Friday, February 18, 2011

Here we go!

My mother used to say "Here we go!" whenever a new adventure was imminent.  The words heralded both perilous and exhilarating activities.  Whether dangerously fishtailing on an icy highway or perched at the crest of the highest mountain on a boardwalk roller coaster ride at the Jersey shore..."Here we go!" seemed to sum up the fear and/or joy in all moments of anticipation.   

There was much comfort in those three little words because we were all in the experience together...for better or worse, we were there to care for one another. 

And so, I can think of no better way to express the start of this new venture called FemmeSpeak! (I can just imagine my mother firmly grasping my hand and giving it a squeeze with that extra measure of assurance….)  

FemmeSpeak! is a culmination of all of my hopes and dreams for the world.  But I suppose first I should explain what it is and for whom it was designed before I get to my own hopes and dreams.

FemmeSpeak! at its core, is a place for women to connect to one another.  The official mission is:

FemmeSpeak! is establishing itself as the regional woman-to-woman communication vehicle.

Through the quarterly print magazine, interactive website, and community events, women form safe, supportive, nurturing coalitions. Local readers are the writers of the online and print magazine content, which includes their contributions of original artwork and literary works.  Each contributor is identified with a brief bio and photo, evoking the charm of a personalized “scrapbook.” As co-creators of FemmeSpeak!, local women are encouraged to “Live to Inspire” by exploring their interests and expanding their horizons while being challenged to reach for their goals and build the life of their dreams.

First being piloted in the Lehigh Valley, Bucks County and the Harrisburg region in 2011, FemmeSpeak! is being offered as franchise opportunities in other markets as well throughout the nation – and beyond. This business model continues to empower women by providing a healthy income for the local publisher franchisee who is asserting herself as a key asset in her community by providing valuable tools and resources to the women in her region.

Because FemmeSpeak! is adamant that the voice of all women in the community have a chance to be heard, all franchises will donate 5% of net proceeds to support women’s literacy initiatives in their respective regions.'s a long mission statement...but it is an even bigger mission!

This journey to create FemmeSpeak! began in earnest two years ago when I found myself unemployed.  I had done the going back to college thing...I had made my way up the ladder of success in a government position and had achieved much success even in a highly charged political bees nest.  But I was not happy.  I was spending the precious moments of my life trying to mediate between supposed "professionals" who were astonishingly childish and badly behaved.   Well, I don't want to give that anymore time....suffice it to say, I don't work for government anymore and am grateful for the escape.  

So I set out to reinvent find my reason for coming to the earth, (ok, admittedly a midlife crisis meltdown).  

But, here I was in my late forties with no plan for what I was to become, how I would make a living or any clue as to what was my purpose.  I was scared and embarrassed.  I was supposed to be stable by now.  I should have some answers by now, know where I am going, be there already for God's sake!  I should be able to help guide younger people through their maze of life...but how can I help anyone else when I don't know myself how to be a success.   I was stuck.  I felt like I was the kid in my twenties trying to figure it all out...again.  UGH!

So, long story short, one day my dad recommended that I try publishing.  Publishing?  Publishing!  Yes, I think I could do that!  Of course, I know nothing about it...but I can learn.  How hard can it be?  So, as with every other task I have ever taken on, I began with research.  

They say you should write what you know...and at that point, the only thing I knew for sure was that I was a middle aged woman.  

Within a few short months I knew nearly every publication in the nation that was directed toward women.   Then I started asking women I met in the grocery store, in the dr's office, and at the community pool...what kind of magazines, websites, other media, do they like that is supposed to be for women? And what is it about these forms of media that they do not like?  I learned a lot!  

The women I interviewed noted that they no longer wanted to see "too beautiful" models on the cover, they did not want to see fashion that was not practical, or products that were too expensive for the reality of their budget.  The women were tired of being constantly sold to.  They felt that the media products had become empty platforms for the sole purpose of promoting advertisers goods and services.  Most magazines were at 80-85% of ad space leaving very little room for content.  As such, the women I interviewed said they did not feel "nourished" when they read those products.  They walked away from those experiences feeling like they had wasted their time.  

What did they want?  They wanted a media alternative that spoke to them in their language  They wanted to see women who looked and dressed like them.  They wanted to feel nourished and connected to the people in the magazine.  They wanted to be able to relate to them...and even more, to be inspired by them!  They did not want to have to go to different places to get the information they needed about their region...they just wanted to be able to ask other women...who is your gynecologist?  Where can I get a great birthday cake?  Do you know a good dressmaker?  And they wanted to share their own wisdom with other women.  They mentioned over and over that they felt lonely...lonely for the companionship of other women from their region.   They felt disconnected and abandoned.  They also wanted a creative outlet.  A place where they could share their stories and ideas.  They wanted to write the articles and submit their own art and literary creations. 

Interestingly, while I was asking women what they want, Maria Shriver was at the same time researching for a report she wrote called "A Woman's Nation" for the Center for American Progress.  She discovered many of the same findings as I had been learning from women.  She met  women from all around the country and asked what is the state of women in the US? Her report explains that women feel "out of touch" with the media (news and entertainment), with government, with pundits and pollsters, with their religious institutions and with business all not understanding them.  The report states, "women are hungry for something that’s missing in their lives—a place to connect. They say they feel increasingly isolated, invisible, stressed, and misunderstood. "  

VALIDATION!  This was not just a local phenomenon.  It was a problem nationwide!

In various points of the Woman's Nation report, it begs the where do we go from here?

"We as a people must transform the way our government, our businesses, our faith-based institutions, and our media deal with the realities of a woman’s nation so that all of us can better cope with the transformation of how we work and live. The ultimate goal is a more prosperous future for all women and men in a nation that recognizes the unique value of each of us to contribute to the common good at work and at home."

"...(we) hold out hope that the media industry itself will change as more women rise within its ranks or launch new media outlets on their own."

"...this report is only the beginning of that conversation. In the months and years to come, we at the Center for American Progress hope you will join us in our efforts to transform our ideas into actual policies that make the world around us work better for families—as they really are."

So here was the call for action.  Something needed to be done, and all of you had told me what you wanted....  This was the genesis of FemmeSpeak!

After holding a launch party last May (2010) to introduce the FemmeSpeak! brand, we are almost ready to put out this most anticipated product... a gazette, a website...and even events to connect women region by region.   We want to change the way media interacts with women - to give all women a voice.  

My hopes and dreams are that FemmeSpeak! will become the meeting ground for women.  That we will listen and learn from one another;  that we will support and empower one another; that we will find common ground...and a higher ground on which we can unite to make each of us individually...and the world as a whole,  a better place to live.  That a united understanding and voice of women will encourage the world to live in abundance rather than living in fear and scarcity.  Women know instinctively how to make stone soup (there is always room for one more).  My hope is that this wisdom of the female gender as a united voice will help bring sense to the bitter and inane rivalries of territorialism and will insist on common caring and decency toward each other.  I truly hope and dream that FemmeSpeak! a common ground of communication between women, is planting the seeds of peace for the world.     

So ladies, here is our chance to tell the world who we are, what we think, what we want.  But, just as in democracy, the greatness of FemmeSpeak! can only be achieved with your participation.   Perilous or exhilarating...we are in this together. "HERE WE GO....."