Picture a mixture of Girlschool, with its combination of female-centric panels and music, Burning Man’s community-oriented camping, and Coachella’s desert oasis atmosphere, and you’d have a pretty good idea of what Mothership, happening Oct. 13-15 in the town of Coachella, is all about. In its third year, the three-day, two-night festival and retreat claims to be the first destination overnight event strictly for women and female-identifying attendees and participants, though that’s not the only way in which Mothership is pioneering a new kind of festival.
Borrowing from her education and her professional background as a licensed therapist, Mothership founder Laura Wise put together the event through a certain socio-psychological lens. “I specialize in women’s empowerment, and I also see a lot of LGBT folks. I studied LGBT-affirmative therapy and also feminist theory, so it blends nicely into what I’m doing with Mothership,” she says. “One class that really, really stood out to me in school was Community Psychology, and you learn that any oppressed group actually sees increased mental health by being immersed in and surrounded by community that is also part of that oppressed group. And if you apply that kind of knowledge to what I’m doing, it really makes quite a bit of sense. It’s really just saying, you know, safe spaces are really important.”
In other words, if you identify as a woman, hanging out and camping in the desert surrounded by a bunch of women is good for your mental health.
“One of the reasons that I went with camping is because of how much community building is possible when you’re camping out next to people,” Wise says. “I think the event is speeding up that process of getting to know someone and feeling connected to them, because the whole point of Mothership is to create and build a feminist community.” And the community, she says, equally involves attendees as well as the entertainment. “We don’t want it to feel like there is separation between our artists and our participants; we want everyone to feel the same. There’s no VIP or anything like that. In the evenings in our camp we have a campfire, and that's a very common gathering place for all the women to hang out and connect.”
“So many incredible opportunities came from Mothership last year; partnerships with other speakers and artists who had attended and just being inspired by watching other women soar at their craft,” says Kiran Gandhi, who performs as Madame Gandhi and is one of the most politically active artists in the cultural landscape today. Madame Gandhi frequently speaks on panels about being a woman in the music industry, and her track “The Future Is Female” served as an unofficial anthem to the massive Women’s March in Los Angeles in January. “I think Mothership allows us to come together with those who are like-minded in making the world a better place and energize each other. When I’m around other women and female-identifying people I feel really empowered. I feel joyful, I feel safe, I feel inspired, I feel liberated, and I feel like I’m in a utopia.”
Wise describes Mothership as being as multi-faceted as the women who attend, as well as reflective of where she hopes feminism is heading. The trans-inclusive event — “trans women are women, and it’s just a non-issue,” says Wise — features a wide array of activities, from self-defense and yoga classes, to educational panels, including one led by Canadian indie-pop duo Tegan and Sara, whose LGBT-focused foundation has partnered with the event this year.
Then there's the music. This year's lineup includes Madame Gandhi, "riot pop" duo WASI (who have performed at Mothership every year since its first incarnation at an L.A. warehouse in 2015), '80s-influenced DJ and producer Little Indian, and Faarrow, a pop-R&B sister duo of Somalian refugees. "They’ve heard from other people in the music industry that their background is a negative, that it would take away from having a fun, pop persona. But I think the opposite," says Wise on Faarrow's history of fleeing their home country. "Their history is such a powerful thing to share with our community, and that is exactly what Mothership is all about."
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In light of the current political climate in the United States and beyond, in planning this year's event, Wise wanted to ensure that Mothership would be a place to recharge, right alongside its capacity to energize and catalyze action. "If you’re just looking for a place to retreat and know that this is gonna be a safe space with like-minded women, that you’re going to get away from what’s happening for a second — if that’s what you need, we’re going to be able to provide that," she says. "Or if you want to learn more and be more active, we have a panel for that.
"I think women deserve to have an event like this that speaks to the many interests they might have," she continues, "as opposed to just one interest that kind of follows this concept that women are tropes — that we’re just the yoga girl, or we're just into festivals or we're just into one thing. We're into all of those things and we're allowed to have all those interests exist in one person and that’s what makes us interesting and full human beings. My mentality about feminism right now is 'no more crumbs.' I don’t want any more crumbs, I want the whole pie."
Mothership: A Women's Festival and Retreat happens Oct. 13-15 in the Coachella Valley. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.mothershipfest.com.