Social Change

Lillie is a rising Senior and she is interning at Third Wave Foundation. Third Wave is a feminist foundation that provides funds for grassroots organizations with a focus on women’s and transgender issues.

One of our major topics of discussion for this week was how money will shape our involvement in social change. This is kind of scary for me to think about, especially considering my almost-complete obliviousness when it comes to personal finances. I am very blessed to have had a comfortable lifestyle growing up. I was lucky to not even have to really think about money very much, and I think this has lead, in part, to an embarrassing lack of knowledge about basic information relating to money—like, how much money is enough for one person to live on? What would a “comfortable” salary be? How much does it cost to live in a house with utilities, internet, etc.? An apartment? And how much should one budget for groceries, restaurants, clothing, and other needs and wants? (any suggested reading or general advice about how you, readers, figured these things out as a young adult are welcome!)

Because of my almost complete lack of knowledge about these things, it was hard for me to realistically answer the question, “how will money shape your involvement in social change.” After reflecting on some aspects of life that are important to me, I have come to the tentative conclusion that I do not think I could be involved in the women’s movement by working at a feminist non-profit and also live the life that I want to (unless I were married, maybe). Some aspects of my life that are important to me include having at least two children, traveling widely, and living a in a city (which, I’m learning, can be quite expensive!).

While I don’t exactly know what the common salary is at a non-profit, and I’m sure it varies, I have a feeling that it isn’t enough to cover all of the things I want to do. However, I am learning through the Moxie Project that, just because I can’t work directly at a feminist non-profit, doesn’t mean I can’t be involved in the women’s movement and social change. Two alternative forms of involvement that come to mind include philanthropy and fundraising. If I am able to create a lifestyle like the one I’ve grown up with, I definitely plan to give money to organizations like Third Wave Foundation.

One thing I’ve learned while being at Third Wave is that anyone can be a philanthropist, even before achieving a high-level, well-paid job. Prior to working at Third Wave, when I thought of philanthropists, a vision of older, wealthy, white people came to mind. I also imagined fundraising events to entail wealthy people inviting their similarly-wealthy friends to fancy cocktail parties at their expensive homes and encouraging attendees to donate to the organization being honored that particular night. Learning about Third Wave’s donor base has taught me that, even though the model I just described is still valuable and important for many organizations, philanthropy and fundraising can include a much wider variety of people and events.

To use myself as an example, I have definitely been known to spend too much money on designer jeans. Even though I do not consider myself to be incredibly wealthy, if I am okay with spending close to $200 on jeans, I can definitely spare some of my allowance and income for a feminist organization’s cause. When I enter post-college life next year, as long as I make enough money to be relatively comfortable living on my own, I will make philanthropy a priority in my life. I can also see myself emulating some of the more accessible styles of fundraising that Third Wave has demonstrated to me. This can include inviting younger people to an event with donated drinks and hors d’oeuvres, educating them about the organization the event is for, and asking them to each give $10-20. In addition to allowing me to continue to be involved in the women’s movement in a way that makes sense for my life, I believe that an event as simple as the one described can also spread awareness, empower others to view themselves as philanthropists, and ultimately build a movement.

I realize that the plans I just described all require me to have a secure, decently paying job, which is still pretty up in the air. Moreover, thinking about alternative ways to stay involved in the movement still makes me question if simply giving money and educating others is enough involvement. At this point, I can’t shake the guilty feeling I get when I think about working outside of the women’s movement. How does one reconcile wanting to lead a “comfortable” lifestyle with the pressure to work directly within the feminist movement? The Moxie Project has also started to make me see underlying systems that perpetuate gender oppression and other forms of oppression—is simply giving money enough, even as it becomes clear to me that money cannot address some of the larger struggles we are facing?

6 thoughts on “Social Change

  1. To my mind–there are many movements and many issues. What about: childhood slavery and abuse? the environmental movement? humane treatment of animals? migrant farm workers? The list is endless. At some level, if we all lived by our highest ideals–with no negative impacts on others or the environment–we would be consigned to a cave or overwhelmed by the enormity of the tasks of trying to change everything. How to balance the inherent hypocrisy of being human with the drive to try to make change where possible is a life long journey.

  2. First, I’ll respond to your practical question about learning how to budget for independent living. Like you, I never thought about how much money was needed to live. I learned quickly upon graduation when I entered a doctoral progam with an small stipend on which to live. Once I knew my earnings, I figured out what I could afford (budgeting in reverse). A helpful strategy when you don’t have a job that pays what you think you need to survive.

    Next, the decision to work in or for a movement can be hard to make. Sadly, most non profits need more funds. Fund raising (in the form of cash or in kind donations) frequently provides much needed support for an organization to carry out its mission. However, to have a larger impact on an issue important to you, other forms of advocacy are also beneficial (e.g., political activism). If you decide to work for a movement, figuring out whether to support an organization, an issue, or both will direct your energy.

    As an example, I helped my 11 year old daughter start a club at her school to promote girls’ education in the developing world through a non profit organization. The girls in this club develop (then promote) awareness about girls’ limited access to education, learn about other cultures, meet girls at a specific school in a far away land (by letter writing and skype), and fund raise to help them get more resources for their school. In this way, they are working for a cause in several different capacities.

  3. I appreciate your honesty in thinking about whether work at a non-profit can support the lifestyle that’s important you. I was also pretty clueless about personal finances and the value of money (I’d encourage you to work with someone who can help you save early!), but I faced a similar choice out of law school. The right decision for me was to take a higher paying job in the private sector at a place that allowed and encouraged me to devote time to pro bono work, in addition to trying to be generous financially in the ways you described. I often still feel that I should be doing more or giving more, but overall I know I’m in the right place in terms of being able to live comfortably and make choices. I’d encourage you to go with your gut in terms of what salary level feels right to you, but continue to be guided by your commitment to gender issues and look for ways to contribute, even if you have to put a little more effort to find or create ways to be involved.

  4. You might find it interesting and inspiring to read the article on Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook in the July 11-18 issue of The New Yorker. There are many ways to be a feminist, including living by example in whatever field you choose and being a mentor to other women on their way up, public writing and speaking, and donating your time and/or money to promote women’s advancement and equality. If all women devoted all their time to working at non-profit women’s organizations, women would be dependent on the male “doers”, earners and decision-makers to make the change in the world that pro-woman women want to see. “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Enabled, educated and yes even privileged women who spend $200 on designer jeans can use their education, privilege and opportunity to be the “doers”, earners and decision-makers that facilitate actualizing women’s equality and empowerment both by example (showing it can be done and showing other women how to do it) and by enactment (exercising decision making power to create the change).

  5. Hi Everyone,

    Thank you so much for your comments! I’m sorry it’s taken me awhile to respond, but please know that I really appreciate the ideas and opinions you all offer in your comments. I have been doing an pretty good job of budgeting my DukeEngage money and allowance this summer, so I think that’s a step in the right direction in terms of personal finances! As for the questions about navigating the pressure to work in the women’s movement and the lifestyle I hope to have, some of your comments reminded me of a great interview from the blog “Where is your line?” The interview is with Latoya Peterson, of the blog “Racialicious.” When asked what advice she would give young feminists today, she said,

    “Do something else besides feminism. I’m serious. The feminist blogosphere is oversaturated in my opinion. Please, find something else you love and take feminist theory there…We need more feminist minded business bloggers, feminist theory wielding finance bloggers. Labor organizers with a feminist lens blogging. Can you imagine what Deadspin (the sports blog) would look like with a feminist on staff?…Whatever it is, apply your feminism in a different space. ”

    I know she is talking about feminist blogging specifically, but I think her idea can be broadened to apply to the feminist movement in general. Like some of you suggested, maybe the most important thing I can do is bring my feminism to another (probably more mainstream) job sector that I am passionate about and change the culture there.

    -Lillie

    ps: if you want to read the whole interview with Latoya Peterson, visit this link! http://whereisyourline.org/2011/04/badass-activist-friday-presents-latoya-peterson-of-racialicious/

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