Why Every Woman Needs Her Own Feminist Fight Club

We’re all familiar with that uncomfortable comment or interaction that was just subtle enough to make you think, "is it just me, or was that kinda sexist?" While overt sexism is now less common and sexual harassment is at least not the socially accepted norm, women still encounter obstacles at work that men do not. They call it the “death by a thousand cuts.” The steady, quiet chipping away at your validity as a woman at work. “You’d be prettier if you smiled.” Because apparently catering to the male gaze was hiding somewhere in your job description. Men refusing to address you with the same respect they use to address your male peers—I had one coworker who refused to call me anything but “little girl.” Having your ideas attributed to (or outright stolen by) men; because for some reason it wasn’t worth listening to until it came out of their mouth. And of course, being interrupted over and over. And over. And over. Taken one at a time, these are perhaps mere annoyances. Something to shrug off and ignore as you keep kicking ass at your job. But these occurrences are not things that happen once and then let you move on with your life. These are small, but regularly occurring slights that women have to deal with on the regular. Sometimes weekly, daily, many times in a day! And as these nicks accumulate, you start to realize your passion for what you do is bleeding out.

Image from Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett

Image from Feminist Fight Club by Jessica Bennett

The Feminist Fight Club, by Jessica Bennett, is your manual for combating sexism in the workplace. It reads like a manual too; you can sit down with it from start to finish or just flip it open to the relevant section. You can read about the behaviors you might encounter, strategies for dealing with those behaviors, self-saboteurs and how not to be one, and even how man can support women at work. The premise for the book grows out of experiences Jessica had early on in her career. She and a group of friends would get together, and often end up talking about the frustrations they were facing at work. They worked in a variety of positions, but were all women in the early phases of their careers. Each of them, in different ways, was experiencing those tiny daily attacks. Being interrupted, having their ideas attributed to someone else, noticing male counterparts being promoted faster despite comparable performance. So they became more deliberate. They scheduled these meetings, invited other women into their circle, discussed the obstacles they were facing, thought of ways they could address the problem, and they held each other accountable. They did all of this over hearty meals—meals for an army! Because that’s what they were becoming. A militia, fighting for respect and recognition in the workplace.

I love the idea and am laying the groundwork for my own sort of fight club. It is important that we all have some version of this support system. Too often we stay silent about these issues because we worry that we are being “too sensitive,” or that maybe “it’s all in our head.” Staying silent contributes to this cycle; more women feel like it’s just them, so they don’t say anything, so nobody knows that they are surrounded by women with almost identical experiences! Creating a community where you share these experiences and grievances openly allows us to move toward a solution instead of quietly fuming and trying to just ignore it. Your ladies have your back. And a handbook like FFC is a worthwhile addition to any gathering. It’s your personal reference guide. Coworker talking over you? Try out a game of verbal chicken! Or if that approach is too aggressive for you, you can ally yourself with the other women in your office. Make a pact to interrupt the interrupters. When one of you gets talked over, another can interject-- “wait, I’d like to hear the rest of what she has to say.” FFC can help you identify the strategies that are right for you.

While each group's FFC meetings might look different, some core components are critical to a successful, supportive fight club. Each member should have the freedom to air their grievances openly and without fear of judgment. Everyone’s feelings are valid. But a meeting should be more than complaining (although that is an important step). There must be a response to the problem—develop a strategy to combat the issue. Brainstorm together. And in the next meeting, follow up on these strategies. It is up to you to hold each other accountable. While the primary goal of these meetings is to be productive, it is also important to have an element of joy. Eat good food. Do something creative together. Love each other. You are sisters in arms against a common enemy: inequality.

If sexism is wearing you down, reach out to the women around you for support. Jessica Bennett has some tips for starting your own group, but you can also take action in more informal ways. Have you read the book? Do you have your own version of a fight club? I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below. 

 

LaToya Eff: Cultivating Women Leaders in Higher Education

Sometimes people are inspired to action by role models they admire. And other times, people are driven by a desire to create something that isn’t yet there. LaToya was one of these latter people. In her professional life, she had worked with a series of women in positions of power who just didn’t seem to get it. To them, another woman’s success was a threat to her own. They were combative instead of collaborative. This dynamic frustrated LaToya, and she was determined to counteract that force by doing the best she could to support the women around her.

LaToya graduated from John Carroll University in Ohio, with a major in Sociology. During her studies, she had aspired to be a social worker, but when she spent the year after graduation doing case work, she realized the emotional intensity of the work was not something she could sustain. So without a house, a connection, or a plan, she packed up her car and moved to Georgia to try something new. It was there that she found her place at a student housing contracting company. The national company meant that she would have opportunities to work at different campuses across the country and to explore various aspects of student housing.

Now working for COCM at Johns Hopkins University, LaToya has become more diligent in her women’s empowerment mission. She started in small ways—offering to read other women’s resumes or to help with various tasks. When some other women in the company, including her mentor, got involved in the Women’s Leadership Institute (a program for women in higher education), they decided to create their own women’s group within the company. When they opened up the group to women not directly involved in WLI, LaToya jumped at the opportunity.

The group started out as a place where women could get together to to discuss women-focused issues in a community of support and inspiration. Recently, though, they have been transitioning into an action-focused group—the COCM Women’s Initiative. One of their primary motivations is to inform and educate. Everyone should leave the meetings knowing something they didn’t know before. They have recently been focusing on issues in the company that have a particular effect on the women employed there, such as parental and sick leave.

For LaToya, the most fulfilling (and occasionally challenging) aspect of the work is being exposed to so many different mindsets and experiences. Because the company is a national one, their Women’s Initiative has members across the country. There are women from many races, faiths, and geographies. Everyone has a different lens through which they see the world. LaToya says the environment is such that everyone is able to share their unique perspective, which can be very enlightening. And sometimes uncomfortable. Having your preconceived notions about life challenged is always uncomfortable, but LaToya says it has resulted in significant personal growth and strong friendships.

Are you a woman seeking mentorship or a more supportive environment for women in your workplace? LaToya's advice is to be the change you're seeking--and to actively seek out what you're missing! Women tend to stay quiet; we're taught to believe that needing help is a sign of weakness. In fact, it's the opposite. Seeking out the help you need makes you stronger. So stop hoping that a wise woman will walk up to you and offer to guide you through your work world. Seek her out! And, whether you realize it or not, you have unique strengths and experiences that make you a valuable resource to the women around you. Reach out to those that you can help. Be that magical mentor who waltzes into someone's life. Offer to help. Communicate and connect.

In the coming months, LaToya hopes to help the Women’s Initiative focus on actionable goals. She wants the group to be able to make concrete targets and take real steps toward achieving them. In her own life, she plans to focus her energy on self-branding. She hopes to refine her online identity into one cohesive narrative. While much of her professional energy is focused on bringing together ambitious women, LaToya spends her free time exploring the culinary world of Baltimore! With friends, she maintains an Instagram dedicated to the food and drink one can find in the area. You can follow her reviews of these experiences on her Yelp account.

Are you a woman working in higher ed? Can you relate to LaToya's need to create a supportive environment for women? Please share your thoughts and experiences below. I'd love to hear your perspectives and what you took away from LaToya's story. 

New Yorker Cover Inspires Women to Say #ILookLikeASurgeon

When Malika Favre designed the April 3, 2017 cover of the New Yorker, she didn’t expect the image to resonate with so many people. The cover, which depicts the faces of four women in doctors’ scrubs leaning over a table, was intended to illustrate the concepts of “Health, Medicine & the Body.” But when Susan Pitt, an endocrine surgeon who works at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, saw the issue, she was inspired to grab three of her fellow female surgeons to recreate the photo. The trend caught on fast, and soon other women surgeons were replicating the image all over the world and sharing on social media. 

Many of the images were accompanied by the hashtag, #ILookLikeASurgeon. This hashtag actually started back in August 2015, springboarding off of the momentum of the #ILookLikeAnEngineer hashtag that preceded it. These hashtags sought to challenge the image of these professions by sharing the diverse faces that make them up. STEM fields often struggle to attract, and then to retain women. Because these fields are still largely male-dominated, they are often unwelcoming to women, hence the trouble with retention. 

Women in the medical field face a wide range of barriers that spring out of sexism. Some of these hurdles are more subtle than others. This study found that at speaking events, men were introduced as “doctor,” while women were referred to in that way less than half of the time. This pattern is more than just semantics; it reflects the assumptions people make about a woman’s competence and qualifications. These assumptions are born of the unconscious biases we all harbor. Often, people make these assumptions without even realizing it. But the fact that it is (often) unconscious and unintentional doesn’t make the result any less damaging. As any woman doctor can attest, they are often assumed to be nurses or not trusted to deliver medical advice. 

The response to the New Yorker cover was intended to normalize the image of women in surgery, inspire women considering the field, and to address issues of pay inequality. Many studies have found the gender wage gap to be persistent across the medical field. In the United States, on average, women in medicine make an average of 26.5% less than their male counterparts. Some might say that this result is probably because women choose lower paying specialties, right? Not so. The gap varies but stays significant within any specialty. All of these studies are followed up with musings as to how this could possibly be. All of the theories are things that any woman seeking success in any business has heard before. “This is a real problem” and “how is this still happening” and the inevitable “women just don’t know how to negotiate.” And statistically, yes, women are less likely to self-advocate (though this seems to be improving), but studies also show consistently that women who do negotiate on their own behalf are perceived negatively and often punished for it. A man who negotiates aggressively is perceived as strong and confident, but when a woman does it, she is more likely to be seen as pushy, entitled, and ultimately, undeserving. It's the same old story. 

So if the pay gap (and the other forms of discrimination facing women in surgery) really come down to unconscious bias, how do we fight that? The answer seems to be movements like #ILookLikeASurgeon. If we can normalize the idea of women in surgery, in the medical field, in male-dominated professions, perhaps we can slowly wear down these biases and misconceptions. It’s a frustrating answer. Who knows how long it will take. And until then, we are left dealing with the same issues—issues that drive many women out of these male-dominated fields. 

Sharing our stories, promoting other women, negotiating in just the right way... this is all work that we shouldn’t have to do. But it’s work worth doing. As women climb the ladders in these male-dominated fields and establish themselves as a part of the environment, that environment becomes more welcoming to other young women entering the industry. #ILookLikeASurgeon is a message from women to women: “We’re here; I see you; we’re in this together.” The Association of Women Surgeons is another great resource for women in the field and has been an active promoter of the #ILookLikeASurgeon movement. Check out the hashtag for some striking photos from women in surgery all over the world and get inspired!

Banner photo can be found at the New Yorker, here

Beyoncé's Latest Gift to Women

When you’ve worked hard to achieve your version of success, one of the most satisfying things you can do is reach down and help someone else achieve their version of it. That is exactly what Beyoncé is doing with her Formation Scholars program.

The program will award four scholarships to “young women who are unafraid to think outside the box and are bold, creative, conscious and confident.” The scholarships are college-specific; one will be awarded at each of the following universities: Berklee College of Music, Howard University, Parsons School of Design, and Spelman College. The awards are for women studying music, creative arts, literature or African American studies.

This announcement came on the one year anniversary of the release of Beyoncé’s visual album, Lemonade. The album received widespread acclaim and earned her numerous nominations for awards, most recently winning a Peabody award. The album was a huge commercial success, but more importantly, its powerful message resonated with its audience.

Lemonade celebrated and embraced black womanhood in a way that simply hadn’t before been seen in American popular culture. In a conversation with dream hampton, Regina Bradley said about the album, “Southern black girls and women are at the front of Beyoncé’s vision. Not in the back. Not in her peripherals or tucked away under the heavy assumptions of southern black women and girls as hopeless. We are in the front. We are joyful. We are communal.” This honest, empowering story of black women is what made Lemonade so striking and so meaningful for many of its listeners.

The film includes footage of Malcolm X saying that "the most disrespected person in America is the black woman." Historically, black women have been largely sidelined by both white women and black men. They had to give up their concerns as women to participate in the civil rights movement and ignore racial components of their lives to be involved in the feminist movement. Famous and revered suffragette, Susan B. Anthony even said she would sooner “cut off this right arm of mine before I will ever work or demand the ballot for the Negro and not the woman.” The feminist movement has often and repeatedly ignored the compounded discrimination that women of color face, historically and to this day*. So for a wildly popular star, often praised as a feminist symbol, to center both her race and her gender, sacrificing neither for the other, was historic and a deeply important message.

When Beyoncé released “Formation” and performed the single at the Superbowl, it became apparent that she was not going to shy away from addressing issues facing the black community. This outspokenness earned her even more praise and love from her fans. It also, as is so often the case for women of color, inspired torrents of criticism, both explicit and thinly veiled. Many saw this as a transition for Beyoncé, out of palatable entertainment and into the business of making political statements. But others, like Zeba Blay, at the Huffington Post, noted that Beyoncé’s work has always been pro-black, just not quite as as loudly. Much of her music and performances have paid tribute to the legacy of black artists who came before her. But with Lemonade, she brought those experiences front and center so that it was no longer possible to ignore the blackness of the music she was creating and the stories she was sharing.

Just as Lemonade was not actually Beyoncé’s first statement for black women, the Formations Scholars program is also not her first step into charitable actions. She has long been contributing to causes that help uplift other women. Perhaps her most widely known endeavor is the Survivor Foundation, which she co-founded with fellow Destiny’s Child singer, Kelly Rowland. This foundation raised millions of dollars for the survivors of Hurricane Katrina. She helped found Chime For Change, a campaign to combat the disproportionate amount of poverty affecting women around the world. She created the Beyoncé Cosmetology Center to help women recovering from alcohol and drug addictions get back on their feet by learning the prerequisites to become a licensed cosmetologist. She has served as a World Children’s Day ambassador, contributed to Goodwill, and played a part in many other charities. Her work makes it clear that one of her top priorities is helping women reach their goals.

The Formation Scholars program will help four young women take a huge step toward achieving their goals. This program is just the latest in Beyoncé’s consistent record of using her widespread success in order to center those who are underrepresented or may not have access to as many opportunities. She continues to set a strong example of women uplifting other women. And now she’s looking for four young women to help along the path to creative success. So if you are one of the countless women who have been inspired by her work and you meet the program requirements, be sure to apply by May 12th to be considered for the Formation Scholars program.

*For more on keeping your feminism intersectional as a white woman,  I recommend this article by Kim Tran.

How Rachel Wynn is Helping Women Live Like A Boss!

Rachel Wynn, founder and CEO of Starlight Social

Rachel Wynn, founder and CEO of Starlight Social

Rachel always had a feeling she would tread the path of the entrepreneur. She had watched friends and family members chase their dreams and their freedom. She had seen the rising number of entrepreneurs in the world at large. It didn’t seem like a far-fetched idea. But it also wasn’t necessarily a plan. It was more of an “eventually.” Entrepreneurship seemed like something she would have to earn—work the traditional path, pay her dues, and eventually she would have the freedom to pursue what she really wanted and do it within her own parameters, playing by her own rules. But, as so often is the case, external forces seemed to push Rachel in a direction she hadn’t expected.

Graduating from Gettysburg College in 2012 with a self-designed major, "Business, Media, and Communications," Rachel was ready to find her path. She worked in a number of industries, including hospitality, event planning, and sales. She rotated through several positions in assorted companies, trying them on for size, seeing how they fit, and knowing a little better what to look for after each experience. She didn’t waste any time once she knew a position wasn’t for her. Then she ended up in a community management position for the coworking company, WeWork. In June 2015, after working there for less than year, she was shocked to be suddenly fired without explanation. As a lifelong overachiever, being fired was something she had never expected to experience and something that disagreed with the image she had of herself.

Rachel spoke with a colleague about her situation, who suggested she consider starting her own business. Suddenly she was reminded of this long-term goal she had always had, and realized perhaps she didn’t have to wait to do it after all. She was in a position that was, in some ways, perfect. She certainly had the motivation to get going. So with the assortment of skills she had developed in her previous positions, Rachel started Starlight Social, a company that provides social media services to small businesses and non-profits. As she found her footing, it became clear how much there was to learn when starting your own business. It clicked for her that a service providing guidance through this tumultuous process would be valuable and marketable. So she branched out into offering resources and training services for other women solopreneurs.

Two main events drove Rachel to create (what I think is) the most exciting aspect of her business, “Like A Boss by Starlight Social.” She attended a conference called Blogalicious, led by its founder (and Rachel's professional role model), Stacey Ferguson.  After participating in a “Monetizing Your Passion” workshop, Rachel left the event with a newfound clarity: what she really loved to do was help people figure out how to pursue what they love. Another moment of realization came when one client, already over two weeks late with his payment, casually told Rachel that he would send her payment once he got back from vacation… in a month! She couldn’t help but feel that if she had been a man, he wouldn’t have felt he could take advantage of her this way. (Don’t worry; like the boss she is, Rachel explained that this was unacceptable and he remitted his payment to her electronically.)

This experience, and her passion for helping women do what they love, are what inspired her to start Like A Boss (L.A.B.), a community of ambitious solopreneur women who guide and support one another. “We face different stigmas and struggles than men do” in business, and L.A.B. is a place where women can voice those frustrations, find support, ask candid questions, and share resources with each other. Rachel says that "being part of L.A.B is truly an ongoing workshop of your business - like being in a lab." The group has several monthly meetings, including a general members' meeting with rotating topics, Power Work Sessions, and brunches. The women hold each other accountable and inspire each other. Rachel says her goal is “for every woman to go home after the meeting, power work session, or even brunch feeling inspired and motivated to execute the ideas we've shared to grow and craft their dream lifestyle and business.”

In the coming months, Rachel will be building up her virtual membership option for L.A.B. This membership will allow people who are still working full-time jobs, or who don’t live in the Washington, DC area, to get involved in this supportive, ambitious community of women. If you have a marketable service, are passionate about it, and can manage your time effectively, Rachel suggests you go for it. You don’t have to wait! Now, don’t necessarily run off to go quit your full time job, but start somewhere. Set realizable goals and begin taking small steps to achieve them. Surround yourself with people who can support and guide you. And, if you want to get serious with other go-getter women, maybe consider joining L.A.B!

Networking at the WIT Empower Her Summit

If you’re trying to establish or redirect your career, I’m sure you’ve been told that you should attend networking events. Finding a job is “all about who you know” so you have to “just get out there” and meet people in your industry. But if you’ve never been to an event like this, it can be intimidating, especially if you don’t know anyone there. It’s hard to know what to expect or what you might be getting into. This Saturday, I finally overcame all the intimidation and attended my first networking event: Women in Technology’s Empower Her Summit. It was a wonderful, inspiring, informative day, and I’m so glad I went. I wanted to share my experience for those people who might be on the fence about attending an event like this.

 

As attendees filtered in, the room began to hum with introductions and exchanges. Women from all aspects of tech were there, from web design, software development, to engineering to cyber-attorneys. Within the first ten minutes of mingling, I met someone in a career field adjacent to mine—one that I’ve been trying to break into. She introduced me to some helpful resources and we exchanged business cards. Networking works! And it’s so much easier than I expected!

 

My favorite tips were a) use whitespace to make your main points pop and b) your “objective” or “summary” statement must be clear, concise and specific; say exactly what kind of position you are looking for.

My favorite tips were a) use whitespace to make your main points pop and b) your “objective” or “summary” statement must be clear, concise and specific; say exactly what kind of position you are looking for.

Once everyone arrived, the info workshops began. There were two consecutive sessions, each with three workshops to choose from. All of the options sounded useful and interesting, ranging from “dress for success” to “negotiation tactics,” but I had to choose only two. I attended the Resume & Interview Workshop first. This workshop featured Fran Gerrard, a human resources professional and recruiter who has looked at more resumes than she probably cares to count. She knows what catches a recruiter’s eye, and what will be immediately passed over. She had so many wonderful tips on both content and formatting.

 

After she spoke, Carole Stizza, an interviewing specialist, broke down for us the structure of interview questions that may not always be evident from the way they’re asked. She clarified what interviewers are really looking for and how best to frame and market your skills to make your qualifications clear to the interviewers.

No matter how they are framed, interview questions are always behavioral; set the stage and tell the story of when you realized a challenge, how you overcame it, what skills you acquired, and then directly state how you would use those skills in this new position!

No matter how they are framed, interview questions are always behavioral; set the stage and tell the story of when you realized a challenge, how you overcame it, what skills you acquired, and then directly state how you would use those skills in this new position!

The second session I attended was called “Crafting Your Professional Narrative” and was led by Camille Stewart and Allyson McDougal, two wonderful women from WIT. They taught us how to tell the story of who you are as a professional, and to use that story to market yourself and direct your career in the direction you want it to go.

Do, Validate, Exude. In other words, do the work, identify people who can speak to what you do, and then live your life in line with the narrative you’re creating.

Do, Validate, Exude. In other words, do the work, identify people who can speak to what you do, and then live your life in line with the narrative you’re creating.

After a delicious lunch (and more networking time with a wide variety of driven women), we had the pleasure of listening to our keynote speaker, Emilie Aries of Bossed Up. Emilie created Bossed Up to help women craft successful and sustainable careers by promoting a healthy work/life balance to avoid burnout. Emilie delivered a relatable, useful speech about assertive communication. She clearly defined the difference between aggressive and assertive, explained how to establish healthy boundaries in order to take care of yourself, and how to tread that fine line between assertiveness and likability—because in the professional world, whether or not people like you can often have real impacts on your life.

Big takeaways: assertiveness is speaking up for your own needs while still considering the needs of others (aggressiveness disregards others’ needs); because assertiveness uses energy (of which you have a finite amount), pick and choose when it is worthwhile to be assertive and when it is easier to move on from a frustrating situation; in order to make your assertion less likely to be read as aggression, preface the content of your request with your intent (in other words, explain why you’re asking/stating something before you ask/state it).

Big takeaways: assertiveness is speaking up for your own needs while still considering the needs of others (aggressiveness disregards others’ needs); because assertiveness uses energy (of which you have a finite amount), pick and choose when it is worthwhile to be assertive and when it is easier to move on from a frustrating situation; in order to make your assertion less likely to be read as aggression, preface the content of your request with your intent (in other words, explain why you’re asking/stating something before you ask/state it).

The WIT Empower Her Summit was so much more than I could have hoped for. I was surrounded by so many ambitious women, carving out their own places in the world. Every session was jam-packed with useful information to help you go farther in your career, and take charge of the direction you go. I have zero regrets about attending. I now have a pocket of business cards belonging to people I intend to reach out and connect with; I have pages of useful notes and resources that I need to research further; and I have a rich experience that I can share with others and (hopefully) convince more people to take the leap to attend similar events. I highly recommend the Women in Technology group, for those in the DC area who fall into that category. But look for groups of people that you have something in common with, whether it is a professional women’s group, or a professional organization in your field. Find events near you. Go! You’ll thank yourself afterward.

Some parting Bossed Up wisdom!

Some parting Bossed Up wisdom!

Women's Work

I’ve finally hopped on the Hamilton train. I know I’m a little late to the game, but now I’m hooked! You can listen to the entire soundtrack on Spotify, and I highly recommend you do. Not only is it a) a brilliantly produced Broadway production with a lot of talent, b) a unique presentation of fascinating history, and c) timely and relevant to many of the political frustrations people have today, but it is also a very human story about flawed people trying their best to do what they believe is right. One of these people was Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, Alexander’s wife. Crammed into the end of the production, we get a brief summary of some of her accomplishments during widowhood. Unfortunately, but understandably, the near-three-hours-long musical didn’t have a lot of room to dive into the remarkable story that was Eliza’s life post-Alexander. Aside from raising her seven remaining children and vehemently preserving her late husband’s legacy, Eliza committed herself to volunteer work. She played major roles in these charities, such as helping to found the Orphan Asylum Society (still in existence today, but known as Graham-Windham). As she changed the way parentless children were cared for, she also changed the roles of women in the public sphere. Eliza was part of a movement that forged a new path for women outside the home: charity work. Of course, the story wasn’t Eliza’s alone. There were two other primary players, alongside whom Eliza worked. Together, and with the help of many other dedicated middle-class women, they changed the lives of countless orphans, as well as the generations of women to follow them.

 

The story starts with a Scottish immigrant named Isabella Graham. Graham’s marriage to a physician in the royal army took her first to Canada, then to New York. Her husband’s death sent her back to live with her father in Scotland, and she kept herself busy with charity work and establishing and teaching at a girls’ boarding school. New York, however, seemed to be calling her. After fifteen years in Scotland, she returned to New York in 1789 with her four children. She quickly joined a local church and established a boarding school for young ladies. One of her three daughters, Joanna, soon emerged as another critical figure in women’s charity.

 

Joanna and her two sisters taught at their mother’s boarding school. Joanna, like her mother, was devoutly religious, and had given up finding a husband well-matched to her in that respect. At 25, however, at her mother’s urging, Joanna married the pious but poor Divie Bethune. Fortune smiled on the couple (and on Joanna’s future charitable pursuits); Divie quickly became quite prosperous as a merchant, which also connected him to many other wealthy men in important social circles.

 

At this time (end of the 18th century), the population of New York City was skyrocketing. While some of this population was thriving, much of it was destitute. Most charity was practiced privately; local homes would take help house and feed the homeless and hungry. But the rapidly rising poor population required something more. The almshouse was built, meant to offer refuge for those who couldn’t be cared for in these homes. Quickly, the almshouse deviated from its intent; it became overcrowded, unsanitary, and downright dangerous for its inhabitants. Men looked out for members of their various associations; when a member fell on hard times, the men took it upon themselves to help out as they could. However, women could only be assisted via their husbands and could not receive support directly. This left widows with no other recourse than the frightening almshouse, or worse. These desperate conditions and Isabella Graham’s commitment to a charitable life led to the founding of the Society for the Relief of Poor Widows with Small Children in 1797. This call to action resonated with other religious, well-off women, and fifteen other women took on leadership positions in the organization, forming the body of the SRPW. Volunteers solicited funds from churches and organized concert benefits. As the Society became more well-known, it became easier to raise larger sums of money.

 

In 1804, Eliza Hamilton was widowed, left alone with her seven children and her husband’s debts. Finding solace in her faith, she threw herself into her charity work, involving herself with SRPW. Then, in 1806, several of the widows receiving aid passed away, leaving behind six young orphans. It was Joanna Bethune who was inspired to create the Orphan Asylum Society for the parentless children of New York to protect them from the despicable conditions of the almshouse. Joanna took on the role of treasurer, Eliza served as second-directress, and their wealthy friend Sarah Hoffman was persuaded to assume the role the first-directress. The children were trained to be skilled laborers and were sent to to work in private homes once they were considered old enough. The asylum was very successful; the children were often brought to events so that donors could see that the children were happy, healthy and grateful. The Orphan Asylum Society was eventually able to obtain regular donations from wealthy donors. The Society received high praise and was continued providing care to orphans—carrying on as an organization through the decades, into the present day.

 

These three women came together to change the role of women in society by pursuing a mission that they all believed in. They used their passion, conviction, and connections to fulfill their collective vision. These connections, with each other, and with the rest of the privileged New York women, are what made the Society so successful. The impact they had was not just on the community of orphans in New York, or receivers of aid more generally, but also on the place that women had in the public sphere. Women, who were unable to handle finances in their own home, had a place where they could manage money, raise funds, and make decisions about the future of important organizations. Women finally had a role in the public. They may not have been able to run for office or manage a business, but they could make sure that their less fortunate citizens were well provided for. While this financial independence was brief (when the Orphan Asylum Society became successful enough to receive quite sizable donations, men began to step into the board of directors, since they were “better equipped” to hand such “complex matters;” women were phased out into auxiliary positions), the efforts of Graham, Bethune and Hamilton expanded the boundaries of what was expected of and acceptable for women in the public sphere.

 


Sources:

Becker, Dorothy G. “Isabella Graham and Joanna Bethune: Trailblazers of Organized Women's Benevolence.” Social Service Review, vol. 61, no. 2, 1987, pp. 319–336., www.jstor.org/stable/30011889.

http://www.womenhistoryblog.com/2012/07/isabella-graham.html

http://www.graham-windham.org/about-us/history/the-early-years/

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/why-elizabeth-hamilton-deserving-musical-her-own-180958214/

http://daytoninmanhattan.blogspot.com/2011/12/lost-1840-orphan-asylum-society.html

 

Galentine's Day!

If you haven't heard of Galentine’s Day, you are missing out on the wisdom of Leslie Knope, the intensely ambitious, supportive, loyal, best friend anyone could have, from the show, Parks & Recreation. Add it to your list! As Leslie explains, Galentine’s Day is all about ladies celebrating ladies, usually over their favorite breakfast foods. It's the perfect excuse to spend some quality time with friends, remind them what you love about them, and celebrate those friendships. Clearly a holiday worth observing.

What makes a good Galentine’s Day? The most important factor is, no surprise, the people you spend it with. Gather up all the ladies in your life that you love and admire. Whether you already have a tight-knot group of gals, or you have friends from different parts of your life, get them all together in the same place. Don't worry if they don't already know each other. It's a great opportunity to introduce people you love to other people you love. There’s a good chance they’ll love each other. By doing this, not only do you end up with a bunch of great people having a great time together, you’re also expanding everyone’s network of great women in their life. Quality friends are such a huge asset to have—share that with each other!

This one may seem obvious, but another crucial aspect of a successful Galentine’s Day is communicating! Celebrating your friends is all about the conversations you have. Talk and laugh. Share stories, share memories. Catch up! Discuss everyone's latest projects or ambitions. This is a supportive environment. Don't be afraid to remind your friends what you love and admire about them. If there's ever a time to gush, this is it.

Lastly (and I guessss least of the three), you can’t forget the food! For Leslie, it’s all about breakfast food, but there are no hard and fast rules on Galentine’s Day. Brunch is a pretty great option—lots of food choices and delicious cocktails! A restaurant might be easiest for everyone, but a potluck is always fun too. Each person can bring what they do best and you get to try a little bit of everything. Of course, if you don’t want to mess around with a full meal, you can always just skip the brunch (or lunch or dinner) and jump straight to your favorite dessert place!

Everyone's perfect Galentine’s Day looks different. For some, it might be a night out bar hopping. For others, it might be an evening in pajamas, watching a favorite movie together. You could go for a hike, meet for coffee, go out to a restaurant, try something new (like a painting or pottery class), or, my personal choice, bake and decorate some cookies together. Choose what makes sense for your group. The most important thing is that you’re reaching out to the women you love and reminding them of that fact. Happy Galentine’s Day, everybody!


 

Forming Galliances

For at least as long as women have been serious contenders in the workforce, there have been messages (some subtle and others less so) that there is a small, finite amount of space for female employees. If a woman is a "token" worker, then there is only so much space available for you. Another woman with a similar background who has skills or experience that you don't becomes a threat. She could take that position and then there would be no room for you. This paradigm creates a sense of competition between women. The caricature of the cutthroat career woman is furthered by media. When successful women are portrayed in movies and TV, so often they are in that position because they were "bitchy" and "ruthless" to get there, and they have to continue to be that way to stay there. But these behaviors are taught to us long before entering the workforce. Think of all the media you consumed as a child that taught you girls were supposed to be clique-ish. The popular girls are always mean; they've achieved social success because they tear down anyone who threatens them.

Doesn't all of that sound exhausting? If you've ever been in a situation like that (either as the "mean girl" or as the "victim") you know it is exhausting. More than that, it's counterproductive. It's also totally unnecessary. The message that we need to somehow defeat other women in order to be successful is a mirage. The only reason this was ever true was because all the power was in the hands of men who were reluctant to bring women onto their teams. This dynamic is slowly changing, and in order to be part of the change, we need to stop playing by the rules of an out of date game. The fact is, the more successful women are in positions of power, the easier it is for young women to follow in their footsteps. Women in these roles can create space for more women on their teams, as well as provide an example to follow.

So how do we make this happen? To make change on the large scale, we must start with ourselves as individuals. Whether in school, our career, or personal life, identify the women around you who seem to have it figured out. It's easy for your knee-jerk reaction to these people to be envy; monitor these feelings and identify the cause. Is she more successful in her career? Really good at a hobby you've been struggling to stick with? Fashionable? Friendly? Funny? What could you learn from her? Surrounding yourself with people admire can only make you a better person. Birds of a feather. If you haven't read Ann Friedman's article about Shine Theory yet, I suggest you check it out here because, at its core, that’s what this blog is all about. Surrounding yourself with women you admire, instead of playing into the catty, cutthroat stereotypes, is good for everyone. People will automatically assume good things about you if you're close with good people. You're likely to pick up the good habits that have contributed to your friends’ successes. And more likely than not, you'll discover that you have positive traits that she's admiring in you!

By forming these friendships, we're also forming alliances. If they're in your field, you're expanding your professional network. And if not, you're expanding you're personal one. Always look for opportunities to create space for others to succeed. Look out for each other. Lift each other up. If we make these practices part of our daily habits, we're contributing to the broader goal and lifting up women everywhere.