Women Voice their Divine Power with WAVE
Women on Cape Cod and all over New England have something to celebrate -- themselves! And with the Women's Avenue for Voicing Empowerment, or WAVE, up and running, there is more opportunity than ever for lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight women to come together to embrace themselves, support one another and perpetuate empowerment for all women.
WAVE Founder and Director Paige Riley told EDGE about some of the work the Cape-based nonprofit does. From discussion groups to women-centric art exhibits and workshops to activism and community forums, The Women's Avenue and its director are bringing a multitude of fun, intellectual and inspirational ways for women to connect with one another.
"There is a real need for space, for community, and to be heard," said Riley. "We work to amplify voices and achievements and to show leadership across all boundaries, be it race, class, sexual orientation or gender identity, and we're going to keep doing that."
One of the communities best served by this organization is lesbian women. The idea to bring lesbians together originated from a women's concert series that Riley created and hosted out of a large house off of Cape Cod. Women from Boston, Providence, Connecticut and even New Hampshire were trekking to the shows and it became popular on lesbian meet-up forums and event list-servs. In addition to music, the attendees got a group of other supportive women with whom to socialize and also a safe space.
"It has always been important for me that women have a place to feel safe," said Riley, who herself had experienced domestic violence and sought out the very safe spaces and supportive atmospheres she was now creating.
The idea struck Paige, after realizing that more than 500 women had been served there at one time or another, that she should start a non-profit and dedicate herself to this work.
The Women's Avenue today hosts WE! discussion groups the second and fourth Monday of each month (WE standing for Women's Empowerment or Women's Education interchangeably) and has been for the past three years. Here, they watch movies, host speakers and discuss topics and endeavors of relevance for the women involved. It is primarily a group for lesbian women, although they do, on occasion, open up the discussion to a larger community forum, discussing LGBT rights and activism, for example, or extending their new "Real Beauty Is..." campaign to the larger public.
In addition to these discussion groups, WAVE holds spirituality and leadership workshops, is involved with global outreach programs in Uganda working with the Mama Africa organization on women's empowerment issues and in Morocco with cultural groups on giving rights and voice to Muslim women.
WAVE Brings Forward Art By Lesbians
But one of the biggest ways The Women’s Avenue is making waves is through art. The Museum of Women is one of WAVE’s initiatives, which works in partnership with other artists, venues, and organizations to create and exhibit inspiring and telling art focused on women, their experience, their individuality and power.
"Unbound" the first of WAVE’s exhibits, is a series of art pieces created by lesbian women to honor their personal stories. The pop-up exhibit, which was funded by the GALE fund, debuted on the Cape but has traveled far and wide to colleges, health and social organizations.
Last weekend, WAVE hosted award-winning photographer Lisa Levart and work from her acclaimed book "Goddess on Earth: Portraits of the Divine Feminine" for a texturally and culturally rich exhibit and fundraising event. Banner-sized versions of Levart’s Goddess photos as well as audio of interviews, photos from WAVE’s joint-initiative in Morocco and work from five other local artists were displayed in the multimedia mini-museum, all with a theme of feminine divinity.
Goddess on Earth, winner of the 2012 GOLD Nautilus Book Award, features photographs of 70 different women and descriptions of the goddesses they feel they embody. The women captured by Levart range in age from 8-99 and span across all color, creed, orientation and culture. It took the artist 12 years to collect and compile her goddesses, but she says it is her "heart project," and well worth it.
"We all have these goddesses in us. They’re there to tap into and connect to," said Levart. "The real vision is that women portraying these goddesses will be empowering for other women."
Beverly Little Thunder, one of the subjects in Levart’s book, felt this kind of empowerment participating in the project.
"I think it’s an incredible idea," said Little Thunder. "Being Native American, goddesses are kind of foreign to us. But there are women who did amazing things. Showing women living their everyday lives and the goddesses within all of us is very powerful."
Little Thunder, whose divine Native American embodiment translated roughly to "Old Lady," said that empowering women to find their voice has been a lifelong fight for her. Being told by members of the Lakota community she grew up in that "women ’like her’ were taken outside and shot" and being kicked out of the traditional dance ceremonies because for being a lesbian woman was a turning point for Little Thunder.
"I started to look at the marginalization of women, not only in my community but all over the place," she said.
Little Thunder started her own women’s only traditional dance ceremony, in which participants dance for four days and four nights with no food or water. What started as a medium for lesbian women to practice the dance ritual, has expanded to encompass more than a hundred lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight women and their children each year.
"We as women allow men to oppress us. We’re taught since birth to be taken care of and that we are the weaker sex," said Little Thunder. "But the paradigm is shifting and women are wanting to use their voices, to be heard and to be independent."
And this paradigm shift, says Levart, is what makes these goddesses so relevant to contemporary society.
"These goddesses were revered and honored since ancient civilizations, it is only in the last 2,000 years that that has been suppressed," said Levart. "Today we see images of women in the media, but we do not see them as diverse as they really are."
Through Goddess on Earth, Levart hopes that women will see the beauty in themselves and other women, with all the complexities, diversities, and flaws that make us both human and divine.
For Paige Riley, this hope is the driving force behind her daily work at WAVE.
"What Paige is doing is important work that seems to be much needed," said Little Thunder. "There can never be enough avenues for women to voice empowerment and leadership. She’s dedicating her life to solving this problem."
Dedication does not run short in Riley. In addition to The Women’s Avenue, the WAVE woman is involved with several other LGBT focused nonprofits like Thrive/ CIGSYA, BAGLY and a new foundation set up to provide housing and education for homeless LGBT youth. In June, she was also appointed chairwoman of the GALE fund, which raises money to give in grants to LGBT causes and organizations.
With no chance of slowing down anytime soon, Riley is working triple-time to find a permanent space for WAVE and to generate the funding and collaborations it needs to continue to grow and support as many women, and as much empowerment, as possible.