Photo by Drop the Label Movement on Unsplash
It’s April 2019. How difficult is it to launch and grow an innovative an independent journalistic media enterprise? Especially since the industry appears to be collapsing around us. What unique barriers do women-led media entrepreneurs face?
Three years ago, with the support of a few advisors and friends, I launched LiisBeth. We became increasingly concerned about the significant and persistent gender, diversity, and inclusion issues in the growing entrepreneurship and innovation economy. We saw that no one was dedicated to interrogating these issues from a feminist point of view. We ignored the fact that media enterprises were folding all around us. In the Canadian news media space alone, over 260 outlets have closed in the last 10 years.
The fact that there are fewer journalists today than ever before didn’t give us pause. Since 2011, for every job lost in journalism there have been 17 jobs added in public relations and advertising (-1,230 vs. +21,320). We tenaciously believe the fourth estate—versus spin doctoring—remains important to any functioning democracy, and that storytelling can transform lives, society, and the course of history. We persist despite the odds. We pivot and iterate. That’s what entrepreneurs do.
So, what’s it like to grow a media enterprise? Two quick answers come to mind.
It’s beyond hard. Investors love media tech platforms. But are wary about investing in journalistic content. Even fewer want to spend money investing in feminist-informed editorial programs that might upset the status quo. Or unnerve friends in positions of power who helped them get to where they are. Fear of reprisals for truths told are a real concern for many. Society also doesn’t like to hear from women who think. Feminist writer Rebecca Solnit says: “Who is heard and who is not defines the status quo. Those who embody it [the status quo], often at the cost of extraordinary silences with themselves, move to the centre; those who embody what is not heard, or what violates those who rise on silence, are cast out.” What she is telling women media entrepreneurs is this: Starting a fashion blog or parenting media property would be far less risky. And likely more successful in attracting readers and growth bucks.
Barriers? Plenty. Starting with having an opinion, and a vagina—especially a mature one. Women publishers in search of truth, with iron stomachs and interrogative skills, scare people. Women over 50, like myself, are ineligible for the vast majority of publicly funded entrepreneur support programs which generally favour youth. As if that demographic, lovely and challenged as it is (I have an 18-year-old), is the only one capable of innovating and in need of income. We end up bootstrapping and growing our ventures one subscription at a time, feeling very much alone.
We need more women-led news media entrepreneurs than ever before. If what we want is a more inclusive society—and democracy—we need women of colour, Indigenous women, feminists, and LGBTQ media enterprise founders in this space.
How will we get there?
THIS WEEK ON LIISBETH
DO YOU KNOW WHO MAKES YOUR CLOTHES?
Would you pay more for a special piece of clothing if you knew where it came from? If you knew the women who made it? If you knew where the fabric was sourced?
Msichana gives you those answers. We spoke to Lorna Mutegyeki, the fashion designer and entrepreneur who runs Msichana out of Edmonton, Alberta.
Read what she has to say about funding a business, wanting to quit, and why she keeps going here.
WHAT WE DID ON INTERNATIONAL TRANS DAY OF VISIBILITY (MARCH 31)
Human Rights Commission (HRC) advocates tracked at least 26 deaths in 2018 of transgender people in the United States due to fatal violence. The report goes on to say: “While the details of these cases differ, it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, and that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities, barriers that make them vulnerable.”
HRC founded International Trans Day of Visibility in March 2009, and it’s been gaining momentum ever since.
This year, LiisBeth participanted in a related with two amazing entrepreneurs, Jack Jackson and Deb Klein who launched their new global photography project, “Don’t You Want Me” which showcases the beauty and resilience of LGBTQ people with their rescue dogs.
Find out more about the project, power of love, and the experience here.
LIISBETH FIELD NOTES
Be one of the first fifteen people to leave a comment on the Msichana story at LiisBeth.com (scroll to the bottom of the piece) and receive a discount code for free shipping, or if you already qualify for free shipping, a special gift with purchase. Check out #accentsbymsichana which includes belts, scarves, jewelry, and know you are supporting ethical fashion.
The Alinker – a vehicle for social change
IS WHAT THEY TOLD YOU ABOUT ENTREPRENEURSHIP STILL RELEVANT?
What kind of person—and entrepreneur—will flourish in a future that has not yet been invented? And what if the language for who you are and what you do doesn’t exist yet?
This is the question inventor and gender-queer entrepreneur BE (barbara) Alinker asked the audience during a talk delivered during Interntional Women’s Day weekend 2019 at SheEO’s RadGen event.
The answer? Don’t let the fact that there is no language for what you are and do undermine your confidence. Learn how to be what BE calls a multi-specialist.
In a world that prizes entrepreneurial norms, the multi-specialist entrepreneur, a hyper-adaptable person who learns new skills extremely fast often feels like a “queerdo”. They are misunderstood. And worse, marginalized by investors who have a template in their minds regarding what a “safe bet” entrepreneur or entrepreneurial process looks like. Today, that typically means male and following 1990’s Silicon Valley dogma.
Alinker, who has been a coffin builder in Kenya, a bassoon player for a rebel dyke band, a production manager for a $17M glass art project for an airport in Doha, Quatar, a wordwork restoration architechted in Saudi Arabia, and now the inventor of a mobility device tells the audience that multi-specialists are seriously upsetting to most people, especially status-quo bound institutions and investors.
Her message? Don’t worry.
In an era marked by tectonic plate level social transformations driven by crumbling capitalism, climate change and weaponized AI, Alinker is convinced that the multi-specialist dreamer who quickly masters a range of skills, often self-taught, acts authentically according to their visions and values, and trusts in the power of on the ground communities, will ultimately be best equipt to truly innovate, thrive–and succeed.
Alinker, says “I can’t tell you the number of times that people told me: “You are all over the place”, “You have no focus”, “You are scared of committment”, “Why do you run away?”, “You never finish anything”, “You are a scatterbrain”, “Messed up”, “Chaotic”, “Crazy.”
But in Alinker’s view, that is exactly what a person capable of flourishing in these times looks like.
LAST MONTH’S FEMINIST FREEBIE WINNERS!
Thank you for your comments on our recent story When Aunt Flo Becomes CEO, a profile of the author of Heavy Flow.
Abigail Slater and Kasey Dunn will be receiving signed copies of Amanda Laird’s new book. Congratulations!
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[VIDEO] A glimpse of the premiere of the interactive installation HANDSHACK at the Remai Modern, Saskatoon, SK, January 2019.
REACH OUT, TOUCH ME
In a world of instant communication, our first contact with people is often through the Internet, phone, text, e-mail. All day we touch screens and punch plastic and metal buttons. Our over-usage of electronics minimizes human contact in our day-to-day lives.
Enter, HANDSHACK. An interactive installation part of The Hands On Project created by feminist artist-preneur Marites Carino.
The installation invites strangers to get to know each other through a tactile conversation. Unable to hear one another, participants wear headphones and are guided in this silent interaction. Their interaction, projected through a live feed, takes an accepted form of first contact, the handshake, and twists it into an unexpected choreography.
“By entering this realm where visual perceptions are no longer at the forefront, perspectives shift,” says Carino, based out of Montreal, Quebec. “We see beyond the ways we differentiate ourselves and end up connecting through our commonalities.”
In the era of #MeToo, and Build the Wall, HANDSHACK offers a safe playground for consensual touch and human connection. After the curtain call, participants think they have encountered another, but in fact, they have confronted themselves.
This sensorial experience has been awarded an artistic residency and production grant and will be remounted in Montreal on May 11th, 2019 at the Oboro gallery during the Accès Asie Festival.
Dr. Wendy Cukier / Photo credit: theEYEOPENER
WENDY CUKIER TALKS WOMEN’S ENTREPRENEURSHIP
In December 2018, Ryerson University’s Diveresity Institute received $8.62M+ to create a Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub (WEKH). Spearheaded by Ryerson Univiersity’s Diversity Institute and its founder, Dr. Wendy Cukier, the WEKH will include eight hubs across the country, with Ryerson and OCAD sharing the Toronto region. The WEKH will serve as a network of researchers, universities, business organizations, incubators, and community groups who will address the needs of women entrepreneurs. Over 37 organizations are officially part of the Hub’s partnership network.
LiisBeth talked to Cukier when the announcement was made in December 2018 during the Entrepreneurial Feminist Forum.
We caught up with Cukier again last month at a #IWD2019 Business, Government, Services and You event in Toronto where she shared her views on how best to unleash the potential of women entrepreneurs across the country.
Cukier noted women’s chronic under representation in publicaly supported incubators, accelerator and government entrepreneurship programs as an important barrier. She also questioned the veracity of creating a “separate lane” for women entrepreneurs, suggesting this may create more harm than good.
Alternatively Cukier sees a world where entrepreneurs of all genders and backgrounds can “on ramp” onto a different, more inclusive kind of twelve-lane versus two-lane innovation highway. A highway to economic heaven that will be more drivable for a much wider variety of entrepreneurs and approaches to venture building—versus just those in noisy muscle cars or Teslas. Cukier argued in her talk that part of the reason for the current bottleneck is the fact that we define entrepreneurship too narrowly. “If you broaden the definition of entrepreneurship to include social change and activism, suddenly the women appear.” She adds: “Women are doing what the guys are doing—just in different sectors.”
To hear the full one hour talk, plus see the accompanying slides, click here. [NOTE: The link is valid for one year. You will see a note pop up saying there is no content to view. Click play and it will start. Unfortunately, all presentations are included in the one recording. Wendy’s presentation begins at time stamp 1 hr 40 mins 30 secs]
WHY HAVE WE NOT MADE MORE PROGRESS?
Sarah Kaplan, Director of the Institute for Gender and the Economy (GATE) on using research to CHANGE THE CONVERSATION on gender equality
Photo : Paulina O’Kieffe-Antony, Arts educator, artist and consultant, TORONTO
BREATH OF FRESH AIR
Paulina O’Kieffe-Anthony is an award winning Toronto writer, performer, producer, arts educator, community advocate and member of the League of Canadian Poets.
O’Kieffe-Antony delivered a wicked, inspired spoken word poem performance during How She Hustle’s International Women’s Day Event in March 2019. How She Hustles is a Toronto-based network diverse women’s entrepreneurship network.
We are delighted to share it with you here. O’Kieffe-Antony is also a contributor to a Canadian chapbook called “Feminism: Revolutionize—Revisit, Revise, Revolutionize: A Two_Part History which can be found here.
HOTEL OPERATIONS FROM A FEMINIST POV + EXCLUSIVE DOWNLOADABLES!
Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel operates within a feminist, anti-oppressive framework where everyone feels welcome and at home. And its owner and staff can tell you creating a framework like this is not easy. It takes effort and commitment to implement policies on a consistent basis.
If we are going to change the world, we need all start ups and growing small enterprises—not just large progressive corporations—to think about incorporating anti-oppression policies into their own employee and partner conduct guides and handbooks.
Not sure what an anti-oppression company framework might look like?
Good news. The Gladstone has generously agreed to make available their vision statement here and anti-oppressive policy framework here. Check it out. And tell us what you think by reading our original article and adding your comments below the piece.
LIISBETH STORY VOTE
NEW! ANSWER FROM OUR LATEST POLL:
Last month we asked readers which story we should publish next. We received only a handful of responses. But hey, our view is it takes time for readers to get to know how this works—and that voting does work.
The winning pitch from last month is: A story on the legacy left behind following the Wakefield, UK miners’ strike which was famously supported by gay and lesbian organizations—and serves as an example of an intersectional movement long before the word was coined. Readers are wondering what is Wakefield is like now? Did activism have a lasting impact? We will be contacting the journalist shortly!
UPDATE FROM OUR LAST POLL:
Portrait of former Swedish Feminist Initiative Party Leader, Gudrun Schyman, will be published in May. Stay tuned. You vote. We listen.
WHAT WE’RE READING
In their new, long-awaited collection of essays, Lambda Literary Award-winning writer and longtime disability justice activist and performance artist Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha explores the politics and realities of disability justice, a movement that centres the lives and leadership of sick and disabled queer, trans, Black, and brown people, with knowledge and gifts for all.
Bringing their survival skills and knowledge from years of cultural and activist work, Piepzna-Samarasinha explores everything from the economics of queer femme emotional labour, to suicide in queer and trans communities, to the nitty-gritty of touring as a sick and disabled queer artist of colour.
Care Work is a mapping of access as radical love, a celebration of the work that sick and disabled queer/people of colour are doing to find each other and to build power and community, and a toolkit for everyone who wants to build radically resilient, sustainable communities of liberation where no one is left behind. Powerful and passionate, Care Work is a crucial and necessary call to arms. – Arsenal Pulp Press
Jasmine and Chelsea are best friends on a mission–they’re sick of the way women are treated even at their progressive NYC high school, so they decide to start a Women’s Rights Club. They post their work online–poems, essays, videos of Chelsea performing her poetry, and Jasmine’s response to the racial microaggressions she experiences–and soon they go viral. But with such positive support, the club is also targeted by trolls. When things escalate in real life, the principal shuts the club down. Not willing to be silenced, Jasmine and Chelsea will risk everything for their voices–and those of other young women–to be heard.
In Watch Us Rise, these two dynamic, creative young women stand up and speak out in a novel that features their compelling art and poetry along with powerful personal journeys that will inspire readers and budding poets, feminists, and activists.
“This intersectional, layered novel…it covers a wide breadth of topics-institutionalized racism, how we undermine young women, feminism in the modern age-with a clear message: Girls are going to come out on top.” – Marie Claire
AND FINALLY . . . IN CASE YOU MISSED IT!
- From the Vaults episode “Turning Points” (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) features Sarah Mclachlan, host of the 2019 Juno Awards and creator of Lilith Fair, an all female music festival that began in 1997, and shifted the perception of what it meant for women in the music industry. Fun fact: Lilith, in Hebrew mythology, represents Adam’s first wife who refused to lie beneath him so he threw her out. [Geoblocked in Canada]
- An expert discussion on “What could a feminist city look like?” took place at the Rotman School of Management on March 27th. The talk was moderated by moderated by Sarah Kaplan, Director and Professor – Institute for Gender and the Economy at Rotman. Check out global feminist city guides from Lagos to San Diego, here.
- An estimated 40.3 million people are currently living as slaves–more than at any other time in history.Why Slavery? is a series of ground-breaking documentary films investigating why slavery remains so endemic in the 21st Century. The Passionate Eye will broadcast two films in the series, Maid in Hell and North Korea’s Secret Slaves. [Geoblocked in Canada]
That’s newsletter #51!
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Next newsletter will come out early May! We will publish the exact date closer to May on Twitter so you don’t miss it!