Laura Johnston-Wise was tired of boring feminist events that seemed to be ostracizing people in her own community. Her friends were afraid to call themselves feminists and she wanted to change that, so she created MOTHERSHIP Fest, an inclusive music festival where only women-identifying and non-binary folk perform and attend, making gender justice more fun and approachable. Wise curates panels and workshops such as “Feminism 101,” where attendees can find a safe and supportive environment to begin understanding issues that may have previously seemed out of reach. Over the last four years of the event, it has consistently sold out, only further proving the need for such spaces. This year, Bonnaroo tapped Wise to produce SheRoo, a separate camping facility that will exist alongside the main event for women and non-binary people. Wise is taking over, so we caught up with her to find out how she makes it all happen.
MF: You've single-handedly created events that center femmes in music and a safe space for women and non binary folk to enjoy it. How do you take care of yourself when you're not working?
LW: Girl! This is still a process I am mastering. I am lucky enough to do a lot of traveling and new experiences feed my spirit. As far as self-care goes, I think that’s a day-by-day process: staying attuned to your body, mind, and spirit, as well as listening and reacting appropriately to what you hear. For me, relationships are what ground me. I work really hard and my close friends and partner usually are the thing to bring me back down to earth and to play. I'm a Capricorn — things can get too serious.
MF: What motivated you to begin MOTHERSHIP Fest?
LW: I started MOTHERSHIP four years ago now — that's crazy to say. At the time, most of my friends were not identifying with feminism. It was my tricky little way to introduce a lot of people to the magic of feminist ideals and freedom. I wanted to make it fun and easy to digest. Here we are, many years later, and the landscape has changed. Now, I want to amplify the voices of women and create and amazing feminist gathering spaces for women-identified and binary people and I want to do it in an organic way that feels safe and special.
MF: Attendees at your events also get to experience workshops you've curated. Many of them deal with sexual wellness and the health of uterus owners. Why is it important to have space to educate and talk about these things at your events?
LW: I think that sexual empowerment and equality is super important to me because a lack of it is so insidious in American culture. How is it that we still define "sex" as a penis literally entering a vagina? How is it that we still say "lose" your virginity, like it's something you should hang on to because it has value, like we are property? Hetero-women expect so little from their male partners sexually, and it really pisses me off. Equality starts in the home, with our most intimate relationships. Knowing what pleases you and asking for that, that's half the battle. Men MUST do better. Sex ends when both partners are satisfied — not when you cum. OK — i'm ranting now — I just want all women to feel how I feel about sex, which is: zero obligation, connected, and empowered. You shouldn't have to be exclusively having sex with other women to experience that.
MF: What puts the biggest smile on your face about what you do?
LW: Usually I am super heads down and plow through it until everything is over, but afterwards, people’s kind words about the event really make me smile. I also get a LOT of joy from new friendships, relationships, and partnerships that form from the event. Many people meet at the event that wouldn't otherwise, and that's the point. I want to bring a bunch of powerhouses together and watch them create more magic.
MF: Is there a piece of advice that someone gave you that has shifted your outlook or your perspective on something?
LW: A huge moment of evolution for me was this idea that I only have so many fcks to give. Who/what deserves those fcks? I was raised to make everyone around me happy before myself and to be generally pleasing. Much of my adult life was unlearning that, getting messy, and embracing that mess.
MF: You're just as big on education as we are. As uterus-owning people, we don’t often receive information on our own bodies and fertility — whether we want to have a family in the future or not. How do you think having this info can give us more power to guide our lives?
LW: No we haven't. My sex ed was literally like the Handmaid's Tale. I think we need to look at fertility, sex, family planning, and dynamics more holistically. They are all intertwined. How/when/why do you want to pursue growing or creating a family unit? There a thousands of ways to create and experience family in our modern world. Old school religion has far too long ruled the way we live our lives and experience family. I think we need to radically redefine what that looks like for us. For me, I want kids, but I do not want to physically give birth. I feel that in my spirit, I'm attuned to that. But that's because I have been given the time and space to listen.
Image by: Sam Snitzer