FemPowered: A Revolution

Self Portrait by  Jen Lee  with assistance by Victoria Jazwic.

Self Portrait by Jen Lee with assistance by Victoria Jazwic.

By Bonnie Obremski

Two weeks ago I got a glimpse of the future. There were no hoverboards, there wasn’t even WiFi.

The revolution, the rebellion, was happening. We celebrated what others labeled shameful. We threw ingredients like consent and gratitude into our cauldrons and brewed up an environment where it became normal and encouraged to speak our feelings out loud. What’s that? Did I hear some of you say “woo-woo” in a way that means it’s not for you? But, aren’t you, just a little, as my friend would say, woo-curious?

Yes, we learned about the art of mime, shouted into the sky and walked naked in the forest and yes, this was a program about leadership. Yes, I want people who identify as creatives, as artists, as healers to feel welcome, encouraged, nurtured and honored in leadership roles.

Leadership Rooted in Connection

The way we lead is different. It is rooted in human connection. Leadership rooted in human connection is grounded in the needs and feelings we all share. By going back to feeding our intrinsic desire for connection and play, we go forward to a future I would like to live in.

I conceived Storyborne’s FemPowered leadership and empowerment program for bold and curious women in March. The program sprouted from the seeds planted by Storyborne’s inaugural Heart Stories performance in February.

Each step of the development of FemPowered pushed me headlong into confronting lifelong challenges. I nearly quit countless times because I was so afraid I would fail. I had to ask others for help. I had to answer hard questions from my community about what I was doing and why. I had to take financial risk, going for the things I wanted instead of what I thought I could get. And, the things I wanted were to pay the lead presenters, to pay for a beautiful retreat center, to pay for an experienced chef. That led me to face another personal challenge: working in sales. To top things off, the thing I was selling was my dream, and the price was more than fifteen times higher than the only other thing I’d sold in my life: tickets to a sailboat ride.

Then, slowly but surely, the women of FemPowered came together. They came from Portland and Bainbridge and Sequim and Port Townsend. They were writers and poets, clothing designers, mixed media artists, sculptors, teachers, entrepreneurs, therapists, healers, community leaders and mothers.

Suddenly, I realized I had put myself in a position of having to be a leader of leaders. That was daunting, but it was also an opportunity to test out the very same skills I was hoping to impart. I remember the first morning, I made a mistake in front of everyone. Part of me wanted to make a hasty apology in order to escape my feelings of embarrassment and keep everyone on schedule. Instead, I slowed down. I took the time to acknowledge the mistake and my struggle with how to handle it. I sourced the group for solutions to ensure the same mistake wouldn’t happen again, and they came up with something fun and creative. It maybe took 10 minutes to process, but strengthened everyone’s connection and improved the entire experience moving forward.

That moment was reinforced for me on the final day of the retreat, during a session taught by artist Amy Sousa. Amy asked us to pair up. One person was the leader, the other was the follower. The follower’s job was to mirror the leader’s movements. The leader’s job was to move in such a way (slowly) so the follower could keep up. When done expertly, an outside observer would not be able to distinguish the leader from the follower.

Amy Sousa was one of 10 program facilitators that helped me lead FemPowered. All of these leaders happen to be a part of our local community. These women are the leaders who inspire me. Part of what made FemPowered so potent for the participants was the opportunity for them to observe what’s possible when women leaders support one another. Those brilliant, creative leaders are: Tanya Brakeman, Kerry Christianson, Mia Kelley, Jen Lee, Hanna Lose-Frahn, Jacquie Rae Potter, Talle Selhorst, Aliki Serras and Jessica Tartaro.

Is she really naked?

Jen Lee is the subject of these two stunning portraits. She taught a session during which she invited each participant to meet her in a forest grove. The participants had the opportunity to shed everything that separated them from their natural environment. The photos were private, and only Jen and the participants were the ones who got to see the images (although one participant did share with me).

Self Portrait by  Jen Lee  with assistance by Victoria Jazwic.

Self Portrait by Jen Lee with assistance by Victoria Jazwic.

At the end of her session, Jen handed her camera with her desired settings to one of the participants, Victoria, and asked her to press the shutter release so she could join her students in the exercise of vulnerable authenticity. Victoria also collaborated with Jen on poses.

At the final campfire share, one of the participants, Judy, who had often made us laugh, let us know she was about to ask a serious question. It was a question her friend had posed when she had sent off an email describing the portrait experience. The friend, Teya, a philosopher and poet, wrote:

“If a woman is naked in the woods and no one photographs her, is she really naked?”

A laugh was already poised on my lips, but then I let that question sink in.

The magic of Jen’s work is that some do get to see, when a woman is naked in the woods, and Jen is there to photograph her, she is really free, she is really human, she is really herself.

The courage these leaders and these leaders of leaders showed me two weeks ago at FemPowered feels like a treasured gift, a light in the darkness.

Special thanks to Michelle Sandoval, Red Dog Farm, Mark Saran, The Dirt Rich School at Compass Rose Farms, Rockland Residency, Mary Krochmalny, Cheri Kopp, Transient Moorage Artist Collective, SpeakUP PNW, Magdalene Adenau and the many friends and family who offered kindness to me throughout this journey.

Photographs by Jen Lee Light with assistance by Victoria Jazwic.