I recently went to an event where an acquaintance told me about her dream of opening an ethical sportswear line designed just for women. I loved the idea, and I told her how enthusiastic I was about supporting supporting feminist projects.
“Oh, I wouldn’t call it feminist,” she was quick to reply.
“Why not?” I wondered. "You’re creating something that’s centering women and their unique experiences. Sounds pretty feminist to me.”
“I just wouldn’t call it that,” she said. “I don’t hate men.”
I gaped at her. “Oh my gosh…who said anything about hating men?”
Her eagerness to shrug off the word “feminist” shocked me.
I assumed skepticism around feminism might be a struggle for some older women, but this woman was a 20-something with a grand vision of starting a business that improved the world for her fellow females. How was it possible that she didn’t identify with the word, especially in business?
As I would learn, she had a complicated relationship with feminism. Many women people do. As a certified business coach for female leaders, I filter everything I do through the lens of female empowerment. And what’s more feminist that making your own money?
I’ve found that whether or not you think the “feminist” label applies to you, there are a few things you should know about starting (and running) a feminist business.
#1 Feminism in business isn’t about the patriarchy—it’s about balance.
Here’s a quick and easy test to see if something is truly feminist: does it oppress or exclude someone else? Then it’s not truly feminist. Since true feminism is about equality and balance, anything that oppresses someone else can’t be a part of the picture.
True feminism is a way of being in the world that honors both the masculine and feminine as equal—and equally important. True feminism is aware that you can live in a body with breasts, a womb, and a vagina…and also contain a wealth of masculine energy.
True feminism doesn’t put you in any box; rather, it destroys the need for boxes. If your business is about working for the liberation of all, or if your business plan contain provisions for giveback partners and projects, it has a feminist vibe, which brings us to our second need-to-know:
#2 Bringing a feminist perspective into your work isn’t actually that hard.
Want to bring feminism into your business, even if you work with tons of dudes? Cool! It’s actually quite simple. Feminine energy is usually associated with the collective, rather than the individual. To approach business with a more collective spirit, collaborate with women! Hire women for strategic, decision-making roles. Ask their opinions and listen to their voices. Partner with other female leaders outside your field. While it’s completely possible for men to bring feminism to work as well, women bring a lived experience that can shape your team and vision for the better.
#3 For a business to claim its feminist bonafides, intersectionality is a must.
Like most movements, the history of feminism isn’t perfect, and one of the most important things to understand about feminism before you bring it into your business is that “equal rights” have historically meant very different things for different groups of women. “Intersectional” is a term coined by scholar and activist (and all-around badass) Dr. Kimberly Crenshaw. Basically, it means that all parts of your identity intersect (your gender, race, economic status, sexual orientation, etc) and that intersections affects the way you move through the world and the way the world reacts to you.
To be intersectional in your business means to understand that different groups of women have vastly different experiences (like how the gender wage gap disproportionately affects black, brown, and indigenous women). To keep your business feminist, keep it intersectional.
#4 There really is a feminine way to run your business.
If feminism is rooted in balance and collaboration, then starting and running a feminist business is simply about honoring the whole and making sure everyone has a seat at the table. It’s making space in your budget for your employees to have parental leave. It’s valuing people in addition to profit. It’s understanding that business, like everything in nature is cyclical and contains seasons and phases. It’s about valuing the process as well as the end result.
#5 Feminine energy can improve the way we work.
In general, most men tend to experience a hormonal Groundhog Day. After puberty, every day is the same. There are no weekly or monthly fluctuations. There’s no pregnancy or menopause. Our culture was created by—and to suit the needs of—men, so for many women, the Groundhog Day schedule of “Monday through Friday 9-5” simply doesn’t work for women’s bodies on a biological level.
This doesn’t mean that women have less stamina than men—it simply means that feminine energy is more flexible and cyclical in nature.
Men’s way of working doesn’t need to disappear, but it does need to expand to include ways that honor women’s needs and experiences. This is where women in business come in.
Because of the relative control a business leader has over her own schedule, she is uniquely positioned to work in a way that honors cycles and rhythms rather than ignoring them or bemoaning them as inconvenient in the quest to “get ahead.” When you bring your feminine energy into your business, you create space to be pregnant with ideas and projects, nurturing them over time rather than forcing them into being too quickly.
Think of it this way: if “doing” is masculine and “being” is feminine, then what value does simply “being” really have? If you don’t value rest and gestation periods in your business, you don’t truly value feminine energy in your business.
Both men and women possess feminine energy (we both have both), so the key is bringing the right amount in so that your business succeeds in a balanced, sustainable way.
#6 Feminism can save the world.
Want to save the planet? One of the single most impactful things a person can do to reduce their carbon footprint is to have fewer children, because fewer people on the planet = less drain on our resources, ecosystems, food supply, and ozone layer. When women have access to safe, reliable, affordable birth control, especially in the developing world, they make fewer people, which has to potential to greatly reduce the effects of global warming, pollution, and overfarming. When women have greater access to education and economic opportunity, their entire communities thrive.
So why does feminism matter in your business?
It matters in my business because in a balanced world, people are able to live in harmony with each other and the planet. Whether or not you identify with the word “feminist,” bringing a little girl power into your work might just be the domino effect we need.