Why All Feminists Should Start a Business This Year (Part 2)
In the first part of this series, I shared the practical reasons why I think all feminists should start a business. Check out that post here, or read on for the more philosophical take on why feminist entrepreneurs are so necessary.
Why should there be more women entrepreneurs?
I'm just going to go through a list of feminist luminaries who have summed up why institutions don't work for women and what we need to do to correct for them.
Audre lorde: Because our feelings were not meant to survive corporate america
"For within living structures defined by profit, by linear power, by institutional dehumanization, our feelings were not meant to survive. Kept around as unavoidable adjuncts or pleasant pastimes, feelings were expected to kneel to thought as women were expected to kneel to men... It is our dreams that point the way to freedom."
She's right. Feelings are nothing more than a nuisance to those trying to maximize profit and productivity. Workplace etiquette punishes women for letting their emotions overflow at work, even though studies show that employees are happiest when they can bring their whole selves to the table. Who's proving this? Women founding their own businesses on their own terms. Belinda Parmar is a great example. She's built her consulting practice, The Empathy Business, around the concept of human emotional connection. It's no coincidence that corporations centered on masculine ideals -- the suppression of emotions, the dominance of reason -- need to hire a consulting firm to train their teams in empathetic behavior. What Audre Lorde would have us understand is that feel/think is not a dichotomy, but, as she says, "a choice of ways and combinations."
Building a business as a feminist means that you get to create your own institution, built on principles that you think are fair, humanistic, and strategic. You don't have to bow at the altar of profit. Instead of struggling to reform powerful institutions built on centuries of male-centric culture, you get to build your own house using your own tools (another metaphor, courtesy of Lorde!).
Sheila bapat: Because work-life separation harms women in countless ways
In The Feminist Utopia Project, a 2015 anthology envisioning what an ideal feminist world would look like, Sheila Bapat writes about the utopian feminist economy. An attorney and advocate for economic and gender justice, Bapat calls for a more community-minded approach to both work and the home. She argues that the hard line we've drawn for so many decades between work and life (encapsulating by our obsession with "work-life balance") actually perpetuates women's unpaid labor, economic inequality within families, and even domestic violence.
As private spheres, both the typical workplace and typical home have a “closed door” value system. What happens behind closed doors stays there -- whether "there" is inside Harvey Weinstein's office or Rob Porter's home. As these men have demonstrated, stringent privacy often obscures the mistreatment of women.
Fortunately, when feminists build institutions that prize openness, transparency, and community -- as we are wont to do -- these dynamics shift. (Check out Jenn Armbrust and Beth Pickens for some inspiration here.)
miss major griffin-Gracy: Because being an entrepreneur allows you to benefit others while doing what you love
In an interview conducted by Suzanna Bobadilla for The Feminist Utopia Project, trans activist Miss Major Griffin-Gracy talks about the meaning of work inside a feminist utopia:
“If this is utopia I would hope that the work you are doing benefits the society that you were living in and are a part of. What you are doing benefits others. You're doing something that you do best and someone else is doing something that they do best.”
I think we'd all love to contribute economic value while doing what we love. And yet, so many people are stuck in jobs they despise because they financial security, healthcare, and other benefits that an employer provides. The downside of this social arrangement is that so much talent goes to waste. Think of all the skilled artists, poets, and musicians whose work we'll never enjoy, because they had to make a tradeoff between financial wellness and personal fulfillment. Think of all the brilliant people who never had the means for a college education and will therefore never be given the chance they deserve in our work force.
Then imagine being a feminist business owner, and deciding that you'll rewrite the rules of hiring to align with your values and sense of justice. Inspiring, right?
Devaki Jain: Because women have always been (unrecognized) growth drivers of the economy
Unfortunately, this feminist utopia has some forces working against it. Because male-dominated STEM industries enjoy high wages, while the "market" doesn't consider female-dominated fields (like education and other care work) as valuable, equal pay is a long way off. The situation looks even more dire when you consider how many women spend time on unpaid domestic work. “Women’s work," including childcare and housework, has gone unpaid for centuries, being deemed unproductive.
Good thing that economist Devaki Jain reminds us that women have always been growth agents of the economy -- whether or not they were correctly compensated for their contributions. Her research revealed that women in the "unorganized" sector (including housework, handiwork, and childcare) were driving India's GDP growth rate, even though their faces were being used to advertise the country's welfare program. Women were generating massive economic value for no personal reward. Even an economist has to admit: that's pretty inefficient. And unfair, obviously.
Building a feminist business means reversing that pattern. Rather than leveraging your skills and hard work in order to make money for your employer, why don't you invest in yourself, and in becoming the change you want to see?