The Mother Of All Festivals
Reporting back from the third year of MOTHERSHIP.
Credit: Samantha Snitzer
Do you like lesbians and thirst for intersectional enlightenment? How about camping and live music? Workshops and a fully stocked bar? MOTHERSHIP, in the Indio Valley, is the festival for you. Founded by Los Angeles-based therapist Laura Wise three years ago, MOTHERSHIP has seen remarkable growth, and this year attracted over 400 attendees from the United States and Canada.
MOTHERSHIP took place in a picturesque private campground at the base of the Indio Mountains, October 13-15. The large property provided ample space for tent and RV camping. Alongside our makeshift women’s village was a circular center with activities, food and drink tents, and a small stage for nighttime musical performances. The effect was open and welcoming. “Everyone was so happy to be there, the excitement was contagious,” said Cailin, 30, a volunteer from L.A.
At night, the lights of the festival twinkled merrily beneath a perfectly starry night, as excited women passed to and from the bar and the dance floor, the music boomed just loudly enough, and the feeling of warm possibility seemed to dissolve the reticence of even the shiest participants. This easy joy and welcoming spirit is MOTHERSHIP’s greatest accomplishment. “That’s something I love about the event, it brings new people together who would otherwise never meet. I have already begun to see collaborations that arose from the event, and that’s what it’s about— connection and support amongst women,” said Wise.
MOTHERSHIP is open to all female, female-identified, and non-binary people with a couple hundred bucks and a yen to explore their inner empowerment. Or BDSM. Or queer politics. Or just drink to a cause (The Tegan and Sara Foundation) in the desert with a bunch of mostly queer women. You can take what you want from MOTHERSHIP—from seeking inner truth to just checking out a cool scene. While 65 percent of attendees identify as LGBTQ, MOTHERSHIP is open to all. The nice thing about removing men from the mix is the sense of relaxation that follows. MOTHERSHIP is body friendly, and several attendees chose to walk around topless, happily relaxing sans underwire in the fierce California sun. Sexual harassment isn’t an issue. All bathrooms are open to everyone. Sisterhood and solidarity are the terms of the day.
The programming is chock-full of workshops, which encompass everything from the inspirational, to the kinky, to the nostalgic. Where else will you find BDSM tutorials side-by-side with Girl Scout Camp fare such as crafts and chess? Day 1 kicked off at noon on Friday, October 13, with “Biggie Smalls the Illest Feminist,” a presentation about the late rapper’s feminist proclivities. It was followed, at one-hour intervals, by a “Solo Traveler Meet Up” ice-breaker and a diverse panel discussion on a “Feminist Call to Action.” At 3 p.m., attendees could choose between the sexy “How to Drive a Vulva” and the G-rated “Chess for Beginners and Queens.”
Then, at 4 p.m., the “Women with Super Powers” panel featured women in the arts discussing the intersection of art and healing. At 5 p.m., the final three workshops provided attendees with the opportunity to either sit or stand. At “The Intersection of Feminism & Tech” panelists explained how technology can be harnessed for feminism and activism. “Bold Alchemy Self-Defense Class” provided a fun tutorial in self protection. “Craft Time with Mama Jill” was a chill adult craft session heavy on hugs and chatting.
As the sun started to set, attendees grabbed dinner from the food trucks and drinks from the bar, or made their own refreshments in their tents and RVs. Many campers set up drink tables and mini-grills, creating a merry tailgate village. The evening programming featured an impressive lineup of DJs and live performers, including L.A. club kids Bounce House and Goodboy, the internet-famous Madame Gandhi, and the Instagram-famous Madison Paige. For those looking to get weird and/or decorated, the Creativity tent offered costumes, body and face paint, and henna. After a long day of structured, often intellectual activities, everyone enjoyed a chance to relax, mingle, and do their own thing. Women danced freely in the crisp evening, wearing everything from evening outfits to skimpy Burning Man rave ensembles. People of every race and body type let down their guard, smiling and greeting anyone who passed, and striking up conversations with strangers in this rare, queer-centric, women-only bonding experience. Everyone enjoyed the atmosphere, partying enthusiastically until the music stopped at 1 a.m., when the guests went to sleep or continued their fun in smaller, secluded knots.
The funny thing about camping is that you’re ready to wake up early. The sun beats through your tent, and the rustling of an awakening community, the low murmur of voices, and a growling stomach make rising shortly after dawn both inevitable and unusually enjoyable. After standing in line for smoothies and muffins, and using the small but spacious bathroom facilities (standing bathroom toilets in addition to the inevitable festival porta potties), women filtered into their selected activities.
Saturday’s programming began with “Inner Empowerment Yoga and Meditation” at 8 a.m. to cleanse the mind and stretch the body. At 9 a.m., there was either “Microdosing with a Marijuana Goddess,” a holistic tutorial on treating anxiety and health issues with tiny amounts of weed, or “Breathwork Workshop,” which promised an “indescribable release” through that hum-le bodily function called breathing. There’s a serious strain of natural health care ideology running through much of MOTHERSHIP’s programming.
Aspiring lesbian mothers enjoyed the 10 a.m. “Birth Justice and Empowerment” workshop. At 11 a.m., attendees chose between “Somatic Shamanic Practices for Healing Women,” a workshop on spiritual healing, especially after trauma, and “Female Travel Warrior,” a conversation on the realities of traveling solo and female, and an additional opportunity for solo travelers to connect. While many attendees came with friends, a sizable portion came alone, and MOTHERSHIP planners made a point of helping lone travelers feel welcome and connected.
The opportunity to blow off all that boho workshopping and just focus on partying with a bunch of queers in the woods is a comforting aspect of MOTHERSHIP. For the lesbian who wants to hang around with other lesbians in a cool setting but doesn’t yearn to find her inner spirit warrior, MOTHERSHIP is still a good time.
“Babes Building Brands” was followed by a “Lioness” workshop. Sponsored by the Lioness line of vibrators, which track your orgasm patterns, this workshop educated women on their orgasms. The presenters had a tent with little charts of orgasm patterns and even offered attendees a test go at the vibrator in their “Masturbation” tent.
Let’s talk about the Masturbation tent. I was intrigued by the name. While I was waiting in a long line for nachos at the Mexican food truck, a woman approached the line and announced: “There are women in the Masturbation tent, if any of you want to join.” My inner curiosity battled with my hunger. From a quick glance around, I saw that the other women in line were facing a similar dilemma. Food or fucking? We all elected food. A middle-aged woman behind me in flowing robes and an ornate crown took the silence as an opportunity to tell us about herself. “I’m straight and married, but I felt a calling to come here,” she told me earnestly. “I always heed the call of the universe. It speaks to me.”
Finally, at 4 p.m. on Day 2 came the headliners we were all waiting for. Tegan and Sara, our lesbians deities, graced us with their divine presence for the aptly named panel “In Conversation with Tegan and Sara.” They spoke to enthusiastic attendees about their new nonprofit, The Tegan and Sara Foundation, and encouraged us all to make music, find power, etc. Followed by a “Women’s Sexuality in Media” panel and “Hand Drumming for Beginners,” the final full day of MOTHERSHIP wound down.
The evening festivities were warm and relaxed. Aerial performers gracefully weaved around a beribboned maypole as the music began. DJ Little Indian spun retro tunes, followed by the queer pop-punk outfit WASI, then DJ FAAROW, DJ Dirty Rich Kid, and finally the spectacularly talented singers of Halle. Everyone made the most of their last night at MOTHERSHIP. As I watched, two gorgeous girls in skimpy cowgirl outfits and glittery body paint spanked each other and made out behind the bar. No one seemed particularly drunk; it felt very much like the last day of feminist hippie summer camp.
MOTHERSHIP is a hybrid of queer campout, feminist conference, and festival. “I think we are onto something and I look forward to seeing how it all unfolds,” Wise explains earnestly. “In this era of pop-feminism, I want to move into this space before someone else does. I will never be able to execute it all perfectly, especially without a huge team behind me or a corporation, but I genuinely care about creating safe spaces for women and the progression of feminism.” MOTHERSHIP is about female connection. That’s something.