Dreams of a feminist business

I’ve been getting really into entrepreneurship lately. It’s strange, to be honest, to be wishing I could have taken business classes in college. I went to a liberal arts school, majored in Anthropology and Spanish, and stayed away from anything practical. But in the years since leaving school, and particularly these last few, I’ve started to get super excited about the idea of business and entrepreneurship.
What turned me off from business for so long was the idea that the goal had to be making money. That I could only be involved in business if I wanted to get rich off my project.
I’ve come to learn that’s totally not true, and there are business out there that aren’t non-profits (at least legally or tax-wise) but are more like not-really-for-profits. Where the owners and employees cover costs and receive salaries, but aren’t in it to become millionaires.
I’ve also come to value the skills that are required for business ownership. Taxes, financial management, legal statuses, all of these are really valuable things to understand–even just as individuals.
I’ve been tagged as “the Business” by my co-editors at Feministing (check out the best birthday rap ever if you didn’t see it in May) and the title is pretty accurate.
There is something about the seeming simplicity of business–meeting a need and covering costs–that is really appealing to me.
I firmly believe that one huge factor holding back entrepreneurship in this country is employer-based health care. Speaking as a self-employed person, it’s a scary proposition that I could lose my coverage at any time. How many folks would choose non-traditional routes of employment if they didn’t have to worry about being denied health care coverage? How many more amazing companies and inventions would we have if everyone (regardless of employment) had access to health care?
I’ve got plenty of dreams and ideas about what my feminist businesses could look like (not surprisingly, a feminist sex shop for example). Any of you budding entrepreneurs? If you could run your own feminist business, what would it be?

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38 Comments

  1. mwoe
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    I feel the same way. I’ve actually found that the MPA program has lots of business like classes on management, budgeting, etc. and that the non-profit I work for is in many ways an entrepreneurial venture, albeit with tax breaks.
    My dream job is running my own brewery. Not being a brewer myself, I’d like to select the best brewers of a similar philosophy and having some similar taste as me. The stereotype is that women don’t like beer, but I find this is increasingly false. There is such a variety of wonderful and complex American micro-brews out there offering a range of aroma, taste and alcohol content. In the meantime, if DogfishHead offered me a job out in New England I would totally take it!

  2. Alessandra Barbadoro
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 10:31 am | Permalink

    Somehow, after college, I realized that Philosophy was not the best choice when it came to picking majors.
    My hope is to open a music venue, that would incidentally book a ton of female artists or bands with female players. I’ve already been working on this, who knew there were so many kickass female fiddle players out there.

  3. Sleepy
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    I’d like to start a business as a “personal charities manager”. Spend about 15 minutes talking with a client, getting an idea of the kinds of causes they care about. Then they could decide how much they want to spend yearly, quarterly, whatever. I would bill them and provide a report of which places they gave money to at the frequency they choose (again, anually, or quarterly). They’d also be able to access a report of their giving on-line. I would also like to find a way to alert all charities (including the ones the client is giving to) that they no longer should call or send junk mail, etc. to this person.
    I have no idea if this business model would be remotely realistic, but I could sure use something like it. I’m unbelievably sick of junk mail and constant pleas for money for this, that and the other thing. I would give to public radio, but I stopped because I don’t wish to receive a barrage of crap from them. Yet I do wish to contribute $$ to things I care about (and there might even be causes I just don’t KNOW about). If a “personal charities manager” were something that could become widely known and used, I think it could reduce a lot of inefficiency and waste.

  4. susanstohelit
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    I have a couple ideas. One would be to open a nifty vegetarian/organic/local food restaurant combined w/ a small indie bookstore that would feature readings and performances from cool artists, particularly looking for female, queer, and/or people of color.
    The other idea would be to start a media empire that produced feminist books, movies, tv shows, graphic novels etc, as a counterbalance to all the male-heavy art that exists.

  5. JoanOfArc
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    I’d love to open up a feminist craft store. When I worked at a bead store, I was struck by the way women reacted to being able to just sit down with other women and create beautiful objects. they could talk and laugh. It was very much a woman-centric space, much like a quilting bee would have been in earlier time. I relied how hard it is for women to find time to just chat with other women without a big agenda. I also saw how many women had this desire to create things, but had been told they weren’t talented. To teach them and encourage them was to restore some of that lost confidence. And their expression when they finished a complicated piece and their reactions to the compliments they got from others- beautiful to behold
    Joan

  6. JulietBurgess
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 11:03 am | Permalink

    I am pretty excited about one day owning a feminist theatre company. I don’t expect to make money, clearly, but I think that theatre, like most branches of the arts spectrum, lacks an acknowledgment of female playwrights and directors. As well, there are so few good females roles and so many amazing local female actors everywhere, something has to be done.
    I am working for a company similar to this right now, just started out as a wee publicity person, but I am thrilled to be a part of this process.

  7. uberhausfrau
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    i really want a farm/bed n’ breakfast/art colony escape point. being in texas and having it be organic and not totally beef-centered would be feminist/eco-ist/whatever enough.

  8. mk
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    To address the tragic dearth of lesbian bars in Boston, my dream business would be a fantastic sandwich shop by day, queer bar/lounge by night.

  9. cattrack2
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I think that’s way cool Miriam. More power to you. And, yes, you’re right providing health care to employees is a big consideration for most entrepreneurs. I just wished the BO Administration would pitch it that way. I’ve heard them mention that as a benefit of the public option maybe once.
    I’ve seen this from two angles. A entrepreneur friend of mine really struggled to provide a solid healthcare plan to his employees. He believed it paying high wages (he operated a fast food joint & his managers made over $150K) but couldn’t find a good health care plan. On the other side the son of my best friend developed leukemia. My friend worked at a small business & I’m certain the kid’s 5 years of leukemia payments nearly bankrupted the plan. Just the other day the woman at this small auto repair shop tells me about a tumor she’d just found on her brain. There’s no way that business can cover her health care expenses. She’s only 24. So tragic.

  10. Josh Jasper
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    A feminist publishing company.

  11. Posted October 8, 2009 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    I was a history and women’s studies double major in college and fell in love with women’s history. Two years ago I started getting into learning about my family’s genealogy (we’ve got many generations in every line traced) and making it accessible online to all my relatives. I made a website for my dad’s side with scanned family history and docs and family trees etc. I’d really love to create some type of genealogy business (still thinking about what it would be) that makes people’s family history more accessible to them etc.
    The feminist part is that I’d do my best to make women’s stories just as known as men’s. Too often I’ve found them – or any mention of them – buried away, in part because depending on the era, men were more likely to hold property, have jobs outside the home, vote or hold office, and have a legal identity period. So you have to try harder to find the women and get to know them. Even when I was looking through the personal histories my dad’s parents wrote, my grandpa wrote a ton about himself and my grandma wrote less about herself. Before she died (my grandpa was already dead) I interviewed her on tape about her life and it was like pulling teeth at first because she felt like she “hadn’t done anything” but I kept asking about different things I knew about her or different things I knew were happening in the US when she was growing up, and I finally got her talking. And she had lived an interesting life! Last fall I interviewed my partner’s maternal grandparents on tape and faced the same thing: his grandpa talked on and on and his grandma said literally about 1/4th as much about her life. I didn’t know enough about her to help her open up more though :/
    I’d take a feminist approach to even organizing genealogy too. For example, in doing my own father’s genealogy line, I made sure to always include the women’s birth names and when I traced my grandmother’s line, I listed all of the women before their husbands, then for my grandfather’s line all of the men before their wives (to be fair).
    It’s something I want to explore a lot more before too long and hopefully figure out a way to have a business.

  12. DalekSec
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    Wow. I was gonna say feminist bookshop, but this is a WAY cooler idea!
    Not that the bookshop wouldn’t be nifty, mark you.

  13. sarah
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    Let’s open one together. That’s exactly what I want to do!!

  14. FGJ
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been running a web development / it consulting business in the Detroit area since finishing grad school last december.
    Making money is definitely one of my goals, but so is using my company to benefit the community. I’ve helped organizations use technology organize community service projects, organize the worlds longest continuous concert (to raise awareness for American auto workers), and I’ve also created an employee development ladder that allows entry-level employees to develop new skills and advance.
    Health care is definitely a problem though. The best option I’ve found is a high deductible plan and a tax-deductible health savings account. But that leaves a lot to be desired.
    I should add that some states have a new type of business called an “L3C” or “low-income limited liability company” specifically aimed at social entrepreneurs. They’re legally for-profit (under some restrictions), and can accept grants from charitable foundations.

  15. hardlycore
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    That’s an awesome idea! Yay for craft-brew-loving feminists!

  16. zpup
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    I did a great deal of repairing small mechanically/electronic based production equipment. For short time after becoming disabled I was work a few hours a week repairing medical scooters and powered wheelchairs. Company went out of business, but I’ve always wanted to start my own business doing just the repairs for the elderly and disabled. Just need the space and the startup money…. Dream ON!!!

  17. ENTP
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    This is a fabulous idea! You should really do it!

  18. anna_banana
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    i would sell jewelry that i make myself or i would sell political clothing that i sew myself !!! i totally feel u on the itch for entrepreneurship! its a creative process!

  19. ENTP
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    I’ve always wanted to open a book store/cafe/performance space/meeting space, sort of a progressive resource center for young people.
    I’m really big on the idea of promoting entrepreneurship among women. Everyone has written some great ideas. Thanks for asking us to imagine ourselves as business women! Just thinking about that made my day!
    By the way, Courtney’s birthday rap was great!
    “The Biizzzness!”

  20. Vega
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    My dream is to open up a gelato cafe with excellent, varied coffee and tea, and kickass pastries and sandwiches with my best friend (who would make the gelato because that is her passion). We would open up nearby a college, and we’d be open late-night. Every Thursday, we’d have open mic night. We would also sell pieces by local artists that hang in the store.
    I guess it’s not intrinsically feminist, but it would certainly be ethical in its business practices. That’s already uncommon in most mainstream businesses.

  21. johanna in dairyland
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Feminist financial planner/adviser/educator!

  22. Posted October 8, 2009 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    YES! As long as we’re living with capitalism, it is soooo important for women to start and run businesses. And I totally think you are right about health insurance being a huge deterrent.
    I started a record label, Thinkroot Records, about a year and a half ago. Right now, I’ve put out one CD (my band, Team Smile and Nod) with a second CD is in the works. It’s a modern indie record label in that it has non-traditional functions: recording engineering, audio production, web design/ graphic design, booking, promotion, songwriting, etc… I still have a part-time “day job” where I luckily get health insurance. I’m extra lucky b/c my partner helps me a lot financially. She wanted me to go for my dream. Eventually, I will quit the day job and start working with other woman-fronted/feminist bands. I found that I actually enjoy the business side of things. My brain accidently works that way. :) It is great to be able to donate your services to support the community. Of course, it’s also great to be able to write and perform whatever “radical” lyrics come out. Business can be so creative and interesting.

  23. Posted October 8, 2009 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Joan-
    Beautiful idea. In Columbus, Ohio, a similar shop exists: http://www.whollycraft.net/
    Kara

  24. vegkitty
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    I want to start a Feminist porn production company, where the actors are paid decent wages and significant college scholarships, and in which the films/books/photos produced have women in positions of control and power.
    I also want to open a candy store, complete with homemade candy, but I don’t know if that type of business can be improved on. :)

  25. MarySophia
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    Can I get in!? I was going to say the same exact thing.

  26. Miriam
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 4:50 pm | Permalink

    If even half of you all start your businesses, I think I would consider my work to be done.
    Such awesome ideas! Go do it. Please.

  27. Rachael
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    My dream feminist business is a sex-toy co-op. Some people get freaked out by this idea, but let me explain: so many of us invest significant money in sex toys, use them with a partner, and then don’t know what to do with them after a break-up. Whether it’s because we’re emotionally attaching them to a previous relationship or a new partner is weirded out at the idea, often they sit in a shoebox at the top of a closet. I want to start a kind of networking site for these sex toys! People could send them to me (silicone only and I would sanitize them thoroughly) and receive credit for their contribution. They could then use that credit to “purchase” other toys that I’d list on the site.
    Hopefully, sex toys would stop ending up in shoeboxes or landfills, we’d all get to try out more fun stuff, and we’d encourage a global community of orgasms and goodness–who knows what stories your new toy would have?
    Some people think this is a crazy idea and/or totally gross. Any takers?

  28. v.georgiades
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    Excellent! I’ll come hang out there every time I visit home (Boston) again.

  29. Tiara
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    I’m running a business (it’s really small at the moment) that provides services & assistance to creative productions. Stage managing, selling merch, promo, ticketing, that sort of thing. I’ve often noticed that smaller productions tend to have one person doing everything and I figure I might as well do what I enjoy and help them out too!

  30. Tiara
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    I’ll be your first customer!

  31. Tiara
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 5:07 pm | Permalink

    I would personally be more worried about hygiene – how sanitized *can* it be?
    Though it does remind me of my brief idea of starting a women-only brothel…I’ve found that there are very few safe spaces for women to explore their sexuality without having men leering on them.

  32. v.georgiades
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

    Awesome, I just checked out your website, and I’ve got to say, I love the logo on the shirts. When (if) I get a job I’ll order one! Where are you based out of?
    My partner is a very talented (yes, I’m biased, but still) musician and she is currently taking classes on music recording and production, with hopes of building her own studio. I don’t play music myself, but through her I see and feel the frustrations of being a woman and demanding respect and recognition is such a male dominated industry. There’s especially a significant lack of women producers.
    So rock on and I hope your project takes off!

  33. v.georgiades
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    I actually like the brothel idea. I also like the idea of women-only strip clubs, swingers clubs, adult movie theaters and peep shows. I guess they must exist somewhere, but I don’t know of many.

  34. Rachael
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

    Here’s what they have to say over at Holistic Wisdom, “Because you can boil silicone, sex toys made from this material can be fully sterilized and are safe to share.” Since silicone is non-porous, it’s pretty gloriously cleanable.
    With that said, I know that I boil any sex toy I buy sealed from my favorite feministy sex toy shop… just to be safe. No harm in boiling twice!

  35. lovenhaight
    Posted October 8, 2009 at 10:11 pm | Permalink

    Social entrepreneurship is gaining steam in academic circles, I actually work in the Public Policy department at the University of North Carolina, and we offer classes on Social Entrepreneurship, including courses that teach students about the barriers that they may face and how to overcome them. Check into your local universities, see if you can audit or take similar courses as a continuing ed student. (We’d love to have you in Chapel Hill!)
    I’m interested in starting a non-profit that deals with body image.

  36. stickinthemud
    Posted October 10, 2009 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    “I went to a liberal arts school, majored in Anthropology and Spanish, and stayed away from anything practical.”
    I must protest! How are Anthropology and Spanish *not* totally practical? You studied people and cultures, and a very widely-spoken language! Here in the Los Angeles area that would get you into any number of fields.
    And I’m not just saying this because I have a degree in Sociology and I’m learning Spanish. No bias here, nuh-uh.
    Back on the topic–great ideas for businesses, everyone.

  37. larana
    Posted October 11, 2009 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    My business is pretty simple and not particularly feminist. I do dessert catering for weddings and parties and such.
    But I would argue with you that you DON’T NEED a college education in running a business. Actually a lot of those programs are a waste of money and time and they mostly just give you the opportunity to network with other money minded people.
    The last few months I have started a small business with a friend, we are small bits in turning the pin up/nude modeling biz on its head. Being two people, we won’t get far. But we work together to create creative, beautiful images of women that show their character, something about their personality, and also… we don’t photoshop out cellulite and stuff like that and the models still look hot. We figure we’re not really going to change much but we’ll be little bricks in a growing wall of woman’s voices in the sex/beauty industry.
    I help run a non-profit artist’s co-op that helps young and early career artists get their portfolios online, which is my baby that i love and have been doing for a few years, although it is not wildly successful or famous it’s been good for the artists and musicians involved.
    and now I am helping my mom start her own seamstress business.
    While women are underrepresented in the business world I think there are so many woman owned businesses that fly under the radar….

  38. super7
    Posted October 12, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Permalink

    I have always wanted to start and own my own business. I just picked up a book recently, The Boss of You, which is written by two women who started their own web design business, and it’s about how to start your own business, geared more towards indie, DIY-type stuff and women. I’m not finished it yet but so far it’s awesome.

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