The Daily Muse: A new kind of women's magazine

Author's note: I was assigned to cover a start-up for class, and having just come off the heels of an interview with Hanna Rosin, was feeling very End-of-Men-y. Her thesis - that patriarchy is on the wane, at least in America - sure rings true when you're in the company of the women behind The Daily Muse. I'm not convinced that patriarchy is giving up without a fight, but as someone who finds mainstream women's magazines very problematic, it's great to see content that's geared towards getting women ahead, instead of making us feel fat or inadequate.  With Professional Women on the Rise, New Startup Hopes to Link its Readership with Hungry Employers

NEW YORK CITY – On a Friday evening at 5 pm, the elevator at 33 West 17th Street discharged half a dozen young women into an unseasonably warm New York City evening. On the ninth floor, Alexandra Cavoulacos and Kathryn Minshew, co-founders of the Daily Muse, were still huddled over a table in their bright white Silicon Alley office, documents in hand, preparing for a conference call.

Cavoulacos and Minshew, along with their co-founder Melissa McCreery, are banking on the idea that there are millions more women like the ones just spotted leaving work (whom they guessed worked for handbag designer Rebecca Minkoff, who has offices on the sixth floor) -- young, ambitious and tired of traditional women’s magazines offerings – and that companies recognize their potential.

The Daily Muse is an online magazine that provides content geared towards career-focused women. Minshew’s own experience as a consultant at McKinsey, which she joined after graduating from Duke University in 2008, inspired her to launch the Daily Muse. She realized very quickly that, as a woman, “the workplace experience was different.” Take mentoring, for instance. Minshew cited research showing that senior male executives are uncomfortable mentoring younger women because of concerns about appearances, which may leave women at a disadvantage.

“It’s hard to find a mentor if you work with a boss of a different gender,” she said. The Daily Muse offers the kind of career advice and feedback that ambitious young women like her need, often written by ambitious young women like herself.

“For me, the person who is most qualified to give advice to a recent law school grad who’s experience a law office for the first time is another recent law school grad, or a group of recent law school grads, who are one to five years older,” she said. “Some of our most powerful articles have been by women in their late 20s and early 30s saying ‘Here are the five mistakes I made in my most recent job, and how you can avoid making them too."

The site, which soft-launched in early September of this year, comes at an auspicious time for working women, who are infiltrating the workforce at an impressive clip. Bureau of Labor Statistics data show that 51.4% of managerial and professional jobs are now held by women, versus 26.1% in 1980. A May 2011 BLS report on women’s employment during the recovery noted that “women college graduates are likely to outnumber male college graduates in the near future.”

In addition to career advice, the site features contributions from some of the most successful women in their respective industries, such as a contribution to the “Letters to My Younger Self” column by media mogul Arianna Huffington (her tip: get more sleep.) While the first four categories on the home page are Career, Job Search, Entrepreneurship and Education, there are regular contributors on beauty, fashion, hobbies, and technology, among other topics.

Minshew and her colleagues are not the only ones hoping to target this demographic. In recent years, the mainstream media have caught on to their potential Forbes magazine launched ForbesWoman in 2009; the Wall Street Journal hosted a Women in the Economy conference in 2010; Bloomberg has scaled up its coverage of women in the past year; and the Financial Times has maintained a “Women at the Top” blog for professional women since 2009. More specialized sites like Vivanista, dedicated to women in philanthropy, and Ladies Who Launch, focused on women entrepreneurs, as well as more general career-oriented sites like the Levo League and Hello Ladies!, are all hoping for a piece of the pie.

Unlike most mainstream media sites, whose large audiences appeal to advertisers, Minshew does not plan to rely on advertising for revenue. Instead, the Daily Muse will offer services like headhunting, professional development courses and other networking opportunities.

“We’ve been approached by employers who are excited, who tell us ‘Oh my goodness, you’ve got this pool of incredibly qualified, ambitious women who want to read about how to be good managers, and good employees and good speakers. How can we hire them? How can we work with you to share our job opportunities with them?’” Minshew said.

“Beyond that, the workplace is becoming more skill-based and less industry-based,” she said, noting that women may have an advantage in a new economy that prioritizes excellent verbal and written communications skills over the physical brawn that once-dominant industries like construction and manufacturing required.

Pattie Simone, a serial entrepreneur and founder of WomenCentric.net, a platform for women professionals, said the crowded field is both a blessing and a curse.

“As more people realize the buying power and overall influence of more women in the workforce, as well as the explosion of women-founded entrepreneurial ventures, the more content providers there will be, vying for the same audience,” she said. She encouraged them to think about finding multiple revenue streams, citing Ladies Who Launch and the Women’s Leadership Exchange as two other sites that have done this successfully.

Sarah Granger, a writer and new media innovator and strategist, advises them to keep refining their voice and their offerings over the next few years, and also predicted a redesign of the site in that time-frame, which she said is normal for media-based startups. While they have “a unique collection of content for the target audience they selected,” she said, “They'll need to find a unique niche where they provide the best content or services in order to survive as a for-profit venture.”

The Daily Muse is currently self-funded, said co-founder and fellow McKinsey alum Alexandra Cavoulacos, but they hope to have their seed round of outside funding commitments finalized by the end of the year. In the two months since it’s been up, they have met their 30% month-on-month readership growth rate. They have already completed some revenue deals already, including helping an internet start-up fill a general manager position by announcing it to their readers and then filtering applications.

Jennifer L. Pozner, a media critic and founder and director of Women in Media and News (WIMN), applauded the Muse’s effort to seek alternative revenue streams.

“Advertisers are permeating our media content at a more extreme level than ever before,” she said. “Women deserve to be valued as media consumers, rather than simply traded for our eyeballs.”

Another easy-to-grasp equation, via Eve Ensler: No women, no future, duh.

When I was in high school, my godmother took me to see the Vagina Monologues, written and performed by Eve Ensler. I loved it. So much that I tried to work for Eve Ensler, and was given a job in the gift shop instead, which I worked at the weekends until I got vagina fatigue (they pipe the show into the gift shop and there's only so much repetition of the word "vagina" I could stand.) Ensler, whose V-Day organization has raised millions of dollars to fight violence against women around the world, has a bit of rape fatigue these days. She expounds on her rape fatigue this week in the Huffington Post.

I am over rape.

I am over rape culture, rape mentality, rape pages on Facebook.

I am over the thousands of people who signed those pages with their real names without shame.

I am over people demanding their right to rape pages, and calling it freedom of speech or justifying it as a joke.

I am over people not understanding that rape is not a joke and I am over being told I don't have a sense of humor, and women don't have a sense of humor, when most women I know (and I know a lot) are really fucking funny. We just don't think that uninvited penises up our anus, or our vagina is a laugh riot.

I was feeling the same way back in May of this year when, between the two NYPD rape cases, the DSK allegations, and the reports of mass rape in Libya, seemed to invite an official recognition of May as Rape Month.

It's November now, and I'm with Eve. I'm over rape.

2+2 = 4; Health Enables Returns

2+2 = 4

Health enables returns.

One of those equations probably looks familiar to you. The other one should be equally apparent: how well do you work when you're coughing, sneezing, or, in the case of some factory workers in Bangladesh, substituting fabric scraps steeped in toxic dyes for menstrual pads? None of those situations is a recipe for productivity, which is why BSR (Business for Social Responsibility) launched HERproject, or Health Enables Returns. I wrote about this initiative for Women in the World Foundation last week:

At four Primark garment factories in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the fabric scraps that lay on the cutting room floor were often repurposed on the sly. Female workers snatched them up and used them as improvised sanitary napkins, subsequently developing infections from the strong, toxic dyes and dirt present on the fabric. In addition to the pain and suffering they experienced, they were missing work. It was a phenomenon Racheal Yeager had seen throughout Asia.

Last year, Yeager, 29, arrived in Dhaka with a solution: HERproject, a yearlong factory-based health education program that works in partnership with local non-profit and medical service organizations, trains women to become peer educators and spread valuable information about basic hygiene and reproductive health care. The project, an initiative created by BSR, launched in 2007. It has so far reached approximately 100,000 women in more than 80 factories in eight countries in Asia and the Middle East HERproject counts as its participants some of the biggest names in the apparel and electronics industries, including Levi Strauss, Abercrombie and Fitch, J. Crew and HP, all of whom have a vested interest in ensuring their factories comply with international standards.

While there is no precise data available, women are thought to make up 60% to 80% of factory workers globally, a figure that can go even higher, depending on the country. Although most of the factories have clinics on-site, workers often arrive from rural villages, with little, if any, knowledge about preventing sickness, sexually transmitted diseases, or unwanted pregnancy. For these women, the biggest barrier to robust health is a lack of information. But with a demanding work schedule and little time off for school or doctor’s visits, there’s little opportunity for them to seek that information independently. HERproject brings it to the factory floor.

Read the full story, "Meeting Women Where They Are: Health Education on the Factory Floor," here.

Shoulder Pads Q & A with Bryce Covert

I saw Bryce Covert speak in March at the Women, Action and Media conference in New York City, when she spoke about being a financial reporter, something I may now be on my way to becoming. She was cheerful, articulate, thoughtful and encouraging. Since then, I've followed her excellent work on women in the economy in the Nation, GOOD, Alternet and other magazines and websites. Covert, 27, is now editor of the Roosevelt Institute's New Deal 2.0 blog, and has come out with some extremely keen analysis lately of how the economic crisis has affected American women. I spoke to her about her career, financial reporting, covering women's issues, and the end of secretaries. How did you wind up as a financial reporter? 

When I graduated, I went into teaching for two years.  I had this brilliant scheme to teach and write fiction at the same time, but it turns out that teachers don’t have free time, so the scheme didn’t play out so well.  After that I wanted to do something where I was writing every day, because if you want to write, you have to build it into your every day life.  I applied to a lot of entry-level jobs, in a whole host of areas.  A lot of the paying journalism jobs are in financial reporting, because there’s demand for insider knowledge.  I got a job at mergermarket – a completely entry-level job where half of it was data entry. But they promoted people very much based on merit, with little regard for age or seniority, so I moved up really quickly. I started in what must have been early 2008, so it was really interesting.  I came in just before Lehman Brothers, just before everything hit the fan.  Everything changed, so I thought, “I know as much as anyone.”

How did you satiate, shall we say, your feminism in that role? 

That was a struggle I had for a while. In the beginning there was such a steep learning curve that financial reporting was my whole life: I learned the skills of making sources, trading info, breaking news and things like that, that I hadn’t picked up anywhere else.  But when the learning curve leveled off, I needed to tend to the rest of myself. I volunteered with the Obama campaign because I’ve always been really interested in politics. At some point I started a blog.  I was full of ideas, but I didn’t have the bandwith to pitch everything every time, so it was a great place to put everything down.  I got on Twitter, and started connecting to people that way.  That helped a lot.  I ended up leaving mergermarket and getting a job at the Roosevelt Institute, where of all that political, feminist stuff is tended to in a very substantial way.

Although a number of think tanks are doing great work on these issues, I don’t see a lot of reporting that looks carefully, deeply and thoughtfully at the numbers about women and the economy. Am I looking in the wrong places?  Whose work do you follow?  

There’s Nancy Folbre, who blogs at The New York Times, and some people at Alternet, like Lauren Kelley.  I do think that it’s something of a bare space, and I think that comes from the separation that a lot of people have in their brains between economic and social issues, and between economics and feminism.  There’s this thought that economics is about these formulas, supply and demand, input and output, numbers, policies, and that those things are very separate from social issues, which are touchy-feely, emotional things, or activism.

I don’t think that line can really be drawn, because economics have social impacts and social issues have extremely important economic aspects. So that’s where I’ve decided to plant myself. There’s also a gender split – the field of economics tends to be very white, and very male, whereas writing about feminist issues is pretty much the purview of women.

From your work and the work some great policy think tanks, women – particularly in the U.S. – have it very, very bad, particularly at the lower ends of the economic spectrum.  At the same time, we’re hearing a lot about ‘investing in women.’  At a policy level, where do these facts and these rhetoric meet, and what do you think about this shift in rhetorical strategy?

The rhetoric is a good sign, because it’s better to have people talking about it than not.  In Obama’s jobs package, there’s a lot of recognition of jobs typically held by women, like teaching.  And they put out a fact sheet about how his policies affect owmen, which is awesome. That said, doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

But the “Girl Effect” phenomenon, this idea that if you invest in women, you’ll save the world, is troubling.  Now it’s on women in the developing world to invest in their communities and save them, and that seems a little bit fraught.  Now we’re supposed to invest in them because it’s “smart economics,” and it does seem to pay off economically, and it does seem to convince people.

Here’s the problem, though: even if it weren’t economical to invest in women, we should still be doing it.  Even if it’s not going to bring developing countries into the global economy, we should still do it.

Tell me about your current research at the Roosevelt Institute.

First we were examining the public sector data where a lot of jobs traditionally held by women were eliminated, and the numbers there made sense.  But when we looked at the private sector numbers by occupation, we found that a lot of administrative assistants have been laid off.  The recession has been an excuse to fire them and tell other people to do their work.  My boyfriend has the new iPhone 4S, which has Siri.  She -- or rather, the machine – will make calls for you, schedule things for you.  It’s the latest and most tangible iteration of how secretaries have been replaced by technology.

But when I spoke to someone at an association of administrative professionals, she noted that the women who do administrative assistant work are capable of a lot of functions that can’t be mechanized, like working with Excel or doing Powerpoint, which are still needed.  But they’re not being invested in, and that’s the real problem.  Theoretically some day this economy will turn around and companies will not have invested in your most important resource: their employees.

This woman deserves a job.

One of our earlier writing assignments in the course was to report on a specific group of people and how they are being affected by the recession.  The plight of female public sector employees was brought to my attention by the great work of Bryce Covert, with whom I will be doing an interview soon.  Through Working America, I was put in touch with Shonda Sneed, who was laid off two years ago and is still looking for full-time work while she looks after her dementia-afflicted mother.  She could have had a job as an engineer rebuilding Ohio's infrastructure.  But something went wrong. By Anna Louie Sussman

September 26, 2011, NEW YORK CITY -- One day in December of 2009, Shonda Sneed was laid off from her job as a computer-aided design operator after ten years with her company, unceremoniously escorted out of the building that same afternoon.

Sneed, 46, had worked as an engineer at various private firms in Ohio for over twenty years, and was making around $35,000. But she knew that another job would be hard to come by just a few months into the recovery, which officially began in June 2009.  Luckily, she thought, hope was just around the corner.  Ohio was slated to receive $400 million in federal stimulus money for a high-speed rail project linking Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Columbus, and she had seen at least a hundred related engineering jobs advertised on Monster.com.

“I thought, woo-hoo, I am going back to work!” she said.

But something happened on November 19th: Republican former Congressman John Kasich won Ohio’s gubernatorial race, and immediately announced his opposition to a high-speed rail line.  On December 9th, 2010, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that the federal government would be revoking the $400 million grant, sending that money instead to states such as California and Florida, which had gotten behind the rail project.  Sneed was shocked.

Since the recession began in 2007, state budgets have faced the largest budget shortfalls in history, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed in February of 2009, made $274 billion in federal contracts, grants and loans available to states and municipalities.  One of its chief stated aims was upgrading the country’s infrastructure, and Sneed was keen to do her part.  But when Kasich turned his nose up at $400 million in federal money, her job prospects dried up almost overnight.

Sneed had spent months staying up late and waking up early to get first dibs on newly posted jobs.  Overall, she estimated, she had applied to 75 of them.  They were slated to pay well, she recalls: around $20 to $25 an hour, plus benefits and the possibility to work over the long term, since the construction of any infrastructure she helped design could require her consultation going forward.  Several of the firms, impressed by her diverse engineering experience – she has worked as a civil, mechanical, electrical, and architectural engineer, and is highly proficient in the three-dimensional imaging software AutoCAD – told her that as soon as their contracts were secured, they would give her a call.

“When he turned it down,” she said, “the jobs went away, the hope went away.”

As the ARRA funding dries up, states and municipalities can expect further public sector layoffs.  To date, these public sector job losses have disproportionately hit women, who made up 57.2% of the public sector workforce at the end of the recession, but who have lost 72.3% of public sector jobs - 430,000 of them - since the recovery began in June 2009, according to data from the National Women’s Law Center.  Women are overrepresented in education and health care, two areas hit hard by cost-cutting measures.

“The loss of women’s jobs is very much related to cutbacks in government spending,” said Joan Entmacher, Vice President and Director of Family Economic Security at the National Women’s Law Center. “The states are cutting back as ARRA investments expire.  They have budget crises and aren’t getting help.”

Sneed, who was born in Dayton and lives in the suburb of Yellow Springs, had never worked in the public sector before.  But after a year of un- and under-employment, she felt it was her last hope.  While the private sector added 1.23 million jobs during the recovery, only 85,000 of them - one in 15 - went to a woman, according to the NCLW.

In the past, Sneed, said, she had never gone more than a month without a job.  She’d look for two or three weeks, and by the third week, “you’d have three or four” offers. But this prolonged under-employment has robbed her, a single woman who cares for her elderly dementia-ridden mother, of the few so-called “luxuries” she once enjoyed.  She no longer goes to McDonald’s every now and then.  She skips $300 shots she used to get for her asthma.   And when her car broke down last winter, she walked everywhere. Once a month, someone drove her outside of town do her grocery shopping.”

“You’re at the mercy of other people,” she said, her voice choking up.  “I swallowed my pride, because it’s not for me.  It’s for my mom.”

Thanks to lobbying efforts by the NCLW and a coalition of other women’s groups, the jobs bill that President Obama announced earlier this month does include some spending that will serve to protect women’s jobs, such as $30 billion to keep teachers on the payrolls, and targeted funding to train and provide jobs for women in construction and infrastructure.  But it’s unclear what chance the bill has of passing.  Republicans have already spoken out against its proposal to increase taxes on wealthier Americans.

Sneed has found temporary work organizing on behalf of S.B. 5, the Ohio Senate Bill protecting the right of collective bargaining, but it will end in November.  After that, she’ll pick up the job search again.

“I won’t give up,” she said. “I have to work.”

As someone who has until recently been working since she graduated high school, she deeply resents the notion that she and other jobless people are laying back, living off the dole.

“I’m not asking for a handout,” she said.  “All I’m asking for is the right to work in a safe place.  I can do the rest myself.”




The Laughing Monster

Despite the fact that I have a blog, and broadcast my thoughts to the internet every now and then, I’m actually a pretty private person.  My first instinct wouldn’t be to blow someone up or shout her or him out for doing something lame, if said person was a private citizen (public figures, by contrast, are fair game).  But on Sunday night I encountered one of the biggest assclowns I’ve ever met.  He is so assclown-y, in fact, that I would like the whole world to know. I was enjoying a convivial farewell dinner in London with a group of five vivacious, accomplished women writers and journalists at St. John’s Bread and Wine.  The entire night was wonderful, and I laughed the whole time.  At one point, talk turned to pregnancy, and the two pregnant women in the group had one of the more honest and hilarious conversations I’ve ever heard, prompting more uproarious laughter from my end.  Around twenty minutes later, a business card slid near my elbow.  I looked up to see the messenger, a tall man in his 50s sporting a bushy take on the Hitler ‘stache.

He neither winked, smiled, nor licked his lips like LL Cool J, so it didn’t feel much like a come on (note to men: slipping women your cards generally fails, anyway).   In fact, he rather glared at me.  I turned over the card to find this charming, charming message:

Note: this reads "Madame, You are a MONSTER, a laughing monster, very primitive!  I fear my ears are destroyed. W. W."

Now, here is a lesson for anyone who thinks they can silence a laughing woman such as myself with a hyperbolic 18th-century putdown scribbled on a card: YOU MUST BE STUPID.  THIS IS ONLY GOING TO MAKE ME LAUGH HARDER.  ONLY NOW AT YOU.  So, laugh we did, and all six of us were laughing directly at him.

Happy ending: I ignored his glares till he left the restaurant, and the waiter, who was horrified at his behavior, gave me a compensation bag filled with baked goods.

Suggested pro-loud-woman activism:  Tweet a link or a joke of something funny today (and every day – why not?), with the hashtag #laughingmonster.  Make yourself laugh, make your friends laugh, make me laugh.  Or, send this guy an mp3 or .wav file of your laugh!  Remind him that women are not just to be seen, but heard, too.