While trying to establish myself as the fresh voice of a generation of millennial women through my then-emerging media brand SWAAY, I found myself subtly becoming part of a “resistance” culture in which feminism rebranded itself as what we now call Girlboss Capitalism. Amplified by the downfall of the first potential female president and the rise of a misogynist in national office, 2016 became the start of the golden age for women who dared to step out and speak up. And I was ready to rally.
Mass-media feminism took on a new sense of urgency. Women-only clubs popped up across the nation. Grassroots activism reached its peak. And in 2017, the #metoo movement showed men that the old ways of abusing power are no longer acceptable. At the forefront of all these movements were charismatic female founders and leaders who were brave enough to change the narrative by sharing their stories and gracing magazine covers as the new celebrated icons.
I felt so grateful and excited to have had a front-row seat to this historic shift, interviewing and taking in the raw accounts of these icons regarding their experiences as disruptive leaders, while trying to become one of them and navigating my own startup struggles as a female founder myself. The concept of Girlbossery became a representation for the pursuit of female ambition and success, and the women’s movement fueled a storm of rebellion against the injustices that made every woman’s life taxing. I felt proud to play even a small part in the change that was taking place. But fighting the patriarchy while sustaining a female-forward media startup that further exposed me to unexpected indignities was a double-edged sword. On one hand, I was part of an emerging generation of change agents who were collectively raising their voices and bringing vital issues to light. On the other hand, it felt like I was stuck in an echo chamber where feminism became obsessed with victimhood and where the rhetoric focused more on what we women can’t do instead of what we can. Subconsciously, I began to define myself by the wounds of gender-related adversities, which was ultimately disempowering.
The haunting belief that I might be less than others—especially counterparts who were men—hijacked my confidence and triggered my ego. At the time, I saw this dynamic as the foundation of my ambition. It fueled the already-big chip on my shoulder and gave me the motivation to hustle for change, and without it I wouldn’t have been able to achieve so many of my goals and transcend the odds.
But during the first years of building my business and navigating repeated rejections, I became defensive and reactive, anticipating rejections and failures before they even happened. And when they did happen, I easily blamed the unfair structural systems in place. Every time a man in power looked at me smugly and then closed the door in my face, I desperately wanted to show him that I was in fact good enough. As I repeated the same validation dance over and over, it became clear to me that my inner dialogue was more condescending than the venture capitalists in the conference rooms. At this point in my journey, I began to pay attention to these voices within me. The voices I’d internalized that trumpeted patriarchy, xenophobia, and women’s inferiority. The voices that led me to see myself in ways detrimental to my self-actualization.
These voices were to be expected. After all, the feminist movement is all about exposing a system that isn’t designed for our advancement— and we have the research to prove it. By now we’re all familiar with those statistics that paint a grim picture, one that leaves every woman feeling frustrated and disadvantaged but also motivated for change.
I am still as passionate as ever about gender parity and women’s rights; let it be known that I am and always will be a proud feminist. But to me women empowerment should also be about encouraging and empowering women to feel a sense of autonomy and control in their lives while cultivating a sense of accountability. So as I continued to push through the different barriers in my startup journey, my perspective began to shift from “things should be different” to “what can I do differently”.
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