When I first heard a Barbie movie was coming, I groaned. As a woman, don’t we already have so many impossible things to do in the world? Becoming Barbie seemed like another.

And then I saw that Greta Gerwig was directing and producing it. I admired her work and was curious how Gerwig would make Barbie empowering. I marked the release date on my calendar-July 2023.

. . .

Two weeks after its premier, my friend Maria and I plopped into our seats near the front (because the theater was almost sold out even two weeks in), and a seven year-old girl next to us in pink heart-shaped, glittery  sunglasses greeted us, “Hello, Barbies!”

I smiled. This movie felt different. A place that every night is girls’ night, every position of power is held by a woman, and Weird Barbie saves the day. A safe place to be a girl (and woman).

Barbie showed us what life could be like if the world was safe for women.

Equality Day was August 26th. I wondered, “What do we really need to get to equality?” In my ten years as president of Academy for Women’s Empowerment and almost fifty-three years of being a woman, I find that busting the Double Bind could get us to equality.

What’s a Double Bind? Gloria’s viral monologue from Barbie was all about the Double Bind. “You have to have money, but you can’t ask for money because that’s crass. You have to be a boss, but you can’t be mean. You have to lead, but you can’t squash other people’s ideas. You have to answer for men’s bad behavior, which is insane, but if you point that out, you’re accused of complaining. Being a woman is impossible.”

This is my MOXIEmoment.  Being a woman is impossible-but doing it anyway. Founding and being president of a business that is focused on the experience of women at times feels impossible, but Academy for Women’s Empowerment (AWE) turns ten next month. And we’re doing it anyway.

Double binds. What double binds has AWE busted the past decade? Here are our top three.

  1. You’re not ready; you’re too ready. This is the double bind that almost stopped AWE from existence. After seeing students and friends shrink for years, a powerful workshop in May 2013, and a focus group in June 2013, I told the world (or at least my girlfriends from Leadership Academy) that I would launch a business in eight weeks-September 2013. I had no set curriculum, no students signed up, no space secured, and didn’t even have a business name, but I knew there was a need, and I knew I was ready enough to do it.

Their response, “Hemmer, you’re not ready. Wait until next semester.”  I pushed back and told them I was going to do it anyway. Their advice was to call our friend who was a serial entrepreneur and take a business course. When I called my friend HE said, “If you’re not embarrassed by your launch, you waited too long.”

Ten years later, thousands of lives changed, a book, a poWercourse, and a life of traveling the globe to make the world safer and equitable for women, I busted that double bind. I was just ready enough.

Looking back, I see that even though my girlfriends believed I could do it (that’s why they showed up for me), they were afraid I would fail-and it would hurt. Did I fail? Not at my launch. I had six women, a beautiful space, and a course called “Putting the W in poWer” that I still use today.

Have I failed along the way? Of course. Did it hurt? Sometimes. And sometimes, it’s been rewarding, because my next idea or talk or story couldn’t be that good without that failure. As a social entrepreneur, I’ve learned you can’t be impactful without failing. And as I tell the collegiate female athletes I work with, “If you’re not failing, you’re not trying your best.”

MOXIEchallenge: What fear of failure is holding you back from being your powerful beyond measure self? What fear of yours is holding somebody you care about from their possible?

  1. Public benefit corporation. “I love your non-profit!” As a social problem-solving business, people get confused about AWE’s business model a lot. Because AWE exists to do good, they think we’re a non-profit.

AWE is a corporation-technically an S-corp. I intentionally did not want AWE to be a non-profit because of my experiences volunteering with non-profits in my twenties: a court advocate for two years, mentor of a “juvenile delinquent” for four years, and intern at a domestic violence center for one year. In my work, my supervisor for each role changed several times, because the time, money, and expectations were impossible. And you guessed it, they were all women. Being a woman is impossible.

AWE is a public benefit corporation in Minnesota, which means we have a double bottom line: people and then profits. I’m all about how many lives we can change, and then how much money we can make to change even more lives. Men get it. When I tell women AWE’s revenue model is to be sustainable and make more change with profits, they get whiplash from jerking so violently away from me and my social business. Repulsed.

And then depending on who I’m talking to, I’ll share, “You’re ok with spending lots of money for no social value for a white chocolate mocha, new black yoga pants, or ________________. AWE is focused on solving the social problem of an unsafe and inequitable world for women. We charge market prices for our valuable changemaking talks, coaching, courses, and events, so we can keep putting women in power. Because the research shows that when women lead, the world is a safer and more equitable place for everybody. What do you think about that?”

This conversation has changed how women have sponsored, “given back,” and even influenced their own businesses. To me, non-profits aren’t bad or wrong. In fact, their work adds so much social value, the people doing the work need to be paid their market value. Not a reduced rate because they’re doing good.

As Gloria says in her Barbie monologue, “Never forget the system is rigged.”

MOXIEchallenge: What antiquated mindset or system do you need to disrupt? Who can help you?

  1. Barbie. She looks like the impossible woman. In fact, I used to read articles about how Barbie couldn’t stand or exist with her original body measurements. She is physically impossible. And how many of us women are naturally blond with blue eyes as an adult in America? Not very many. Barbie did not represent me.

I purposely didn’t buy my niece a Barbie doll, because even though she was blond and blue eyed growing up, I didn’t want her to be a Barbie girl. I wanted her to be empowered. To be herself. Not a doll that was sexualized, objectified, and impossible to be.

But I was wrong. As Barbie shows in its opening scene, Barbie was revolutionary for girls who at one time only had baby dolls to play with growing up. Girls were socialized to only be a mother and caretaker-not a career woman. Today, Barbie has had over 200 careers.

Barbie has been intentional about diversity. African American dolls have been in circulation since 1967 inspired and in support of the Civil Rights Movement; today Barbies come in several body types and skin tones wearing hijabs and with wheelchairs.

And my favorite-Barbie uses her platform to address difficult topics like depression and the “dream gap”-a phenomenon where girls begin to doubt their competence from the age of six. “Barbie has been working to close the gap that comes between girls and their full potential.” Just like AWE.

And like me, Barbie never married. Intentionally.

It’s true, Barbie can be anything.

MOXIEchallenge: Like me, where do you need to give Barbie a second chance? And where else in your world do you need to give second chances on first impressions?

Being a woman is impossible. Doing it anyway is the ultimate double bind. How will you bust the ultimate double bind?  Comment below! 

Now, go watch Barbie and MOXIEon! Kristi

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