Feminism is not for sale

Feminism is not for sale

Kat – September 2018

After almost four years away, I went back to the US for the first time a few weeks ago. It’s a little surreal walking down the same NYC streets as a visitor which you used to walk everyday to work. It’s also always interesting when you have moments to compare how much you have – and haven’t – changed. I’ve always been a feminist, but only during my time in Berlin did that influence my work choices, first by launching the women’s leadership podcast Leading Rebels and then cofounding CoWomen.

Awesome feminist merch from independent bookstore The Strand, Bulletin that donates to Planned Parenthood, Wildfang which donates to a rotating monthly charity, and The Hivery, another kickass women’s community & coworking space.

This time in NYC though, it was refreshing to see my feminist views reflected back at me in almost every store I stopped at. Everything from bookstores to clothing shops had notebooks, postcards, shirts, everything and anything you could imagine emblazoned with feminist slogans. I definitely was guilty of picking up something almost every time I saw it. Guilty though is the key word here, because on my last day I walked by a store that made me stop in my tracks. It was a huge clothing store, loud music blaring out the open doors, clearly targeting a younger generation. And it had a sign on the storefront which said: Work hard so you can shop harder.

After so long in Europe, which is by no means perfect (this is a quote attributed to Coco Chanel after all) but does have a slightly better relationship to consumerism, this was jarring to see. For someone to publically, unironically say the reason you should work is so you can buy stuff – and use this as an advertisement for you to come into their shop – seemed so tone deaf to me. This is targeting a generation of people that entered the job market in a huge recession, that have learned the hard way that happiness is not defined by what you own, and that chooses doing meaningful work over a higher paycheck.

Suffice it to say that I did not feel spoken to by this sign. But later that day, I had to realize that there is a connection between it and what I had been doing. Haley Nahman recently wrote a great piece for Man Repeller on how reaction culture is the internet’s biggest blindspot, and it’s growing in which she argues, “In the era of Instagram, when personhood becomes personal brand, aligning yourself with a particular set of beliefs has become more important than thinking and behaving in accordance with those beliefs.” Haley is speaking specifically about our culture of firing off quick reactions to events on social media instead of engaging with them more deeply, but that day in NYC I also saw the connection to our consumer culture. After all, if I buy a shirt which proudly proclaims I’m a feminist, I’m doing my part, right?

I’m not discouraging you to buy things about causes you believe in, voting with your money is a very real thing, and we at CoWomen have a shop too after all. But do have a look at who that money is going to. Are the companies you’ve giving your money to actually using it to further the cause they’re advertising on their products? Or just using a movement being “in” to create products that sell and fatten their bottom line?

Because you need to make sure your eyeshadow is on brand before you go out to smash the patriarchy.

Case in point: L’Oréal in Germany thought it would make use of the feminist “hype” and release a video with singer Lena Meyer-Landrut advertising an eyeshadow pallet you can use to create a “feminist statement look” (I wish I was joking). I’m happy to say that in this case the public created enough of a backlash for L’Oréal to take down the video – though they are keeping it as part of the pallet name.

I’m certainly not perfect when it comes to this – even if the items I bought that day in NYC were all from shops I support (such an independent bookstores), I can think of an item or two I own that didn’t help create positive change. I hope this also opens your eyes to questioning who you’re buying from next time and not get blinded by the cool slogan. Hint: A company like L’Oréal which only has 5 women on their managing board of 15, despite being about products for women, and doesn’t even pledge to use proceeds of their “feminist palette” for any cause beyond making money, doesn’t qualify.

Most important of all: Your time is as valuable as your money. Even if it’s just grabbing coffee with a younger woman to give her help and advice, we need action to follow words if we want to create lasting change. I’m certainly proud to be part of creating that change at CoWomen – we don’t just sell shirts that proclaim empowered (wo)men empower women, we also use the proceeds from those shirts to create a community that helps women to thrive in work & life.

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Detoxing - the natural way

Digital detox the natural way?

Hannah – September 2018

I love technology that supports everyday work more effectively. I sometimes get smiled at for my Blackberry when someone doesn’t know that Blackberry runs with the safest Android. I have a smartwatch, now the second one. I love my laptop and when I buy bags, I always check first to see if it fits. I wouldn’t buy any bag in which it doesn’t fit.

When I saw the first smartwatch at a friend’s house, I was surprised and found that it doesn’t make life any easier, but that you’re just less likely to get away and everything spins even faster. You don’t have a break anymore. My mobile phone is always silent, it doesn’t even vibrate, even before the Smartwatch it was like that. But I had to look at it so often and constantly left it somewhere. With the watch I am more relaxed, I switch everything off quickly, and I can rely on the fact that I receive the important stuff …and it makes my mobile phone ring when I can’t find it again, by the way.

I’m not worried that I’ll get enough out of the life around me. I look for time out and have not (yet?) found access to yoga or meditation or other rather slow ways of mindfulness. I go jogging alone, and to go climbing, my husband and I would need a babysitter and suddenly the climbing lesson costs twice as much.

So instead I go with my husband and the children to Brandenburg just outside of Berlin. There is only water from the well, there is electricity and many spiders. Our boys experience the nature here; we set up a sandbox there.

When we arrive, the city is far behind us. Also because a lot is improvised, because we always shop like on holiday and think about what we barbecue. We grill everything possible. Also popcorn. 😉

When we then work in the garden, we forget everything around us.
And I’m already looking forward to raking the leaves in autumn. In winter we turn on the fireplace and work in the garden so that we don’t freeze until the house is warm. Hot cocoa tastes so good in front of the fireplace.

I’m already looking forward to making campfires with friends and drinking Feuerzangenbowle, just like every year shortly before Advent.

And yes of course… CoWomen is always on my mind. But when I’m sitting inside working on CoWomen while my husband and the boys are outside building a snowman, it’s the best feeling!

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Summer of Stories

Summer of stories

Sara – August 2018

Thanks to my incredible team, I was able to take a few days off and get a real change of setting. Before I left, I was struggling to take in and process any new information since we have been learning and working so much over the past months. I was sure that I needed some quiet time at the beach to get my thoughts sorted, and I wanted to read and write and think.

Looking back on my time in Portugal, I did, more or less … none of that. Instead of alone time, I decided to travel with friends to places full of interesting people from all over the world. We hopped from one hostel to another, socializing with awesome people. Our generation, traveling as much as we do, we have all experienced those kinds of trips where you stay in colorful hostels, sleep in large dorms, and meet new people every day. So we know it. We’ve always loved it, but at some point we might tell ourselves that we need quiet and privacy on holidays in order to get a balance to our day-to-day stress. But is quiet and thoughts about the issues at home what we need to relax?

Moreover, do we need quiet and time alone in foreign places that are exciting and bear the chance of exciting encounters?

What strikes me, now that I am back, is that being on this kind of trip where you get to know new people every day did not tire me down, but built me up. Listening to other people’s stories forces you to think less about your own problems. But even more importantly, at the same time, it still helps you analyze your own story.  You quickly get into the practice of pitching yourself and processing people’s reactions to it. My friend very wisely said that these encounters help you to reflect your own life in a way no friend or coach could ever do.

For me this was the first time staying in hostels since I founded CoWomen. Looking back, I have to say that I was talking much more enthusiastically about our dream project at the end of my trip than in the beginning. Maybe because I gained energy from the fun things we did or the awesome people we met, but maybe it was just very helpful to get out of the ecosystem in Berlin where everyone is a founder and where I was in a similar setting. Don’t get me wrong, I could not wish for any other place to live at the moment, or any other community than the one I surround myself with, but on this trip, I learned that a change of setting can also mean a change of community for a few days. And this change can help you forget the daily issues and instead work on the bigger picture of your own story.

Even though I felt completely filled up on impressions when I started the trip, I feel refreshed and ready to start a new week in the chapter of CoWomen now!

At CoWomen, we want to strengthen the exchange and cooperation between networks. I now know once and again that having a colorful community is extremely important for your own development and this can only be achieved by being open and merging networks together. I’m looking forward to put this in practice. Let’s start cooperating!

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Having a baby... like an appointment at the dentist?

Having a baby… like an appointment at the dentist?

Hannah – June 2018

Now we know it: The date on which our second son will be born. “Like an appointment at the dentist,” said my project manager from my employee life… my what? Employement? Yes, I have already spoken directly about a possible return to the old job after maternity leave. Loyalty? Quite… but much less than before. This time it’s the money. Shouldn’t I get a job where I can at least make some more money? This is pretty hard out of parental part-time and if you only want to start with four to eight hours per week.

Because the fulfilling task that we are all looking for: I have it. I’m in just the right position, with the right team. At the right time? Kind of do. And now this appointment: 12.06.2018. Should I already enter it as his date of birth? Best directly with his name. Although that’s exactly where I’m still a little unsure. Well, I still have six days to decide on this.

I am not surprised that there are counselling centres that support women after C-sections. Everyone always says “when he is born”. Born? He’s being cut out of me. But that’s the way it is, I can’t change it. So I make the best out of it. I make more appointments. Until Monday afternoon. That’s the practical thing about planning it that way. And I like the date of birth too. “Halfway to Christmas,” a friend said. I love Christmas!

So what else is there to do? Organize and take part in my best friend’s bachelorette party last Saturday: Check. Have visitors all weekend: Check. On Monday I quickly went to the clinic, discuss the operation in advance and above all the pain medication afterwards. After all, we live in Germany in the 21st century, the anesthetist tells me. No need to be in pain. Doctor’s appointment: Check. Wednesday and Thursday: NOAH conference and drinks: Check. Monday next week: Meet partners for our growth plans: Check. Have lunch with one of our mentors: Check. Tuesday next week: Have a baby.

Sara, Kat, Franziska, Kim, Julia, Alex, Nais, Alexa…there are already so many women who support us so closely that I can enjoy this little miracle that I will give birth to next week in peace.

We are looking forward to it and can’t wait to enjoy this time with our little family. So it’s nothing like an appointment at the dentist…it’s our little miracle, it’s the birth of another great human being who we can hopefully raise to become a respectful and tolerant man living in a world of peace.

So you won’t find me in the pop-up or at events for the time being, but I’m sure I’ll open the laptop again very soon.

And this blanket I knit for our second son? Do you remember? It’s my turn! A little every night until my eyes close.

Not dying a wasted talent

“My greatest fear is to die a wasted talent.” – Alyssa Shelasky

Sara – April 2018

I absolutely adore this statement as it transports so much power and self-confidence. I would love to state the same fear, but mine is probably more down-to-earth, more German. My greatest fear, I think, is to be economically dependent (and not to be able to party as much, to be honest). These first three months of 2018, though, I worked extremely hard on making things happen, filling new professional roles and to step up. Fear? What’s fear?

I am proud to be able to announce that I am managing an IT project, managing a team at the same company, and started an own company this year which has two awesome partners already! For me, this is only possible because I can concentrate on the tasks I am doing 100%. Switching between different roles is clearly structured and transparent. This way, I can be the best employee, as well as the best founder, I can be. The new challenge from April on will be to shift focus in terms of time. I read a statement by strongandgirl on instagram yesterday that said, “We all have the same 24 hours, no excuses.” For me, it is not only a positive statement, but it brings out what the essence of results and probably success is: Spending the right amount of time on the most relevant tasks. A challenge I am not even close to mastering. But I am shifting time now. It is official and organized, but now it really has to sink in in everyone’s minds so people know how and when they can reach me. And so I can be good at it as well.

Taking on three different roles does seem a lot on one plate sometimes, but I haven’t felt as free as I am feeling now for a long time. I love the many very different tasks, and I love being busy. Besides, no matter how much there is on my plate, I listen to my mom who ends every call with “And treat yourself well, too, ok? Do something nice today as well.” She has the wisdom. No matter how many roles and tasks we take on, we have to watch out for ourselves. Otherwise we cannot perform. In the end, being a project manager, team leader, and founder is not much different to the roles people take on in their private lives. I am full of respect for all working and single moms, for all people who take care of others. Alyssa Shelasky overcomes her fear by acknowledging the time she spends with her daughter. I will overcome mine by having very different jobs at the same time. It feels good to make more time for CoWomen! And we will see, maybe next year I will have a greatest fear as self-confident and powerful as worrying about one’s own talent.

Read Alyssa’s article in the Lenny newsletter.

Do it anyway

The sideline pregnancy & how I did’t start sewing when I became a mother

Hannah – April 2018

“How far along are you?” “What? With what? Where? Oh, right. I am not sure, week 27 or 28.” This is usually my answer to questions like this. To be honest, I don’t really know. I’d have to check my calendar, or better my app.

My due date is sometime in the middle of June – I am very sure about that at least. It was the first thing my doctor said. This second pregnancy is just a sideline. And she was right. Sometimes I am really sorry for that little boy growing right underneath my heart, and I wonder if he already recognizes that he doesn’t get as much attention as his big brother, Henry, did. I knew every week, every day how far along I was. I checked all the time on what was going on with him, when his liver grew or he was able to hear sounds.

In retrospect however, I wish I would have been less afraid during my first pregnancy. And that’s the good thing about this “sideline pregnancy”: I don’t worry all the time, but I’m still really looking forward to the little miracle that will soon make our summer exciting.

For me, it’s the perfect time to start a business, and the great thing is that I don’t meet anyone who sees it differently. At least nobody tells me. So why is it the perfect timing? Surely some wouldn’t dare. Others ask me how I manage all of it. They will quickly notice how I feel about it and how relaxed I am. Is our Henry so relaxed because our life requires it? Or is it his temper all along? Probably a mixture. I guess that’s why I am having another son and not a girl. Honestly, I was a little sad. I wished to have a girl to have someone in the family who also rides a motorcycle, like I do. Someone told me, boys can do that aswell. We will see. So now he might, like his big brother, rather look at the toolbox with my husband, and I can work during this time.

And the people who know me know what I can and want to do and don’t question whether I will achieve what we have planned with CoWomen. We are a great team, and we have met awesome women who will support us.

In my first pregnancy, I already announced my idea of a life with work and family and encountered surprisingly much headwind. I thought, we are living in the 21st century, aren’t we?! When I said that I wanted to get back into work very soon, I often heard, “Just wait until the baby arrives,” or, “You will see.” What was I supposed to see? I didn’t become a supermom who started sewing. Henry got a glass from the supermarket every now and then, if there was no other way. Or just a banana instead of something from the balanced diet you should follow. You just shouldn’t make it so hard on yourself.

Our lives didn’t turn 180 degrees. We have become a larger family, and our son is a part of it. Not we of his life. Of course I stood in the kitchen all night, cooked the fresh vegetables and pureed them. Ok, I did it once or twice. And yet I kept my appointments, which sometimes required breastfeeding Henry while standing up in the S-Bahn somewhere in Berlin. That’s life!

I started working when Henry was three months old. I was done talking about cloth diapers all day already. My early start however has cost us a lot of money as well as organizing effort. Nevertheless, it is an investment in my career, our partnership and our happy life.

I am proud that I didn’t change my whole being for motherhood. It is a part of me, just as I am a woman, wife, partner, friend, employee, and founder. Making these decisions, I was very lucky having found a great example of being a modern family. At the right moment, I was able to entrust myself to a colleague who had just returned from parental leave. From then on Anna and her family, whom I did not know until then, were my role models for a modern family. She and her husband go to work, travel an incredible amount, and remain husband and wife, friend, and girlfriend. Thanks to them, for example, we had the courage to spend our parental leave in Malaysia for three and a half weeks – a great country to travel with kids.

Those friends of mine, who had the strongest opinion during my last pregnancy on how my idea of living as a family would not work, they are amazed today when they see us. When we got on the train with Henry, when he was three weeks old, and went to the wedding of my husband’s cousin, we could convince them. When Henry was two months old, we left for Romania to attend another wedding. And we will not stop there and are doing it again: My best friend is getting married in Spain when Henry’s little brother will be four weeks old. Everything works out, if you are willing to make the compromises and the effort. I’m looking forward to it!

I admit I don’t sew, but I knit a blanket for Henry. And of course I’m knitting one for his little brother.

Be brave! Do it anyway.