In January 2021 we celebrated five years of the Open Heroines community. In that time, we’ve grown to over 700 members, helped organise events across the globe, and conducted research into our Community and our roadmap forward. Thanks to a grant from the Hewlett Foundation, this year we’ll be hiring our first paid staff members to help drive our community forward — watch this space for more information.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, Mor Rubinstein writes about growing the Open Heroines network, what we’ve learnt, and where we’ll be going next.
I am not going to lie, this past year has been tough on me. Partially moving from maternity leave back to work, but also the pandemic made me slower. I am a person with really high standards when it comes to my own work. This year I had to lower these standards a bit. Things that I love doing had to take a back seat in my list of priorities. Even though this year was not what I planned for my involvement in Open Heroines, it is better than nothing in these hard times.
In January 2021, we celebrated 5 years of the community. We grew to 700 members in total, and we are slowly implementing the findings from our user research. 4 years ago I blogged about three things I learnt from the Open Heroines community. So, for this International Women’s day (and a belated birthday blog post for Open Heroines), here are a couple of things I’ve learnt by being an Open Heroine.
Speaking up can sometimes be emotionally draining
“The hardest part has been learning how to take myself seriously when the entire world is constantly telling me that femininity is always inferior to masculinity” Julia Serano
I am a direct person, so let me start with the hard stuff — I had a lot of emotional work to do that I didn’t anticipate. Looking back now I know that I should have anticipated it. Five years ago I thought that this would be a feel-good vibe space to share and learn, but it became so much more. Over the years, women and non-binary people felt comfortable to tell me and my partner in crime Sarah Orton-Vipond things that we would never imagine could happen in our space. Hearing about toxic work environments, and thinking about how to deal with them, takes an emotional toll.
We shared these experiences as part of the Open Gender Monologues, some of which we took back to funders. For some of the cases, we are still waiting for a response while writing these lines, months after we raised them. Some of them sadly never became anything because the people who spoke to us were afraid to take action and risk the consequences, the system has power on them and doesn’t allow them to speak out. Who wants to lose their job?
Those experiences are the ones that are the most difficult. I am grateful that people chose to talk to me — but it is so frustrating that I don’t have the power to help them to bring their case forward.
Not everyone is the same though. Most of the cases I hear are from white women from the Global North — but we know there are more cases from women of colour and non-binary people, especially those in the Global South. It makes me question if we are doing enough to create an inclusive space, and how this focus on the Global North impacts the dynamics within Open Heroines.
But it’s also more than what I wrote above. It is about my personal actions too. Every time I call something online or in person my brain starts to run this dialogue:
Afraid me: Are you sure you want to do it?
Confident me: Yeah, why not?
Afraid me: Because you remember what a friend who is very connected in this space told you, right? No one wants to hire a person that is a troublemaker and hire the woman who speaks up about this stuff all the time.
Confident me: Well, but last time I called someone out about inappropriate behaviour nothing happened.
Afraid me: Well, you don’t know how many opportunities you lost…
Confident me: If you lost them, they were not right for you anyway.
Afraid me: And what about if people won’t like you after this?
Confident me: What about it? I am sure some people don’t like now sometime either
Afraid me: And if that man / organisation you are going to call out is going to come after you?
Confident me: I have not thought about it. But is silence better?
Afraid me: Probably not.
Confident me: So here we go again.
And it happens every single time. 9 out of 10 times that outcome is positive, but it’s this one time that can break me for days and will make me gasp for air. The other 9 times though keep me going.
When we speak, it makes a difference
“Each time a woman stands up for herself, without knowing it possibly, without claiming it, she stands up for all women.” Maya Angelou
So why do I keep doing this? First, because if I can help someone, or help to prevent this happening to someone else then there is a way forward. I am also doing this because I am part of a community, and I will have someone there to replenish my batteries and move forward. I am forever grateful for their support when I need them the most.
In the last five years, many people told us that our blogs helped them to see a new perspective. They helped others feel less alone. We are here to amplify more voices and ideas, for ourselves and our community.
So if you are an ally, how can you help, what can you do? Always support women or non-binary people to speak up, always believe them and most importantly don’t keep quiet. It is the sound of silence that make women think twice before coming forward — your retweets or support blogs can do a lot to make the whole community better.
Keep reflecting — and admit when we make mistakes
“The first problem for all of us, men and women, is not to learn, but to unlearn. We are filled with popular wisdom of several centuries just past, and we are terrified to give it up.” Gloria Steinham
I can be the most well intentioned intersectional feminist, but at the end of the day, I am a white, straight, cisgender woman from the Global North. Yes, there are some places where I don’t have privilege, but 90% of the time I pass as a white woman, and that comes with the responsibility to be more aware of my privileges.
However, sometimes I still fail in acknowledging them. Sometimes I don’t pay enough attention to subtle issues of topics or wording which I should be much clearer about and take the time to digest and write. Sometimes, I make mistakes too.
What this community taught me is that I need to acknowledge my mistakes publicly and ask for feedback or try to read about topics myself so I won’t create a burden on people. It taught me that asking questions is better than assuming. I learned to try and check out my privilege before I open my mouth. Still not there 100%, but being aware of that is the first step, no?
Community is not the same for everyone
“Without community, there is no liberation…but community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.” Audre Lorde
Community is a loaded word, and it means different things for different people. What I learned in these five years though, is that lurking can be as important as leading. Sometimes having space to read and absorb is also needed, so we don’t need to get frantic and see action as an impact.
However, we need to make sure everyone is feeling comfortable enough to get involved when they want to. We are a volunteer led community, so we don’t always have the resources to tend to our basic community needs. This is why we started our community research — to move things forward. I am very excited that we were awarded a grant from the Hewlett Foundation to financially support our first paid staff, and I hope that will help us to be more connected.
We are very excited about the near future! We are going to hire our first community coordinator to keep the community vibrant and with more activities based on the research we have done last year.
We also intend to start our toxic work environment programme that aims to create a bottom-up solution to this problem. We believe that by sharing the learning we can find tools to deal with the issue.
And if you got all the way here, a treat. This year I learned more about Data Feminism, but also about how to raise little girls to be feminist. Sometimes you can combine both.