Don’t punish yourself for your mistakes. Learn and move on. Do not use your mistakes as a weapon of self-destruction.
Many years ago, I celebrated Independence Day by hosting a “Dependence” Day party. Sure, the idea had a cute ring to it but I wanted to think about all the ways in which we as members of the 21C remained dependent.
At the time, I was a self-employed woman with no parent, sibling, husband, partner, child supporting me, and I believed I was fully independent.
But as I drafted the party invitations, I realized the complex untruth of that. Sure, I was free to earn, invest, and spend my own money as I chose. Indeed, I was, and thankfully remain, free to vote and participate in my country’s elections and law-making processes. And yes, I could buy organic produce and greasy fast food all during the same shopping excursion.
FREE BUT NOT SO INDEPENDENT
However, I saw another perspective that I continue to remind myself of: though I am free to act, choose, and do so many things that women in prior generations could not, and women in other countries to this day cannot, I understand that I am wholly dependent on others to make this, the life I choose to live, possible. I am dependent upon my clients to want my services and pay me for them. I am dependent upon people who know more than me with regards to investments, laws and taxes.
I am dependent upon the shipping, farming, and dry goods industries to keep going so that I can purchase food to eat. I am dependent upon the fuel industry. I am dependent upon other professionals whom I can hire in order to patch a leaky roof or fix my car. And I am dependent upon the structure of our government to stay in place in such a way that continues to assure these things are available to us, because if not, I would be dependent upon an airline to fly me to another country so that I could attempt to recreate a life where I am free to enjoy these similar liberties I have not just grown accustomed to but for better or worse, believe are intrinsic to humanity.
SOME CALL IT “INTER-DEPENDENCE”
True, some call it “inter-dependence”. Whatever it is called, it is a form of dependence. Being dependent is not something we want to strive for – after all, as parents, we are constantly pushing our children to become more independent. That’s what being an adult is, right?
However, being dependent is a part of being human. We are social creatures. We thrive when we are needed. We wither when we are not. When humans are in relationship with one another – professionally and personally – bonds are formed; dependence in some form happens.
So this Independence Day, think about it: how are you independent, interdependent, fully dependent, and (why not) co-dependent?
Know that any of these can be changed at any time and for any reason. After all, we are free to make our own choices and act accordingly – and that, my friends, is assuredly a sign of independence.
True, we think most childhood games are simply just that, games – games that don’t really mean a lot. However, as many early childhood researchers know, the games children play are indeed their work, and very much inform our development.
Certainly, Mother May I is about the work of practicing manners. However, in many ways, this innocuous childhood game has informed our culture, and how many women conduct themselves when it comes to their personal and professional lives.
Now I am not going to pin the reason why women don’t advance as quickly as men entirely on a game played in elementary school. However, I simply want to say if you find yourself seeking permission to ask for a raise, promotion or permission to change careers, I give you permission to stop.
It is not so much that we need permission to do any of these things. Instead, ask how you might prepare to transition from one career to another. Ask what it would take to negotiate a promotion at work. Ask how to initiate the discussion for a salary increase. All of these questions focus on educating yourself to best achieve the goals you set and dreams you have.
There is no need to shortchange your dreams by waiting for someone to give you permission to pursue them. You only have one mother – well, maybe you have two – either way, you don’t need to look to them or anyone else to give you permission.
Be your own best mother. Ask how. Ask what. Learn how to navigate and negotiate the curve balls that will be thrown your way while on your course. And know that improvising is often the only way to deal with these.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – in fact, you can count making them. Then make a plan, and execute it. It is May – almost the halfway point in the year – a perfect time to review and reassess New Year’s goals and resolutions.
Know you are setting an example and precedent for every young girl and boy out there on the playground today. And maybe, just maybe, “Mother May I” will become a game of the past, a cultural relic much like hoop rolling. I can’t say I believe society would miss it – and we just might be better for it.
Tomorrow, April 14th, is Equal Pay Day in the United States. It is the day in the year when women will have earned as much as men earned by December 31st of the previous year.
As it is, on average women earn .78 cents for every dollar earned by a man. For instance, if you were digging a hole next to a man, and you both dug a hole with the exact same measurements in the exact amount of time, he would be paid $1 and you would be paid .78. On average. Sure, there a few women earning what men earn for the same work and there are many women earning far less.
In an article written by Diana Furchtgott-Roth for Marketplace published today, she concludes that feminists are over-reacting, and over-reaching with this statistic. Having pointed out that women earn more degrees and take less physically strenuous jobs, she concludes her article by saying that women in the U.S. are actually doing better than men. To quote: “… Women in America are doing better than men.”
Ahem…did I really just read that?
True. In 1995, women began to surpass men in earning bachelor degrees. According to a US News article published October 2014, “Women are fast becoming our most educated workers – they are attending school at higher rates, and they are entering a wide range of careers and deepening their work experience,” an accompanying fact sheet on the report says.”
True. We are also moving ahead in occupations traditionally dominated by men: doctors, lawyers, scientists and professors – all fantastic achievements.
However, even in those fields women, on average, make .78 for every $1 a man in that field earns.
How is that possibly doing better than men?
It is easy to point to all sorts of reasons why a pay discrepancy exists, and why there are people alive in the 21st Century who believe women should be fine with not earning as much. Be the reasons political, religious, cultural, or economical, the truth is there is absolutely no reason a pay discrepancy should exist.
None. Nada. Zero. Zilch.
Whatever the reason, it is just an excuse. And there is no excuse.
GUM BALLS AND MATH
One day, my 9-year old son asked me what it meant that girls are paid less than boys. I explained to him using the above hole-digging metaphor. I asked him how he would feel if he were paid less for his work simply because he was a boy. He wrinkled his brow, and asked, “Why would anyone do that?”
I could only answer, “There really is no good reason.”
Being the numbers kid he is, he said, “Well, where does that other .22 cents go? I mean, you can’t even buy a gum ball with that.”
But here is what becomes of that .22 cents.
If a man makes $7/hr, a woman working that same job would make $5.46/hr
With a 40-hour work week, she would make $218.40/week.
Working 52 weeks a year, their annual salaries would be $11,356.80 for the woman and $14,560 for the man.
The $3203.20 difference over a 40-year career without any raises (for simplicity’s sake) becomes a deficit of $128,128. How quickly .22 cents can turn into hundreds of thousands of dollars.
$128,128.00 put into a simple savings earning compounded interest over 40 years would be a game changer for a whole lot of us.
I find it hard to believe that there is a single father or mother out there comfortable with the fact that their daughters are earning less than their sons for the same work – especially when the quality is comparable, and maybe even sometimes better. Rather than putting the pressure on making sure their daughters get married to guarantee their financial security, imagine if all these mothers and fathers actually advocated for equal pay instead of marriage as a means to secure their daughters’ future.
Just a thought.
After all, equal earnings for equal work goes beyond how it stacks up in a bank account. How we value our daughters and the work they do translates into how they perceive their own value, and will inform how they relate to the people closest to them. A valued woman becomes a valued and valuable partner – not someone to take care of or control, not someone who needs to be taken care of or controlled – rather someone who is an active contributor in every aspect of her life and all her relationships.
Maybe April 14th could be the day that men are paid what women are paid for equal work. Maybe then we would see some action.
Of course, this is just my .02, I mean, .22 cents worth.
Let us know what you are doing in your community or in your professional life to change the wage disparity – we love hearing your stories!
If you would like to know more about equal pay day, visit the Pay Equity website, and see what is going on in your community.
As a male feminist, I just watched Emma Watson’s live stream from London today on International Women’s Day. The question came up, “What can men do in their everyday lives to help establish equality for women in society?” I came up with four immediate answers to this question.
Don’t buy into the mindset that there is a gender war.
Those men who feel a gut level objection to the word feminism have to realize that they have had the issue incorrectly framed in their minds. Those who object to feminism think that only dominant and submissive positions exist in the world. They think women’s rights means female dominance and male submission in society, which is not the case at all. We need to understand partnership relations, not just hierarchical. Compassion, cooperation, and empathy have to replace authoritarian, competitive, and callous attitudes. Dominant and submissive attitudes are all about imbalance, and it is time to restore balance.
Treat gender slurs like you do racial slurs.
Do not let people get away with these derogatory remarks or put downs. In the hallways of the schools and the fields of male sports, boys are constantly being told not to be a wussy, pussy, or woman. This is damaging to how the boys see girls. Think about it! Gender slurs are one of the most effective ways to establish women’s second class status in the minds of men and women. Gender slurs should never be tolerated and it is our duty as men to tell our fathers, brothers, sons, and friends that such talk is offensive and makes them sound small minded, ignorant and undisciplined.
Turn the “bro code” into a “human code”.
If you knew a man at your place of work was getting paid less because of his race, I have a definite feeling that the “bro code” would motivate most men to stand up for their fellow male employees. The civil rights movement of the 50s and 60s was successful because white servicemen stood up for their African American veterans when it came to Little Rock and Alabama. Well that code has to now become a “human code” so that we stand up against gender discrimination/injustice wherever we see it.
Support paternity leave as an employment practice.
A woman starting a family is said to interfere with her getting ahead on her career path. This is only an issue because men aren’t afforded the same privileges as women when it comes to child rearing. If men were also given paternity leave, then maternity leave wouldn’t be a special consideration in employment hiring and promotions.
He For She
If you agree with what I have written and you are a man, then please go to the HeForShe website and sign the commitment to take action against all forms of violence and discrimination faced by women and girls. It will take less than one minute to scroll down the front page and click the button to show your support for what is one of the most important issues in all of human history. Thank you!
According to CNN, couples marrying last year spent an average of $30,000 on the day they tied the knot. In Manhattan, the average cost was $80,000, and those figures don’t even include the honeymoon. In comparison to the cost of middle-class weddings just a generation ago, and certainly two generations ago, that seems astonishing.
What has contributed to this extravagance? Is it social pressure? Excellent marketing on the part of the wedding industry? Bridal magazines?
Unless you have more cash than you know what to do with, it occurs to me that this is a good time to rethink the wedding-cost-race.
Some ceremonies, guest entertainment, dresses and accoutrements have completely jumped the shark. Imagine how depressed some young couples might be when they wake up the morning after, with a hangover, and think about what else they could have done with the money?
Such excess seems out of sync with the desire of many modern women for a green, simple, and socially aware lifestyle. Moreover, when considering the expenditure in light of a divorce rate of 40 to 50% for first marriages, it seems out of synch with financial wisdom.
Parents and their daughters’ weddings
If the parents are paying for their daughter’s nuptials, some subtle and misguided competition might be in play (encouraged by wedding planners and all those who stand to profit from overspending) to make this day the happiest of their daughter’s life. For example, if Shawna spent $25,000 and Mackensie spent $30,000, well-intentioned parents might think they have to spend the same. And if it runs a teensy bit over, that just shows how much they love their daughter.
Nevertheless, it raises a question about what message they are sending to their daughters when they dispense such a large sum to get her hitched.
A radical colleague pointed out to me the strangeness of such an out-sized celebration of marriage, as though a woman’s wedding day is the most important day of her life. “Why don’t the parents give that kind of money to her when she graduates?” she mused. I could see her point.
Couples financing their own wedding
If the couple is financing the wedding themselves, an expensive event could cause unnecessary financial stress precisely at a time when they may be considering starting a family or buying a home. When a couple is just starting out, it is a great time to think carefully about finances and talk together about plans. Their mutual approach to this decision could pave the way for similar open and serious conversations after they are married.
Maybe that divorce rate would drop if couples could have better quality conversations about money.
Your determination about how much to spend on your wedding depends on priorities and the importance of that day in the context of all the other days of your marriage. If you have your heart set on an occasion full of lace and wedding cake marzipan, I won’t say that spending a lot on it is immoral or ridiculous, but it is an expensive financial decision that you may regret later.
If you already have doubts about an over-the-top extravaganza, consider discussing the possibility of a smaller wedding, and using the savings in a different way. Your husband-to-be may be relieved if he wasn’t really looking forward to a day of frou-frou. If your parents have offered to finance it, perhaps they would be willing to set up a mini-nest-egg for you in lieu of a huge event.
What to do with the savings
Now comes the fun part! Here are a few alternatives that a savvy bride could consider:
Pay off credit card debt.
The average age of an American bride in 2013 was 27 years old. MagnifyMoney.com estimated in 2014 that the average credit card debt for millennials was $8864 each. There may not be complete overlap between those lovebirds and those with credit card debt, but I would guess that there is some.
Paying off debt and avoiding the punitive credit card interest rates would demonstrate lots of money smarts.
Pay off student loans.
According to the Huffington Post in 2012, graduates under 30 carried an average of $20,835 in student debt. Although interest rates on student loans are not draconian double-digit shockers in comparison to credit card rates, it would make more sense financially to preserve your hard-earned income instead of spending it on interest fees when a better alternative exists.
Invest in stocks and bonds.
All investments are risky, and no one can guarantee a return, but even the worst investor in the world will do better than throwing the money away on flowers and canopies. On average, in most years, investors gain about 10% a year in the stock market. In ten years, your $30,000 could be worth $78,000.
Advisors estimate that you can be 80% confident that you would have between $45,000 or $60,000. That’s a pretty good bet. It’s not a sure thing, but when you’ve got an over 40% chance of being divorced by then, I’d play the odds.
Save the money.
Say, thanks, Mom and Dad, and put it away. Who knows what might happen in the next ten years? Maybe you won’t be able to have kids, and the marriage will end in divorce. Maybe you will have kids. Did you know that becoming a mother is the biggest contributing factor to poverty in old age? It may be very prudent to have some rainy day funds set aside.
Buy something else.
Don’t purchase something that will ultimately cost you more than $30,000. Avoid assets that depreciate significantly immediately like cars and boats. However, one option would be to invest in something that might appreciate, something you can enjoy in the meantime – a painting or cabin, for example. Or you could invest in other hard assets as an alternative to the stock market, such as gold or silver.
Some things to consider
If you’ve started planning your wedding and are finding it very stressful, there may be a good reason for that. Divorce rates for second and third marriages are even higher than for first marriages—74% of third marriages end in a breakup.
I wonder (only somewhat facetiously) if wedding planners, bakers, florists, and caterers may actually try to make the process painful and contentious. It could be to their advantage to sow as many seeds of friction between the bride and groom as possible, so long as it doesn’t backfire and the couple splits before the big day. Maybe consider eloping, just to save your marriage!
If you work up some calculations before you get swept into wedding madness, you may decide to spend less. See if you can use some of the money more thoughtfully. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a beautiful or exceptional celebration.
Although everyone pays homage to the notion that what’s important is that “the two of you enjoy your day,” those who profit from weddings don’t really want you to think like that. Google reports 157 million results for the search term “planning your wedding” compared to 53 million for “choosing your major.” One wedding planning website actually stated, “Choosing a wedding cake is one of the most important decisions you will ever make.” That strikes me as insulting in this day and age.
I encourage you to be skeptical of those who stand to profit. Think for yourself, and contemplate what financial alternatives you have. With a bit of creativity, I know you can plan a truly special day that you both will remember with pleasure, and maybe even work in a little lace and marzipan.
Happy Women’s History Month!
Yes, it is crazy that there is just one month dedicated to women and all our contributions. Nevertheless, it is awesome and necessary to celebrate, honor and learn about all the women – worldwide – who have directly and indirectly contributed to our vast history.
Now, depending upon where you are from, hearing the phrase “marching orders” might raise concern. You might think it means pack up your things, and go. However, for those of us in the U.S., it means here are your instructions for getting the job done.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I want to hear your stories: the stories of the women in your lives – alive now or centuries ago – who changed the course of your history in one way or another. It doesn’t have to be some huge event like your mother was the first astronaut – though if so, PRAY TELL!
Share the stories of women that history has not written about, the ones who influenced you and the course of your life in meaningful ways that might otherwise go untold and unacknowledged. For me, my top three are my grandmothers. Yep, I had three of them. One worked for the Democratic National party in Washington, D.C in the early 1930s. In her spare time, she played a washtub bass in a jug band she started with a group of girlfriends. That gig kept going for 30 years. In the same decade, my step-grandmother put herself through nursing school, joined the Navy and served in two wars. She retired as a Lt. Commander, and sold diamonds and silver wedding sets to newlyweds. And the other? She was a member of the LPGA, and taught golf to kids for 50 years. She was a vocal advocate and proponent of women earning livings as professional athletes.
CHANGE, BY NATURE, IS RADICAL
Each one of us has the power to change consciously the course of our lives and, whether we have children or not, the lives of future generations by choosing to do something to advance our education, earning power or savings account. For the most part, change is small and incremental but no matter the size or timeframe, change is always radical.
IN A NUTSHELL
At the risk of stating the obvious, all of us born in the U.S. during the 20th and 21st centuries have mothers who have the right to vote, and the right to discuss and participate in politics and finances. Our mothers had, and have, the freedom to laugh, drink, wear pants, and have their own money to spend. I cannot pretend to be an expert but I do know two things: in 1920 the 19th Amendment ratified the right for women to vote, and almost 100 years later, the United States still has not passed an Equal Rights Amendment. For the 21st Century, that’s kind of a big deal, right?
How we act as catalysts for change or react in the wake of it absolutely impacts our present and future history. So go on, name three women who changed the course of your life. And then, add yourself.
These words from Ann marie Houghtailing stand out most for me: “Suit up, and be your own damn super hero!” Some very determined and smart women, and men, gave their lives for us to be where we are today. Don’t misinterpret or squander this opportunity; history is every moment. Every action. Every day. Be the hero.
Let’s be honest. Our daughters are not likely to be virgins on their wedding night. The days of awkward discussions about what to expect on the wedding night are long over. We should have discussed sex, pregnancy, and other truly uncomfortable topics long before our daughters think about getting married. However, just because these discussions are unnecessary, does not mean our daughters do not need our advice on a whole number of potentially awkward topics. Finances and financial intelligence are topics I wish I knew more about before I got married; both times.
If I had the financial intelligence I encourage my two college-age daughters to pursue, I would have made several decisions throughout our lives differently. I have made it a priority to encourage my daughters to learn about their financial future and take control of their own finances.
THE TABOO OF MONEY AND WOMEN UNDERSTANDING IT
Just as girls are not encouraged to excel in math and science, young women are not encouraged to learn about money and financial planning. Often, the first large scale financial decisions our daughters make relate to their own weddings. Too often, they make these decisions with a lack of knowledge of the effect of those decisions on themselves and the future of their marriage. Thus, the wedding and the cost of the wedding is the perfect opportunity to address this important subject.
Financial stress remains one of the most common causes of marital discord. Encouraging our daughters to understand finances and develop financial intelligence may be the best advice we can give them before marriage. Letting our daughters believe that they should not seriously consider the cost of their “one special day” and its potential effects on their financial future is irresponsible, if not reckless. I certainly do not want my daughters to depend on the men in their lives to “take care of the finances.” Very few of our daughters will be stay at home mothers, and even those who are, owe it to themselves and their families to be fully engaged in financial decisions affecting their families.
“CAN’T BUY ME LOVE”
The Knot wedding planning website claims the average cost of a wedding is $28,858.00. Another website, www.costofawedding.com, states that the average cost of a wedding in the United States is $25,200.00. In San Diego County California, where I live, the average cost of a wedding is $34,154.00. I think these statistics are low. I know couples who have spent between $65,000 and $75,000 for weddings in the last ten years. (Middle class couples, not wealthy couples.) My own experiences, as a bride, a mother, and a businesswoman, have led me to advise my daughters to do their research, create budgets, and prioritize all decisions affecting their financial status.
Our daughters are encouraged to spend tens of thousands of dollars on one day without knowing where that money to pay for that day will come from, and without comparing the costs of that day to their own ability to earn money. The National Association of Colleges and Employers’ September, 2014 published Salary Survey finds the average starting salary of a 2014 college graduate is $48,707.00; slightly more for business and engineering majors and slightly less for just about everyone else. Our daughters could rack up a wedding cost equal to or more than the salary they make in a full year without even realizing it.
The old adage that money does not buy happiness is true. A “dream wedding” will not make a perfect marriage. But, financial intelligence can provide our daughters some peace of mind, psychological, and financial freedom.
WHAT KIND OF FREEDOM?
This kind freedom can lead to happiness.
A DAUGHTER, A COLLEGE, AND MANHATTAN
One of my daughters is in college in Manhattan. She is in love with the City and may stay there after she graduates. The average cost of a rental home is between $2,000.00 to $2,500.00 in San Diego and Los Angeles (where I live), and $3,000.00 to $4,200.00 in Brooklyn and Manhattan (as of September 2014, according to the website rentbit.com). The average cost of a home in the U.S. currently hovers around $300,000 to $350,000. (The average cost of a three-bedroom two-bath home in my neighborhood in San Diego is about $600,000. You cannot buy a home in or around Manhattan for $600,000.) A home bought at the national average calculates to a monthly mortgage payment in the $3,000.00 range.
If we assume our daughters and their spouses each make the average college graduate salary at the time of their wedding, after taxes, they will each bringing home roughly $3,000.00 or a total of $6,000 per month. Thus, approximately half of the new couple’s monthly income will be spent on living arrangements.
Our daughters need to understand these financial facts in order to plan for and live where they would like to live.
CURRENT EMPLOYMENT CLIMATE: THE REAL DEAL
Whether our daughters, their spouses, or both, are employed throughout their marriage, the reality is that the days of going to work at a company, staying with that company until retirement and, receiving a gold watch for 25 to 50 years of dedicated service (never mind collecting a pension) are gone. The current employment climate includes companies regularly reorganizing, cutting programs, and laying off large portions of their work force. Our daughters may not find their career in their first post-graduate job. A working knowledge of finances and financial intelligence provides our daughters with the tools to prepare for and weather these employment uncertainties.
While the days of a woman losing her job because she chooses to have a baby should be over, unfortunately, there are still far too many jobs that do not provide paid maternity leave. Family Leave Laws provide that women who take time to have a baby may return to their jobs, or an equivalent job to the one had when they went on maternity leave, after a proscribed period. However, very few such laws require paid leave. Many of our daughters will be limited to state sponsored disability insurance while on maternity leave. I have advised my daughters to prepare and plan for a growing family when they are ready to have that family, not when they can find a job with paid maternity leave.
AWKWARD CONVERSATIONS AND OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO HAVE THEM
We have pointedly taught our daughters that the days when a young woman was expected to stay in an unfulfilling or even abusive relationship because “even a bad husband is better than no husband” are gone. Teaching our daughters to maintain a sense of financial independence could relieve them of one of the most compelling reasons they stay in unsatisfying relationships; they simply cannot fathom the financial implications of leaving the relationship.
Though the topic of discussion has changed, our responsibility as parents to prepare our daughters for both the joys and the hardships of married life remain. I am no expert at this discussion. I advise my daughters to take control of their financial future, to figure out what things in life are important to them (family, travel, etc.), to learn to invest money, and to learn how to leverage their companies’ 401K plans. My advice is not always appreciated. One of my daughters knows where she is going and how much money she will need to get there. The other is vaguely aware she has a paycheck and a bank account; though she still hasn’t entirely figured out how the bank account gets overdrawn.
Each one of these topics is potentially awkward, controversial, or contentious. Yet, these topics are each as important to helping our daughters prepare for marriage as the “what to expect on your wedding night” discussion was to the daughters of the Victorian Era.
Jacqueline S. Vinaccia is the mother of three millennials, twin 19-year-old girls, and a 17-year-old son. She is a partner and head of the litigation department at Lounsbery Ferguson Altona & Peak LLP, a boutique law firm in North San Diego County. And she is a proud member of the Millionaire Girls Movement. Contact Ms. Vinaccia at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I know I’m not alone when I say that as a young woman, I’ve spent many hours daydreaming about having a baby, and more specifically, what it would be like to be pregnant. Carrying a baby comes with physical changes and complicated notions of autonomy, but for female-bodied people who are more comfortable dressing in a masculine way, it can also come with an identity crisis. For someone who is more comfortable dressed in an oxford button-down and baggy jeans, the idea of wearing a floral maternity dress with poofy sleeves and ruffles can be unsettling at the least, and traumatizing at the worst.
Cue Vanessa Newman. At 20 years old, the Maryland-based entrepreneur is already making waves with her new company, Butchbaby & Co. Vanessa calls Butchbaby “alternity wear” — maternity wear with a boyish twist. The first Butchbaby line won’t be released until much later this year, but the online world is already buzzing about Vanessa’s innovative approach to pregnancy style. I gave her a call to learn more about her entrepreneurial spirit and the process of launching her revolutionary clothes line.
MGM: Tell us about Butchbaby & Co. is and your role at the company.
Vanessa: Butchbaby & Co. is the first ever alternity wear company. Alternity wear is a term that myself and the people at Butch Basix created; it essentially means all-inclusive pregnancy wear. It keeps in mind whatever gender or sexual orientation you are and however you present. I am the CEO and founder of the company.
MGM: In an interview with Colorlines, you explained that you first came up with the idea of a butch maternity line while imagining what you would wear if you became pregnant one day. Describe the moment when you decided to turn that idea into a reality.
Vanessa: Last July, I was at this LGBT Innovation Summit at the White House. We had a 30 second opportunity to pitch an idea to the group. I had been thinking about the idea for a while, and I figured this was my market. I did my pitch, and out of about 30 pitches I was the only one who got any applause. I got a lot of positive feedback afterwards. I realized that this was something that I should really do. That was my turning point, realizing that it was time to make this happen.
BYE-BYE COLLEGE, HELLO ENSTITUTE
MGM: According to the biography on your website, you forgoed a traditional college experience and instead attended Enstitute. How did your educational background influence your approach in starting this business?
Vanessa: My first two years of college were really rough for me. I was always a hands on person, more interested in extracurriculars than being in the classroom. I started getting antsy. In my sophomore year, I had an internship with a media start up/radio show. Working with them, I realized this is what I want to do right now and I feel like I could do it right now.
I found Enstitute, which hooks up people ages 18 to 25 with CEOs of start-ups. You do a paid, year-long apprenticeship. While I was going through that program, I got a really strong support system of people dedicated to putting work first, learning by doing, and who have a vision to create for themselves. Being in the program has really facilitated my confidence and made me feel like I could start a business at 20 years old.
MGM: What steps did you take in planning out what Butchbaby & Co. would be like?
Vanessa: I started by doing market research. I was getting a lot of surveys and feedback from moms about their maternity wear experience. I moved on from that to people who identified as LGBT, mostly masculine women who were planning on having kids. I surveyed a couple of lesbian couples in which one or both partners were masculine presenting. I interviewed over 30 people across the board.
I was finishing this process when I was connected with designer, Michelle Janayea, through a friend. After we went over the research, she went straight into design. I went more into creating the vision: what’s our name going to be, what’s our mission, what are we trying to provide. I made our website so that I could flesh out my ideas. We’re wrapping up design now, finishing the actual sketches and we’re about to go into researching fabrics, sourcing materials, and planning for summer events. It’s all in preparation to actually start making clothes in May and kicking off our crowd-funding campaign in August.
MGM: Your first line hasn’t been released yet, but Butchbaby & Co. is already making waves in social media and news websites. How did that happen? How does it feel to be getting so much press?
Vanessa: It’s been interesting. I made that website for myself and sent it to a friend, who sent it to another friend and it kind of built up from there. I was not expecting the reception that we’ve had. I feel like it’s kind of backwards — we got a lot of hype before we had products.
Overall it’s been very validating. There are people out there who want this and who need this. I’ve gotten so many thank you messages. I think this is what motivates me to do this more than anything.
MGM: Where are you finding support for yourself and the creation of your business?
Vanessa: I get a lot of support from my girl friend and from my mentors. My mentors are Danielle and Ayisha Moodie-Mills, this DC lesbian power couple who are the Chief Creative Officer and Chief Executive Offier of Politini, their radio show.
INSPIRATION and CHALLENGES
MGM: From where do you draw inspiration?
Vanessa: I’ve gotten inspiration from other lesbian or masculine businesses like Saint Harridan. They’ve facilitated that inspiration by showing that 1) it’s normal and it’s okay and it’s cool and it looks good to be a woman and look a certain way, and 2) these have all been really successful businesses. Saint Harridan has raised over a $100,000. Seeing that is like, “Wow! I can do that because they’ve done that too.” They inspire me fashion-wise and business-wise.
MGM: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Vanessa: Communicating with my designer remotely. She’s based in Chicago and I’m here in MD/DC. It’s not the same as sitting in a desk next to someone where you can be constantly bouncing ideas off each other. I have a full time day job and she is a full time student. There can be times when I want to get feedback right now or see what she’s doing right now or vice versa and it can be hard to work out the kinks.
MGM: Besides looking great, what do you want your clients to gain from your product?
Vanessa: Mostly I want them to be comfortable. When you look great, you feel great. In pregnancy there is a lot of stuff going on with your body. You shouldn’t have to worry that your clothes make you feel ugly. It shouldn’t be a stress point for you. I can’t guarantee that people won’t have identity issues during pregnancy but I want to minimize that as much as possible.
We also want to be affordable. It would be easy for us to price our clothes at a very high point, but my objective isn’t to sell only to upper class, white lesbians. Black LGBT families are twice as likely to have children than white LGBT couples. If you are a woman, you already face a pay gap.
If you’re gay and presenting as so, you may face barriers. If you’re a person of color, you may face a pay gap too. If you’re all three of those things, you’ve got 3 strikes against you. And then if you’re married to a person who looks like you but you still want to have a family, you can face greater challenges.
We want to make comfortable, affordable clothes that make this one step a little easier. Anyone who wants to have a baby should be able to do so and feel comfortable.
NEW YORK TIMES, FASHION AND DIVERSITY
MGM: The New York Times just published an article about fashion designers of color. It says that only 12 out of 470 members of the Council of Fashion Designers of America are African American. How does it feel to be entering a field with such a striking lack of diversity? What advice would you give to other people with minority identities looking to break into the field?
Vanessa: For me, I’m very comfortable with making people uncomfortable. I’m not one to ever be silenced or have someone make a decision on my behalf without fulling knowing why or shut me out. There are times when I’ve been the one black person in the room of 20 or 30 white people. For me, walking into a space like that is more exciting because I believe I can overcome. The way I carry myself proves it.
If there’s one piece of advice I could give, it’s this: when you walk into a room or that meeting, if you don’t see someone else who looks like you, don’t let that deter you. It all starts from within. You just can’t be afraid. You need to be very comfortable in yourself and very comfortable with speaking up and making people uncomfortable. It’s important to know when to hold your ground.
MGM: Tell me something about you that might be surprising for other folks to learn.
Vanessa: I’m a writer. I try to spend just as much energy in my work as I do in my writing. I specialize in haiku, and I have a haiku blog that I’ve been running for 3-4 years now.
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