Stephanie Newman is the founder and editor of Writing on Glass, a media platform that aims to redefine feminism for the 21st century.
Through her consultancy Stellia Labs, Stephanie also works with media and arts companies in a strategic capacity. She’s defined the digital content experience and advertising proposition for several magazine brands, revamped pricing strategy for clients across entertainment and e-commerce, and advised the sales expansion of an iconic arts establishment.
Stephanie studied English literature at Harvard and received an Artist Development Fellowship for her writing. Her essays often explore issues of self-growth, feminism, and Eastern European culture, and she’s been published in the The Madison Journal of Literary Criticism, The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Millions, and elsewhere.
What was your inspiration for starting Writing on Glass?
When I was a senior in college, I had this moment eating dinner in the dining hall and reading an article called, “What if we responded to sexual assault by limiting men’s freedom like we limit women’s?” It’s a piercing satire written by human rights lawyer Amanda Taub. She describes three ways women are expected to “avoid” being raped (e.g. not walking alone at night), then proposes we ask men to follow the same rules in order to “avoid” raping. I hadn’t considered the hypocrisy before, so her arguments were cutting.
I felt explicitly angry about gender inequality for the first time. I’m very conflict-averse, and anger is such a rare emotion for me that I knew at the time it signified something. That was activation energy I needed to started reading more articles, participating in more discussions, and becoming a keener observer of how gender functions. With Writing on Glass, I wanted to create and publish content that could have the same effect on other people.
What life or work experience was the “pregame” to this project?
I hatched the original idea after volunteering as a growth strategist for the literary magazine Nat. Brut in 2015. Nat. Brut’s mission is to amplify underrepresented voices in literature and the arts, so on staff I learned a lot about feminism and the various ways in which women’s voices are repressed. That fed right into the spirit of Writing on Glass. At the same time, I was consulting on strategy for many of the big media/publishing companies in New York. That’s how I developed an understanding of the media industry and what it takes to scale a platform online.
How will Writing on Glass be different than other digital feminist content sites, say, Everyday Feminism or Jezebel?
I’ve found that many feminist media sites come off as condescending, catering to people who are already “woke” and discouraging readers who never thought about these issues from wanting to learn more. Before I understood feminism, I was scared away from sites like Jezebel because they were snarky and polarizing. I had to learn about feminism elsewhere before returning as a different, more prepared kind of reader. In contrast, I want Writing on Glass to appeal to people at all stages of learning: those who can be great allies but haven’t thought or read about feminism before, as well as lifelong feminists who want to keep expanding their viewpoints.
Earlier this year, I listened to a podcast where Jezebel’s editor-in-chief Emma Carmichael talked about the exhaustion of “good feminist takes,” and its founder Anna Holmes admitted the news cycle burnt her out quickly. For Writing on Glass, I’m preparing less reactionary, more evergreen content to distill the complex web of already-rich feminist thought, equip readers with compelling data, and provide strategies for taking action. I think this is more powerful than commenting on every new sexist event that arises.
How do you define feminism?
Equality for all genders, in all areas of life.
What is your prediction for the next wave of feminism? What will it look like and who will be the key players?
Intersectional feminism will become more mainstream, balancing out the recent focus on women at work (which has mostly benefited white, educated, economically empowered women). More people will start to recognize that sexism is a deeply embedded social system, of which bad maternity leave policies and the wage gap are only symptoms. Key players will be those who recognize that feminism isn’t a niche topic.
How can women (and male allies) avoid feeling defeated and powerless in the current climate?
We can’t re-elect the president, but we can take a few minutes everyday to notice and challenge some of our harmful assumptions. We all have unconscious bias, and we’re so used to seeing the world through our own lens that it’s hard evaluate the influence are identities have on our perceptions. Taking action can mean making a concerted effort to unpack your beliefs, recognize sexist reactions or thoughts, and commit to changing them.
In your view, what is the single most important action one can take to support equality?
Challenging your own beliefs.
What is “intersectional feminism”?
Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced the idea of intersectionality in 1989. In her words, “Feminist efforts to politicize experiences of women and antiracist efforts to politicize experiences of people of color have frequently proceeded as though the issues and experiences they each detail occur in mutually exclusive terrains.” Intersectionality recognizes the experiences of the people dealing with multiple forms of discrimination at once: women of color, disabled women, women identifying as LGBTQ+.
People with intersecting identities frequently go unrecognized. The most glaring example I remember from recent pop culture was when Patricia Arquette went up on stage after receiving an Oscar and declared that it’s time for “gay people” and “people of color” to fight for women. The headlines the next day called it an “intersectionality fail” because she treated women and other groups as mutually exclusive, as though there were no overlap.
In light of the criticism Sheryl Sandberg received around Lean In – namely, that her perspective is too narrow as a white, straight, educated, affluent woman – how will you create checks and balances for your own privilege?
I have a lot of fear around the limitations of my own privileged perspective – so much so that I almost stopped myself from starting Writing on Glass. So, when I did launch the site, I wanted to voice my awareness of the privilege problem from the start. I recorded a video that went out with my second cycle of content, specifying steps I plan to take to combat my blind spots: building up a contributor base of people very unlike me; accepting feedback at every turn from readers without my set of privileges; educating myself continually about how to be a better ally, so that the task of increasing my own awareness doesn’t fall on the very people I’m trying to serve.
Can feminism be successful without men’s participation?
Oof. No, I don’t think we can achieve total gender equality without buy-in from men. As a group, men have more economic, political, and social power than women, and often control who else accesses similar levels of power (case in point: Trump’s cabinet). Without men, feminism is a way for women to empower themselves. With men, feminism becomes a way for society to empower women to the same extent it does men. To me, success looks like the latter option.
How can we engage men in our progress? Or is that the wrong question?
Well, there are different types of men. Many men want to help, but are afraid of saying or doing something offensive by accident, so they disengage (hence the frustration over our so-called culture of political correctness). Other men have zero interest, and then there are just vehement misogynists. But if we’re talking about men who have that desire to drive progress, feminism can engage them by embracing a culture of mistake-making. Nobody is perfect. Nobody says all the right things, or avoids offensive missteps. But men have to be willing to hear and accept that they’ve said or done a sexist thing, and we have to be willing to point it out and discuss it.