Marianne Schnall, Journalist, Founder of Feminist.com
I was working as a free-lance journalist in 1995 when in a seemingly inspired moment I found myself registering the domain name Feminist.com. I immediately recognized the consequences of acting on an inspired moment and the responsibility that this would entail. So I congregated a core group of friends and colleagues - in feminist activism, law, television, journalism, music, marketing and communications - to help me conceive what Feminist.com should be. At that time only 15 percent of Internet users were women,so we initially set out to encourage women to go online, network with each other, and help them find useful information and resources.
In those early days of the Internet, most women’s organizations didn’t yet have web sites, so another one of our other initial functions was to provide the very first web home for groups like the Ms. Foundation for Women, Equality Now, Girls Inc., and V-Day. This is still at the heart of what we do at Feminist.com -- connecting individuals to the issues and causes that resonate with them, leveraging the massive potential of the Web to connect, educate and empower. We recently marked Feminist.com’s 15 year anniversary, celebrating the special milestone with longtime friends and supporters (and speeches from Advisory Board members Eve Ensler and Gloria Steinem) and now look towards the many exciting projects and plans we have for our site’s future.
Here are some principles I have used to guide me in my work with feminist.com and my other projects:
1. Embrace your uniqueness and dare to be yourself. There are so many messages hurled at us from childhood, telling us we need to change ourselves to “fit in” and be like everybody else. Yet, if we are out of touch with who we truly are, we may make choices that are not right for ourselves, impacting not only our own personal happiness and fulfillment, but also the world, which will be deprived of our unique voice and individual contributions that only we can make.
2. Seek out opportunities to support other women and work together. Women are often pitted against each other and made to feel competitive, but we all lose out if we work against, or in isolation from, each other. As Madeleine Albright, the first woman to serve as U.S. Secretary of State told me, “Having a support system is very important…When I was in office I had a group of foreign ministers that were my friends throughout the world… I think there has to be the sense that once you have climbed the ladder of success, that you don’t push it away from the building – you are only strengthened if there are more women."
3. Don’t be afraid to fail. You can’t really get anywhere in this world without putting yourself out there in some way and taking a few risks. And it is important to view every experience, positive and negative, as an opportunity to learn and grow. As Maya Angelou told me, “We may encounter many defeats, but we must not be defeated. It may even be necessary to encounter the defeat so that we can know who we are. So that we can see, ‘Oh, that happened and I rose. I did get knocked down in front of the whole world and I rose…’ That’s it – that’s how you get to know who you are.”
4. Be compassionate and forgiving towards yourself. This can often be one of the hardest lessons for women. We focus so much on our “imperfections” and perceived shortcomings, beating ourselves up all the time rather than taking the time to pat ourselves on the back once in a while and celebrate our accomplishments. I remember at Feminist.com’s 15 year anniversary event, Gloria Steinem came up to me and asked if I was appreciating all these wonderful words being said about me and Feminist.com. I immediately started to deflect it, saying, “Oh, really, I am just a conduit for all these amazing people and organizations…” at which point Gloria held up her hand and stopped me. In a soft, caring voice, she reminded me that this was my moment to receive and take it in. It was a powerful moment for me.
5. Pay attention to your inner world and cultivate silence and stillness. There are so many inputs coming at us at all hours of the day. It is easy to be over-stimulated and live life on auto-pilot, operating on knee jerk reactions. Yet, oftentimes it can be better in the long run to take a few centered breaths, or even wait overnight before responding to an important email that requires thoughtful consideration or reflection. Or if you are having a problem you just can’t figure out no matter how much you dwell on it, try meditating, taking a shower or a walk in nature and maybe the answer will come to you. It is in those moments of non-doing, non-thinking that we can often hear those important whisperings from deep within us. Creative ideas, our intuition, inner guidance and inspiration can come to us during those quiet times.
Marianne Schnall is the executive director of the women’s web site and non-profit organization Feminist.com, as well as the co-founder of the environmental site EcoMall.com. Marianne is a widely published journalist whose writings and interviews appear in a variety of media outlets and the author of a new book, Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice.