Inspirational Woman Interview: Erin Bagwell
Erin Bagwell is a filmmaker and feminist blogger based in Brooklyn, New York. In 2013, she founded Feminist Wednesday, a feminist storytelling blog. In the summer of 2014 she launched a successful Kickstarter campaign, raising over $100,000 in funding to produce her first feature length film Dream, Girl, a documentary about the lives of female entrepreneurs representing a vast array of industries and backgrounds. She has been featured on Forbes, Vogue, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, and FOX Business and was named one of the top 100 millennial creatives by Levo League.
What is your background?
Erin Bagwell: I studied Digital Media Art at Canisius College. I moved to New York in 2010 and worked in the advertising industry for four and a half years before I embarked on the Dream, Girl journey in August 2014. I’ve been working full-time on the film for the past two and a half years.
You are the Director of Dream, Girl, a documentary about the lives of female entrepreneurs representing a vast array of industries and backgrounds. What encouraged you to direct Dream, Girl, and what has been its impact so far?
Erin Bagwell: I really wanted to see Dream, Girl get made because I was curious to hear women’s stories. I was very interested in business and worked freelance for the last ten years of my life. I think you have to be very entrepreneurial and I’m always looking for role models who can tell me how to grow my own business and how to think about life in a more business-centered way. When I was reading business books, I didn’t see many women involved at all. But then I started meeting women like Clara, Mariama and Komal in the film who were not only creating businesses but succeeding and thriving. I wanted to learn more and know more – it stemmed from a deep desire to know more about their lives.
What are some little-known facts about the current situation facing women entrepreneurs?
Erin Bagwell: I think women are starting 1200 business a day – a faster pace than any other sector of the economy. From a numbers perspective, it is so wonderful that women are starting more companies than ever before when until The Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1998, women couldn’t get a loan by themselves to open a bank account or start a business without a signature or a co-signer who was a male relative. On one hand, you have women who are crushing the workforce and getting out there and on the other hand you have this deeply entrenched gender history that has been holding us back. We are in an interesting time and I really wanted to capture those statistics and facts through the film.
You are the Founder of Feminist Wednesday, a 100% volunteer-run feminist online storytelling community. What inspired you to found Feminist Wednesday and what sets Feminist Wednesday apart from other blogs focused on women’s empowerment?
Erin Bagwell: I started Feminist Wednesday because I was sexually harassed at my job and I wanted to be seen in a different way. I think as women we tend to blame ourselves for the sexism we face and the things we experience, as we are conditioned to view these problems. I really wanted solutions and I really wanted to learn about other women’s experiences and to know that I wasn’t alone. Feminist Wednesday was a real cornerstone for me – for figuring out feminism and being engaged with others’ stories.
Something that sets Feminist Wednesday apart from other blogs is that we are not a news outlet; we don’t make commentary on pop culture events. We’re really here to bear witness to women’s storytelling experiences. Women from all over the world contribute to the content that we have, which makes it unique and special.
What, in your opinion, are the biggest problems about the media’s representation of women? Why do you think these problems arose?
Erin Bagwell: I just don’t think we have enough women who are making decisions about the way women are being portrayed. When you think about the advertising industry, about 3% of women are creative directors. So who is making the decision about what we’re wearing, how we’re acting or which roles we are playing? It’s men. When we don’t have control of the media, we create one-dimensional, shallow caricatures of women. We need more women creating, more women in charge of building products for women.
Can you talk about one woman who has impacted your life?
Erin Bagwell: My business partner Komal Minhas has been such an important influence in my life and work. She came on a year and a half ago because she knew that we had an amazing product and that we could give it to our audience in a crazy way. After she came on board, we started doing work distributing the film and sharing it with audiences. We are so unlike production companies in that we’re doing the full process to see have our audience see it. We have two other full time employees who we work with every day – outreaching to hosts, sharing the message of the film, which is a unique place to be. We wouldn’t be here if Komal hadn’t taken charge and said that she wanted to lead the distribution in the best way possible.
On a personal level, why is women’s empowerment important to you?
Erin Bagwell: I think it’s important to me because it’s my experience and it’s shaped so much about how I see the world. I heard a quote from somebody the other day about how there are so many mediocre stories about men in the media and they don’t see any stories about the women that they work with from day to day. I’m so blessed to be in New York City and I have so many networks of women and I’m constantly reminded by how fantastic my friends are. I think we have a real mission to be seen in the media and the work that we’re doing, and to have it impact the world globally. We created Dream, Girl because we knew that bringing forth these authentic, strong role models of women would be earth-shattering – which is sad because we’re supposed to be living in a very modern world but we’re not. There is so much work to be done and I personally feel motivated to keep working because it really fuels me.
What advice do you have for people interested in leveraging media platforms for social change?
Erin Bagwell: Do not be afraid to tell your story. Something that really works well for us is being very vocal about our process and being very transparent about our work; we are on Snapchat every day to show people what it’s like at the office. We’re shipping out Blu-Rays every day and packing them ourselves, we hand sign notes and are involved with every part of the process. Social media is such a great tool because it allows your audience to have a glimpse of the process; we’ve had 2000 Kickstarter supporters throughout the process and in a lot of ways they feel like they’re a part of this journey, which is an awesome place to be.
Are there books, movies and websites that are inspiring you right now about entrepreneurship, women’s empowerment and social impact?
Erin Bagwell: I love Feminist Wednesday; every Wednesday we publish new content about what women are up to and I think it’s a great place to get that ‘hump day’ inspiration. We also have a Dream, Girl Network, a Facebook Group where women entrepreneurs can share resources and opportunities. I love anything Elizabeth Gilbert does and Big Magic was a creative resource during our production process. The Big Leap is another great book about business – you learn where you are self-sabotaging and hindering your full potential. On our website’s Feminism 101 page, we also have some awesome resources, podcasts, and films that we really love too.