The energy was palpable in Omega’s Main Hall as more than 500 participants waited for the weekend-long Women & Power Conference to begin on Friday, September 27, 2019. As the colorful Afro-Brazilian drummers of Batalá New York moved from the Main Field down the conference room aisles, the crowd erupted in cheers, primed and ready for the insights, honesty, inspiration, and wisdom the event promised to deliver.
Throughout the weekend, each speaker offered her take on the conference theme, “Gathering Our Strength.” With the acuity of her own individual lens, these powerfully accomplished women shared their realities, challenges, and triumphs. Keynote talks, one-on-one conversations, and panel discussions parsed the complexities of doing personal, political, economic, and social power differently.
Conference participants were also able to enjoy a pop-up exhibit of 16 handmade artists' books produced at the Women's Studio Workshop. The international group of artists used a variety of printing and binding techniques to explore such diverse stories as family relationships, the judicial system, dress codes, and the cosmos.
We're pleased to offer a virtual tour of the exhibit, A Bindery of Reason, as well as highlights from the conference, which are now available as a self-paced on-demand workshop. Below, we excerpt some inspiring moments.
What Women Know: Sharing Our Truth Creates Strength
“Women know something that the world needs now.” Author and Omega cofounder Elizabeth Lesser repeated these words that she heard decades ago during a chance encounter at Omega with author Marion Bradley Zimmer. She then reminded us that, for more than 30 years, no one believed what 150 women athletes knew as they were being abused by physician Larry Nassar under the guise of medical treatment. But by televising every one of the victim impact statements, judge Hon. Rosemarie E. Aquilina made sure the women were “no longer alone in their truth-telling,” said Lesser. “The young women spoke as if generations of Eves, and Jezebels, and Pandoras, and Cassandras spoke through them," Lesser added.
Becoming a Dangerous Woman to Make the World a Safer Place
At a high-powered gathering following the 2016 Presidential election, Pat Mitchell, journalist and Emmy Award-winning and Oscar-nominated producer, was more than a little surprised when she spontaneously called herself a “dangerous woman.” For years during her long career, often as the first and only woman in the room at work, Mitchell deflected and denied her power. But she learned that owning that power means becoming more fearless.
“It means speaking out against the patriarchal concept that encourages us to compete and compare. It means speaking the truth when silence is much safer, and it means speaking out against the politics and policies that divide us and diminish our individual and collective power,” she said. "It is time for us to embrace more risk, and engage with revived passion and purpose the truly dangerous work of making this world a safer place for women and girls."
Following her talk, for nearly three hours Mitchell signed copies of her new book, Becoming A Dangerous Woman: Embracing Risk to Change the World, and listened to gratitudes and stories from women willing to embrace risk in their own lives.
Redefining Strength & Leadership
Writer, professor, and commentator Roxane Gay admonished us to redefine leadership by moving away from the traditional male concepts of forthrightness, aggression, boldness, and risk-taking.
“Unfortunately, men have made a mess of the world,” she said. “Maybe we should set our standards far, far higher as we think about how to wield power in ways that are ethical and effective.”
Gay cautioned against simply leaning on hope, which allows us to leave to others what we should have the courage to do ourselves. Instead of hope, she asked us to think about possibility and the power that each of us has.
"Real strength is when people tolerate their discomfort for the greater good,” she said. “It’s about being able to make difficult choices, even though it will compromise something that makes you happy and comfortable."
Gay also had words for how we can feed ourselves and others: with kindness, joy, and by sharing our successes and uplifting others as we climb. “Kindness,” she said, “is one of the most important things. Joy, especially for Black Queer Women, is the most tangible act of resistance we can make.”
Gathering the Strength of Our Ancestors & Leaning on Each Other
GirlTrek's cofounders T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison recalled the strength of our female ancestors. Reciting their individual matrilineal heritages, they emphasized the knowledge, wisdom, skills, and community of black women who know how to detach from the suffering of the world in order to soar spiritually.
“Stop digging in and thinking that you are strong enough by yourself,” Dixon said, as she and Garrison enumerated the foremothers who have inspired and lead the way, including Nikki Giovanni, Zora Neale Hurston, Nina Simone, Georgia Gilmore, Gwendolyn Brooks, Lucille Clifton, and Sonia Sanchez.