower each other with evocative conversation, new perspectives and all sorts of support. We laughed, we cried, we sweated, we drank lots of wine, and we learned about ourselves and our community – a wealth of strong, smart, capable, creative, hilarious, profound, adventurous, brave, resourceful, caring, beautiful women.
This FemEx Celebration event was everything our class promoted. Organizations that offer resources for women – everything from Planned Parenthood, Advocates for Youth, and NARAL to Yoga Activist, Slutwalk DC and Secret Pleasures Boutique – were in attendance. Former students and supporters performed songs, spoken word pieces, monologues, yoga-acrobatics and even a quick chair-dance lesson. The room was filled with a sense of activation, camaraderie and excitement. We rejoiced in our collective ability to speak out, take charge, be strong, educate, make change, love each other, and love ourselves.
So what did I write on my name tag? “Other Strong Women.” So, thank you for empowering me!
If you would like to learn about FemEx, its other locations and how you can get involved, please visit www.femex.org for more information. Feel free to message me for details as well!
Edited by Alison Stanton