The Angels & Witches HERstory

It has been long overdue. I have been so busy trying to find a solution to the space problem that I have lost track of what this blog was set up for in the first place: to document the story of Angels & Witches. And so the other day, when I was having a conversation with a new friend about the project, I realised that there was nowhere on the blog that I could point them to that would give them the best idea of how the project was born – its own herstory. Obviously, there are bits and pieces all over this blog, but thought that perhaps it was about time to make a more coherent whole out of it all!

The path has been twisted, with unexpected turns all along the way, but all the while Angels & Witches has stayed true to its roots.

It all started in the fall of 2015. Corporate life has never really been on my dream list and never felt quite like my place, but around that time it has started turning into a bit of a nightmare. One day, the new bosses of the company that acquired my previous employer 6 months earlier, came in and decided that it would be a good idea if my whole team was to compete against each other for our own jobs! That was the beginning of the end of my time in the corporate world, and a start of something completely different – Angels & Witches! Although, at the time, I was yet to realise that.

That night, I went home to tell my mother about what happened and her response turned the dreadful day into the best thing that ever happened to me. ‘Quit! And let’s do something together!’ – she said, simply, as if this was the moment she’d been waiting for all along.

From that day, nothing has quite been the same. I did go back to the office the next day – to hand in my resignation. My bosses were not pleased to say the least. My manager say in his chair, speechless, for about a minute after I dropped the news. The whole horrid process they invented was for the purpose of finding the ‘weakest link’ in the team. I was not it, as it turned out. My job was never really at risk. But that was beside the point for me at that stage. The whole process was for me the final straw I needed to realise that corporate life was not for me at all. And the world of possibilities that opened in front of me the day before, could no longer be shut.

I had never felt so happy. I didn’t know EXACTLY what I wanted to do just yet. The whole idea of setting up my own business was completely new to me. But the feeling of having freed myself from the corporate chains was amazing, and the realisation that there was an open path of opportunity ahead turned me into a completely different person. I’d never felt freedom and drive like that before.

It’s like a whole new dimension of life opened up right in front of me. I had never thought about running my own business up to that point. Feminism was something I did in my free time. For free. All the time. But it did not really occur to me that it could be something that I could do full-time – I never thought about it that way. I mean who would pay me for that, right?!

The thought of opening a business of my own was foreign to me until then. Let alone a feminist one! It seemed an unspoken ‘truth’ that feminism was something that had to be done in one’s spare time, as there was no money in it. It wasn’t until I started thinking about the idea of starting up a business that gradually it occurred to me that it HAD to be a feminist one. And how the hell are we supposed to ever get gender equality if all feminist work is to be free?!

Initially we simply started talking about a café or a teashop, with a yoga/natural therapy space in the back. The feminist part came to me a bit later. It was a bit of a revelation. I started going round more and more cafés, and talking to friends about the idea – doing research for my business – and I realised that all the cafés that I loved had something truly unique about them. And there was nothing I was more passionate about than feminism. What could be more unique coming from me than a combination of coffee and feminism – two of my favourite things? And all of a sudden, once I had that realisation, it seemed like the only reasonable choice for me! It HAD to be a feminist café!

And from there, all things started falling into place. I had a million ideas: it would be everything from feminist music to… feminist books and I was getting new inspiration for the kinds of events that could be run there nearly everyday!

My mom and I have been into experimenting with cooking since I became vegetarian, and so the choice of food never really seemed like a question. Apart from one: vegetarian or vegan? To start with, I was leaning more towards the former, but it quickly became apparent that it not being fully vegan might keep some feminists away. And so vegan it is. And that just turned out to be further excuse to experiment with our cooking!

And now we finally come to the name inspiration question – which is probably the most intriguing question to most people I’ve spoken to about the café. Why Angels & Witches? To be completely honest, it was a compromise of sorts. ‘Of sorts’ because when I did think about it, it actually seemed kind of perfect!

My mother was always more into the idea of angels than me – guardians, good spirits, all kinds of ‘positive’ influences of the spiritual world, which has always been close to her heart. Me, on the other hand, I had just gone through a bit of an obsessional phase with Gerda Lerner, who’s the feminist who introduced women’s history into Academia in the US. Which does bring us to the witches part. Just give me a minute, ok? A short Gerda Lerner introduction is much needed here.

According to Lerner, women’s history is not a 100, but more like 700 years old. And this was the theory that sparked my interest in witches. Is it possible that witches were the first feminists, and that their covens were the first women’s groups? Witches were not solely women, you might say. Yes, but throughout history there have always been some men who did not quite get patriarchy and supported women in our struggle.

Further, according to Lerner’s theory of where patriarchy stems from, the division between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ women is one of the key pillars of the system of patriarchal oppression, and women pitted against each other in constant battle for societal approval – one of the biggest impediments to women’s liberation.

Hence, ‘Angels & Witches’ – the coming together of the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ in what is, to my mind, a truer reflection of what we all are: complex human beings. The simplification of women as either or has served to divide women and uphold patriarchal structures throughout centuries. It still rings true of some contemporary societal scenarios. Thanks to our feminist foremothers, some of those stereotypes have already been shattered. We’ve started to see women as more multi-dimensional human beings, as more human, at last… But the struggle is far from over. Angels & Witches aims to support it by creating a space to further bust harmful preconceptions.

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Towards a feminist definition of success

brooke-lark-194253.jpgThe other day, I’ve had a really odd phone conversation with a recruiter. He was trying to convince me that I should quit my job – that I just got 6 days earlier, because it wasn’t a responsible job to have, career-wise. Fair enough, you might say, he’s a recruiter, that’s his job. But it might seem just a little bit more odd to you if I told you that the job that we were talking about was sort of a feminist dream job. No, not to his mind, apparently. But to my mind a million times better than what he was offering. I’ve never really been a massive fan of the 9-5 but, since I’m a feminist, and after I’ve had my first feminist job, I started looking at all office work as a bit of a waste of time, to be honest.

I mean, I get it, we all need to work in one form or another, and that’s why I turned to the recruitment agency in the first place – they were offering a well paid job, and at a company that didn’t particularly resemble a soulless corporate giant. I guess it could definitely be worse. But having had a taste of what a feminist job looks like, I just couldn’t imagine doing anything but.

The company trying to recruit me was a professional market research company – an area that I have been in most of my professional life and so it seemed obvious, to his mind at least, that it was the job I SHOULD have been dreaming of – a ‘proper’ career development steps, whatever that means. But I just cannot. I cannot imagine – let alone dream of – spending 40 hours each week on work that mostly just makes me miserable, because all I can think of 39/40 of those hours, most weeks, is what amazing things I would be able to do if I spent all this time doing feminist work.

I cannot help it – I am a feminist and once I had a taste of a feminist job, I didn’t feel like going back to my old life of a boring 9-5, in an office full of people that I had nothing in common with, apart from the dislike of said 9-5.

Yes, my feminist job doesn’t pay much. Fact. It is not a full-time job, and therefore it only allows me to pay my rent and basic expenses. Fact. No, it is not a perfect job – it does have its ups and downs, just like any other jobs. Fact. But the ups, in this case, include being able to save a feminist space for future generations of girls and women. And so the downs quickly fade away, if you think about the incredible impact you’re making. I don’t know many ‘proper’ career paths that give a similar sense satisfaction.

What is also true about it is that it allows me to do this tiny little thing every day that not many ‘proper’ jobs do – help bring a world that is better for women just one step closer. Even if it might only be a small step. It allows me to do what I love, what I’m really passionate about, and it gives me the flexibility to also pursue my other interests at the same time. Not many people can say that about their jobs. I consider myself lucky. Most people I know from my last office job barely had time for anything apart from work, family and shopping. That was it for them.

I can’t live like that. And I shouldn’t have to apologise for it. And yet, because we live in capitalist patriarchy, I have this guy, a stranger I must add, on the other end of the phone making me feel like I’m crazy for not wanting a ‘proper’ job, a boring 9-5 that would make me mind-numb within a short few months, if not weeks, instead of a job that I’m passionate about that also gives me the freedom I need to pursue my other dreams at the same time, like the café and my writing.

But what is really bizarre about this whole story is not where this guy was coming from in the first place – this idea that I would be better off with a career-wise job – but just how hell-bent he was on convincing me that my dreams and convictions shouldn’t really ‘cloud’ my judgement when it came to career choice… The thing is, I don’t feel clouded at all. My vision has never been so clear. I want a job that gives me a deep sense of satisfaction, rather than a lot of money and prestige in the business world. I have no desire to become a CEO of a corporation. I want to be able to do something that I love, while keeping my independence and options open.

I was forced to look for work again, as the search for a space for the feminist café took longer than expected. But should that mean that I have to get back to my old life that was not me, that made me feel like I was wasting a large proportion of my life on earth doing non-feminist work, and getting progressively more and more frustrated? I don’t think so. Not if I can avoid it!

We need a new definition of success. One that does not start in the business world and finish at FTSE 100. One that stretches beyond what is simply good for the economy, and includes that which is good for people. One that includes feminist visions of society, work and success.

 

Photo credit Brooke Lark