Women founders star in New Zealand take on viral ‘Be a lady, they said’ video
After watching the Be a lady, they said video that went viral across the internet, Powered By Flossie founder Jenene Crossan was so moved, she wanted to pay homage to it in a New Zealand business context, with women founders. She collaborated with Claire Chitham, actor and director, and Flying Fish to take a look at the impossible standards women in business are held to. Released in time for International Women’s Day, the video is called ‘We want women, they said’ and details the ways women are harassed in the corporate world about capital raising, what they wear to meetings, their personal lives and more. Women involved include Lisa King, Iyia Liu, Donielle Brooke, Hilary Barry and Kathryn Wilson. Here, Crossan explains how the concept came about.
I horripilated when I first heard Cynthia Nixon’s, “Be A Lady”. I leaned out. There was shame in those two brutal minutes of women’s realities; watching the horror story of our existence, in spite of my pride at such stark truth being slayed. The guilt attached to falling for the gas lighting, the lies, the psychological warfare and manipulation. It made me feel….tired.
But behind that tiredness was indignance. A great big “fuck you” came from deep within, alongside the realisation that this needs to STOP. RIGHT. NOW.
Just this last week, I realised, someone who I respect immensely said to me, “I can’t work out what happened to you to make you so defensive”, after having issued a thirty minute take down of my business and my failures as a founder. A continuation of fast paced slights, one after the other, offered up and dressed as advice; a cracking paced volley of “you should”, “why aren’t you” and “haven’t you”, pushed in such a manner that the receiver could not come out of this exchange looking anything other than on the backfoot.
There was no curiosity, no genuine question-asking allowing time for actual intelligent or well worded answers. As I spluttered responses, there was no strategic input, simply an exchange designed to prove the dominance and intellect of the prophet. A frustrated man, exasperated by the woman who clearly doesn’t listen. An exasperated woman, frustrated by a man who has been conditioned to believe this is how you “help”. Toughen her up, he thinks — it’s a dog eat dog world out there.
As well as this particularly difficult exchange, this week also saw me sitting in front of a large group of teenage girls for a mentoring programme (The Girls Network via The Wing). Shyly they asked what they could do to improve their personal chances of success. My advice would have differed somewhat to what perhaps “more traditional business people” might have told them. I told them to be kind. That the universe looks out for those who look out for each other. That each time they learn something, especially if it’s the hard way, that they should share that knowledge and pull others up with them (and yes, not in a condescending way). That their experience and education, whilst important components, will never take them as far as being willing to turn up with a great attitude, ask questions, be curious and present.
The advantage of living 18,500 kilometres away from my family is that I get a lot of thinking time. It’s forced me to be better “self company”, to make smarter choices for my own well being and personal growth. Those lessons are shaping my future, but also hopefully, others. I am driven to pull up. To say yes. To offer my time. But most importantly, to listen. It’s entirely selfish of me, it’s survival, it’s how I avoid isolation. And my reward is breath-taking, I get a kick out of seeing people light up when they feel heard and seen.
And so, reflecting on this week — which actually wasn’t so different from many other weeks — the idea sprung to help spread this word of a “better way” Inspired by Cynthia Nixon’s interpretation of Camille Rainville’s poem, I took fingers to keyboard and hashed out my version of “Be a Lady”, but with fellow female founders in mind. My first iteration was much starker, rawer and included references to far more hard hitting, dumpster-fire questions I’ve been asked, such as “have you slept with your co-founder”. I then asked my network, via Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin to contribute and their responses which were so outrageous that they would produce new hairs on your diligently plucked chin. The conversations were taken offline; direct messages became confession booths of others’ sins, but clearly owned and worn with a mix of both anger and shame. Even when indignant and mad, women can’t help but try and offer up how they went wrong. It’s what we do. What could have WE have done better? Why didn’t I see that coming? How could I have avoided that situation? Conditioned to be the fixer of all things.
I tossed and turned on whether to proceed down this path. Biting the hand that feeds you, as the new girl in town, is clearly a bold, “ballsy” move — but, I’d rather you know that I’ve got a vagina and that I’m unafraid of being known for not trying to conceal it. I have no doubt I would have been burnt at the stake.
But most of all, it’s YOU who I want to work with. YOU who reads this and shouts out, “YASSS QUEEN” in her seat, or smiles and thinks to himself, “I want my daughter to grow up in a better business world, with more equality and opportunity to be her real and true self”.
I am a deeply proud New Zealander, and I am an incredibly grateful new Londoner. I’ve been afforded the opportunity to get up every day and innovate. Backed by people of all genders, races, classes and sexuality, who have each seen that quality and spirit and encouraged me to be creative and unique, to push boundaries, to try new things on for size. To do it differently, with transparency and vulnerability.
This International Women’s Day, I want you to not simply offer up diversity as a marketing strapline, but truly consider how you’re engaging. I ask YOU to lean in.
Script (shortened for video):
We want women, they said. Don’t be weak. Don’t be too strong. Lean in. Lean out. Don’t act small. Don’t take up so much space. Shouldn’t it be on merit? Reach out. Network. Get introduced, but not by her, or her, or her. By him. Don’t know him? Too bad, maybe you didn’t go to the right school. Why are you promoting yourself? Don’t be too confident. You’re difficult, nobody likes a difficult woman.
We want women, they said. Raise more money. You’re not aggressive enough. Whoa! Settle down! You should relax. You have too many shareholders, you know. Not enough people are backing you. You’re too diluted. You’re not ambitious enough.
Don’t smile. It undermines your authority. Are you flirting? People respect you professionally, but they just don’t like you. Work on that. Join this. Maybe don’t contribute to this conversation, we’ll let you know when. You intimidate men. Stop being so defensive.
We want women, they said. Don’t have kids. Don’t leave it too long. But not now! What about the business? Aren’t you too old for a start-up? Don’t talk about your kids, it makes you look weak. Don’t show your feelings, nobody wants to hear about them. Never cry. Are you hormonal? Have you got your period?
We want women, they said. Don’t wear pink. Don’t wear heels, only insecure women wear heels. You’re too tall. Have you put on weight? Have you lost weight? Are you eating enough? You seem stressed. You remind me of my sister. No lipstick. Don’t look like a man. Don’t look too feminine. You’re too dressed up. Cover up. Don’t make them think that you’re interested in them. Loosen up. Are you flirting? Have you slept with your co-founder?
We want women, they said. Don’t act like a man — be a woman. Be a womanly woman, exploit your femininity! We want women. But don’t sell us anything women actually need. Not beauty products, not child care solutions, no tampons, no period pants, no hormone pills, no sex tech, no wellbeing services. Someone already did all that. Give us something that us men will understand.
We want women, they said.
Wear pink. Wear whatever you god damn please. Be comfortable.
Have kids. Don’t. It’s your business. And tell us all about them — if you want.
Bring along your husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, tinder date, Mother — mind, whoever you need. We’d love to meet them.
Have a life, live it. Breathe. You’ll be better for it.
Take time for you. You’re doing great. Use the weekend to recharge.
Want an intro? We can help. I know someone, they’ll love you. Be yourself — because that’s what makes you great.
To the men who misjudge us. Stop. Look at our talent and our ideas, not our lipstick or our style.
And to women who don’t already — pull people up with you, lead how you’d like to be treated. We’re stronger together
So, be a women, however you god damn please. Do it your way, we say. Let’s rewrite the rules.
Jenene Crossan, founder of Flossie
Claire Chitham, actress
Gemma Ross, co-founder and managing director of Hustle and Bustle
Kara McMillan, brand manager at Lion
Hilary Barry, TV presenter
Lara Springhall, global operations at East Day Spa
Jess Daniell, founder of Jess’ Underground Kitchen
Donielle Brooke, founder of Designer Wardrobe
Lisa King, founder and CEO of Eat My Lunch
Teresa Patterson, music manager
Kathryn Wilson, founder of Kathryn Wilson shoes
Iyia Liu, founder of Waist Trainer, Luxe Fitness and Celebration Box
Elisabeth Findlay, co-founder of Zambesi
Jennifer Ward-Lealand, actress and director
Anna Curzon, chief product officer at Xero
Kristen Wonch, founder and director of The Workshop
Georgia McGillvray, founder of The Social Club
Performed and directed by Claire Chitham
Written by Jenene Crossan
Produced by Sam Attenborough
Executive produced by James Moore and Sam Attenborough
Director of photography: Alex Glucina
Editor: Damian Golfinopoulos
Music composed by: Mike Newport
Flame operator: Anita Ward
Post house: Mandy VFX
Colourist: Matic Prusnik
Videographer: Matt Carson