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Women of The Week: Amy Cross

Promoting gender equality and supporting women-held businesses? There’s an app for that. Amy-Willard Cross, founder and editor in chief of VitaminW is set to release a new phone application, BUY UP Index, to encourage companies to serve female consumers better and promote gender equality in the workplace. Essentially a consumer report for women, Buy UP Index rates consumer-based companies on how they serve women as employees, as leaders, and as consumers. It gives them a score out of a hundred based on their treatment towards female employees, and whether or not they have positive marketing messages and women in leadership positions.

With about 140 companies involved, including ones that sell cell phones, cars, athletic apparel, and even banks, the app is already creating major buzz in the press and has even caught the attention of Forbes magazine. I spoke to Amy Willard-Cross and asked her a few questions on her great initiative. Here’s what she had to say:

Why did you begin this initiative?  

The whole point of this is so women can support companies that serve them well. It’s how we’re using consumer power to create social change. The Human Rights Campaign launched a similar initiative a few years ago to rate companies on their LGBT policy. At the time, only 14 companies met the standards of these policies. Now, 8 years later, 366 do. Just putting transparency on these types of topics helps move the needle. We’re currently waiting on the App Store trying to get final approval so we’re hoping it will be in consumers’ hands soon. I hope that lots of women download it and use it so they can choose what to buy.

What are some trends you’ve noticed within the market?

The results are quite stunning. When you look at it more thoroughly, you find interesting trends in more US-based products. For example, when we look at US maternity leave policies, we already know how shockingly absent this concept is in the workplace for Americans.  Only a few companies offer it and you can’t really get a good grade on our index unless you have at least 8 weeks maternity leave, which is the benchmark in the United States. Very few companies do. I think the beauty industry and the bank industry pay for most maternity leave. Only one company in the household goods sector does. And only one car company does. Information like this can really make or break consumer perception about the company.

How do you plan on marketing BUY UP Index?

That is the hardest part. We’re the only app in the app store with feminist economic content. In the United States alone there are 12 million women and hundreds of women’s organizations. We know there’s a big population of women that want to see change.  We have partnerships with those organizations and additional partnerships created through VitaminW. We used to BUY UP methodology to rate women’s organizations such as Women’s Parenthood, Girls Scouts, Mom’s Rising. So I’m hoping that they’ll help us spread the word. In addition, we’ll be doing a crowd funding campaign this summer with women’s businesses to include them on the app.

Several people have thought of the idea but no one spent the time and money to do it. My partner and I have, and we’re really happy too because these days. I want to offer the world real, hard hit facts instead of just my opinions.

How will this app benefit the feminist movement?

I’ve been a feminist since I was nine years old. I wrote a play called Men’s Liberation. I’m actually a fourth generation feminist. My great grandmother was a feminist. I thought that everything was done when I came out into the real world. I went to a women’s college called Wellesley. I thought everything was over. And then, I get out in the world and the older I get, the more barriers I come across. I see a lot of political movements trying to occur but we still have only 20% representation in congress. So I realized that we could help the feminist movement with the market, instead of with political change. I’m no economist, but I believe we can create economic change by either using our capital power or creating capital. If you look at women’s consumer spending, that’s a huge amount of capital. When we add up women’s consumer revenues, business revenues and women’s assets, it’s a really big trillion number.

Was feminism your inspiration behind this app?

Sure! You try and be useful to the world and I had a career in magazine, wrote books, and then I thought, “What can I do that’s useful” using my skills as a writer or journalism and that is for the women’s movement. There’s a definite feminist agenda behind what I’m doing. I’m hoping that its useful to consumers as well as companies, such as L’Oreal, who are doing things right for women. There’s a big push towards what they call ethical marketing and purpose marketing – a buzzword these days- and McDonald’s even created an app to show their customers their ethical practices. I think this might be a good and an objective way for companies to communicate their good practices. Millennial consumers really care about this. People are starting to switch brands. Canadian studies show 40% of people making 100K a year have switched brands due to their ethical practices.

Do you foresee any challenges with the release of the app?

The larger companies who don’t score well will definitely be upset with me. That’s a possible challenge we may have to face. However, the main challenge is getting it out there and seeing if people want to use the app. My goal is to keep it important and interesting enough that people will keep coming back. I’ll be putting out new content and providing alternatives to other women-held businesses. Essentially, keeping it lively will be an ongoing challenge.

What do you hope to accomplish with the release of this app?

What we hope to accomplish is encouraging companies to make the right decisions. When you see a company that has no leadership programs and see that you have a low rate of women managers, you see that they can maybe fix that by adding a leadership program. We want the companies to score well and say, ”Oh, look what they’re doing right!” I’m hoping to create change and I’m hoping to reward companies that do it well. Eventually we’ll be adding coupons and transactions to the app. This is our way of working with companies that serve women well. That’s my dream!

For more information, visit http://www.buyupindex.com/.

Social Media Takes Over FHRITP Hashtag

The derogatory phrase was first stated in 2014. Since then, the FHRITP trend has made its way into news media all across North America. Today, after countless occurrences of female journalists being victimized on live television, a Hydro 1 employee was fired after harassing Shauna Hunt, a reporter for City News.

The incident took place at a Toronto FC Soccer Game. Since losing his job early this afternoon, social media users have taken to Twitter to state their opinions on the matter. FHRITP may be trending on Twitter, but it’s important not to focus on what the phrase stands for, but what standing up against the phrase can do for women in society.

Tune in to CityNews tonight to hear Shauna’s thoughts on what happened. Check out what happened below:

Shauna Hunt fights back after FHRITP confrontation

Feminism as Practice: Valuing a Feminist Motherline in the Age of Neoliberalism

The following is an excerpt from the upcoming collection of scholarly feminist essays mixed with personal stories, Mother of Invention from Demeter Press. For your chance to win a free copy of the book enter here. 

Introduction: The Age of Innovation

In our current neoliberal age, innovation provides the guiding mantra. We are constantly looking toward the future, hoping to find the next best thing defined by what is guaranteed to ensure “value.” And yet our definition of “value” has changed drastically, with the language of social value increasingly being replaced by the economic determinism of market value. In this age of innovation defined by short-term thinking and future prospects, the value of the past is lost. It is precisely for this reason that a discussion of feminist motherlines is becoming increasingly essential. The stories of our mothers and grandmothers, and the intergenerational knowledge that is passed down from them, cannot be quantified in market value terms. And, more importantly, these stories weave the fabric of our very social core.

My Mother’s Stories

My mother grew up as the youngest child in a family of seven on a farm in the southern part of Holland. At the age of 12, she was sent to an all-girls boarding school that was run by nuns. At the age of 17, she went to an all-girls college to become a Montessori teacher. She then decided to travel by herself to Canada and teach kindergarten, and here she met my father. At the age of 24, she worked with my dad to build their own log home in Calgary because no bank would give them a mortgage. And at the age of 28, with two small children, she worked night shifts to make enough money so my dad could start his own piano tuning business that she would go on to manage for the next 30 years. When I listen to my mother’s stories, her words cannot be relegated to a particular feminist theoretical framework. In fact, when we sat down for an informal interview and I asked her whether she considered herself a feminist while living in Holland during the 1960s, presumably during the heyday of feminism’s Second-Wave, “nope” was her response. Then upon further consideration she laughed and said, “They called them dolle Minas. They were the ones that would burn the bras, feel the freedom […] the birth control pill came out, it was about love and no war. But I wasn’t part of that. We would see it on TV. Especially in Amsterdam” (Informal interview with Maria Vandenbeld, June 13, 2012).

Feminisms

From my mom’s perspective, feminism was something that had nothing to do with her; it was a theoretical paradigm that bore no relevance in her daily life. And yet, when I listen to her stories, and when I think about everything she has taught me throughout my life—particularly when I had my daughter—I know that my mother’s influence has been pivotal in my understanding of what it means to be “feminist”, and these are the very same things that I now teach my  daughter. The values of equality and freedom, that everyone is equally important, that being honest, sharing and being kind are the most essential qualities, but also the ability to recognize when injustice or inequality must be acknowledged and the capacity to be both kind and strong at once—these are the values that have been passed, and will continue to be passed, down my motherline. And when thinking about our motherlines, it is equally important to recognize how knowledge transfers in multiple directions. My mother now actively identifies as a feminist and laughs about how she didn’t think feminism had any relevance for her in the past making a discussion of feminisms so important. And I am constantly amazed and enriched by my six-year-old daughter’s understanding of the world and realize daily how much I have to learn from her.

During our discussions, my mom said that she always felt like an outsider in Canada, and that the mothers here were far more lenient with their children than what she was accustomed to. The 1970s were, after all, the age of the “free-range” child in North America. And I, too, often feel like I stand outside of contemporary normative mothering discourses. In our current hyper-competitive neoliberal age, while “freedom” remains highly prized, “equality” does not, and nor do the values of sharing or being kind. Rather, within an individualistic winners-take-all mentality, kindness can often be equated with weakness. As such there is an uneasy juxtaposition between recognizing where one’s own value systems emerge and appreciating their historicity, and acknowledging how these value systems, rather than being purely individual, are inspired by larger socioeconomic circumstances and dominant ideologies.

A discussion of feminisms enables the recognition of the multiplicity of feminist voices while also acknowledging the possibility for collectivity. While we are all part of larger societal discourses, we are also unique individuals with particular stories to tell. My mom might have been part of a larger second-wave feminist temporality, but her story is unique. And while she did not identify as a “feminist” until recently, her mothering has been the best example of feminist practice that I can think of. I will always be grateful for the values that my mom has taught me, and I hope I will be able to continue my feminist motherline by instilling similar values in my own daughter.

 For your chance to win a free copy of the book enter here. 

Why don’t people believe a man can be raped?

Not too long ago we saw that the people of Toronto have no sympathy for a male rape victim. In a disgusting display the Toronto Twitterverse summarily dismissed the idea of a male rape victim by telling him he should be so lucky as to be attacked by four women, that he was lying, that he was gay or a prostitute, and that his victimisation doesn’t matter.

Cretins like Rosie DiManno came forward to say that “one man’s sexual assault is another man’s fantasy come true” and display a fundamentally flawed understanding of the very basic understanding of what rape is. Rape is forced, unwanted sexual interaction. You cannot want to be raped, because if you wanted it, it wouldn’t be rape.

The man, who decided (for what seems to be good reason considering the amount of ridicule he received) to stay anonymous, was a laughing stock to his peers, men and women who thought simply that a man can’t be raped. This reaction leaves me wondering just how many male rape victims have refused to step forward or seek police intervention or even counselling simply because they have been told time and time again that a man cannot be a rape victim, that they should have enjoyed it, or that in the stereotype of a man always wanting sex they were asking for it simply by being male.

With all of the time, energy, funding, and attention that is given to preventing rape why is it that the average Joe or Jane still can’t wrap their head around this?

Well first let’s take a quick look at the definition of rape. Until recently this was what Google returned:

 

Google’s victims are gender neutral; however, their aggressors are male.

A Google Image search for “how to stop rape” also brings up countless images where men who might otherwise be aggressors are told not to rape or are congratulated on stopping when told.

What is surprising is the heteronormative gender binary approach to rape as a topic. Men rape, women are raped. There is very little discussion in between for men who are raped by men, women who are raped by women, and men who are raped by women, like the victim in Toronto.

The response I’ve heard is that because the number of rapes that is reported in these scenarios is lower that it isn’t worth the time. I can think of one young man whose experience and entire existence was deemed worthless by the internet who might disagree. This notion may also be a beast that feeds itself: if no attention is given to these matters because they are reported less, when it does occur victims might be less likely to report it because they have no concept of a precedent.

If we want to do right by victims like Toronto’s John Doe we need to break away from this male vs. female conversation. In schools, posters, and awareness campaigns we need to stop addressing men as aggressors and potential aggressors and women as victims or potential victims. Instead we need to think about it simply as rapists and victims outside of their genders.

You’ve heard a thousand times before that rape isn’t about sex (sexual intercourse in this sense) but instead about power. Power isn’t limited to one sex or gender. The idea that “we need to teach men not to rape” ignores scores of victims who don’t fit into that construct and encourages the mentality that men and boys can’t also be victims like what we saw happen in the aftermath of the Toronto gang rape victim.

My heart goes out to this poor soul in the hopes that someday in the future a man can come forward as a victim without being victimised continually through social media and the press for simply being the wrong gender to feel sorry for.

Until then we need to teach people that rape is a genderless crime.

Marathon running? Ever heard of Philippides?

The inspiration for the marathon was a man named Philippides.  According to Greek myth, Philippides ran from the battlefield at Marathon all the way to Athens to announce Greece’s victory over Persia. He ran roughly 26 miles as fast as his legs could carry him – an amazing athletic achievement.

No one seems to remember though what happened next to Philippides: he collapsed and died on the spot.

Training for a marathon is an increasingly popular activity these days. For a lot of folks the marathon represents the absolute pinnacle of fitness. “If I can run a marathon,” the thinking goes, “then I’ll really be in shape.” Chances are you’ll wind up in some shape, it just might not be good shape.

I think that the volume that training for a marathon requires is far too much for the majority of us and leads to unnecessary wear and tear on the joints. There’s a certain point at which the exercise that we do ceases to be beneficial and actually becomes harmful. Sometimes it’s difficult to recognize this point because exercise is promoted as being good for us; so logically more of it must be better. Not so. Exercising too much can raise levels of stress hormones causing our bodies to break down muscle and store fat. Just take a look at a marathoner. Most don’t look at all like pictures of health; they look like they’re wasting away to me.

Don’t get me wrong: I think that running can be great for fitness. But there’s a sweet spot where we can get most of the benefit while avoiding much of the harm. (It varies from individual to individual.) Perhaps running briskly for 20 minutes doesn’t gives us the same bragging rights that running a marathon does, but it might do us better at the end of the day.