What Does It Mean To Be A Feminist Business Owner in 2018?

Entrepreneur Stephanie Newman. Photo Credit: Bridget Badore

By Elizabeth Roberts

There have been many times this year when I’ve woken up, glanced through my Twitter feed and sighed, “It’s hard to be a woman in 2018.” It feels like breaking news frequently includes new #MeToo and #TIMESUP reveals. But more often than not, these stories of pain bring women together – whether that’s sharing their own stories or thanking someone for telling theirs. There are many different ways to be a feminist, but at its core it means supporting other women.

Stephanie Newman, founder of Writing On Glass, led an SDS event earlier this year called “Feminism For Entrepreneurs”. She emphasized that hiring and choosing to work with other women can help ground you as both as a feminist and as an entrepreneur. But what does running a feminist business actually mean day-to-day?

For Stephanie, it starts with collaboration. Writing On Glass started as a blog and has blown up into a feminist incubator of sorts. It’s a resource for creative entrepreneurial feminists who want to build their own business and have access to a non-traditional coach aligned with their values.

While it can feel overwhelming to start or revitalize your business, there are actionable steps that can help you succeed. For Stephanie, success started with a creative business plan. On Saturday, 9/22 she’ll be leading a business plan bootcamp in collaboration with SDS, to help side hustlers and soloprenuers find their way to a finished product.

SDS sat down with Stephanie to find out what having a business with feminist values looks like and how we can increase feminism in our daily interactions.

Entrepreneur Stephanie Newman. Photo Credit: Bridget Badore

SDS: When did you become a feminist?

Stephanie Newman: My senior year of college. I went to Harvard where they had “Final Clubs” – these are social clubs solely for men. The women-only clubs weren’t as prominent on campus, while the male-only clubs defined social life. Since I’ve graduated, they’ve had sanctions and their prominence has deflated. But at the time it defined campus life and there was not a place for women there. This created a very negative dynamic.

I started learning about feminism on social media. Before I hadn’t thought of myself as a feminist since I had fallen into the stereotype that “feminists are angry” – even though now I think that all women have the right to be angry, obviously. Then I realized feminism was about equality, freedom, speaking up for your rights and being treated well.

SDS: What does having a business with feminist values mean to you?

SN: To me there are 3 essential components.

  • The business has to express the truest version of yourself, engaging with the world in a way that leads to personal growth.
  • The business brings you and others financial abundance. So many women were making incredible personal sacrifices in order to do social good work – it’s very admirable but I don’t think women should go broke in order to help empower women. You want a job with financial sustainability that supports others, such as hiring women vendors if you’re in the position to do so. I’m at The Wing and I think they work with primarily female vendors – perhaps exclusively.
  • The business helps you bring the change to the world that you want to see. This is where a lot of people get confused about a feminist business – having a feminist business creates an alternative work culture. It creates a better way of doing things that creates a positive place for women to grow and thrive in. More opportunities for collaboration than competition in the corporate environment.

SDS: There seems to be a lot of infighting among feminists with what the next steps of the movement should be. What do all feminists have in common?

SN: I think that all feminists want to live their best lives, that’s the shared goal. I think sometimes the problem is what the best life looks like – unfortunately sometimes we think we know what will bring others happiness when we don’t.

SDS: What does it mean to be a feminist in 2018?

 SN: Embracing the intersectional perspective on feminism. Intersectionality was coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, she wrote an essay that defined it as living with multiple identities (examples: women of color, a gay Caucasian woman, having disabilities, etc.) We want the feminist movement to be inclusive of all women, but feminism has often been elite to one group (white heterosexual women.) I think it’s gotten better in the last 5 years because intersectionality has come to the forefront of conversations about feminism, but there’s still work to do.

SDS: The #MeToo and #TIMESUP movements have shown a lot of women opening up about their stories of harassment. How can we respond to sexism without hurting our careers? 

 SN: So in my opinion, this is one of the hardest things that feminists face. We all have to evaluate what’s at stake for us individually. I would never say that anyone has to speak out against sexism because everyone has to make a living. But I think that one way to practice speaking up and using your voice is to try to seek out some spaces where you feel you can talk uninhibited. A safe space can also be a room with a therapist. This can help you contend with the experiences without putting something at stake if you’re not ready to do that yet.

SDS: What steps can we take to include a bit more “feminism” into our daily interactions? 

 SN: On the consumption front, spending 5-10 minutes today reading a feminist blog (Writing On Glass, Feministing, Everyday Feminism, Jezebel, Bitch Media, Bust) or engaging with feminist literature.

Prepare little feminist scripts if you ever find yourself in a situation where you think you see a woman being treated unfairly. If you prepare ahead of time, it’s so much easier to step in and try to change the course of events. This totally depends on your workplace, but I would say, “Alexa looks like she has something really interesting to say, could we let her finish her thought?” Or afterwards, you could tell other people in the meeting you felt like some people were being talked over and that we should make room to let other people contribute.

SDS: What other actions should feminists should be taking?

SN: I think feminists should be opening up space for all women to tell their stories. If you’re having a conversation with people and women are being talked over, speak up and let those being silenced use their voice. If you read a news article with a woman accusing a man of mistreating her, read the woman’s perspective. Don’t automatically assume that what she’s saying is false.

If you’re starting a podcast, interview people who have been underheard and not given the attention they deserve – invite marginalized populations. Something that has to coexist with those steps is lobbying for political change. I think that’s a lot harder for someone to do every single day, but we can all vote!

If your business plan could use a boost, you can find more information and register for Stephanie’s Sept. 22 workshop here!

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