In the heart of Manhattan, a group of women come together to drink and eat and talk about life and business in the modern digital world. Formed in 2006, Women In Digital Media (WIDM), was founded by Cindy Charles, General Counsel of MediaNet, Aileen Atkins, General Counsel of Napster, Amy Lauren, Music Attorney at EMI, and Heather Moosnick, a VP at Warner Music Group. Begun loosely as a social gathering of women rising through the emerging digital ranks, it quickly became clear to a core group that this was something to be formalized, so they might create a space for the building of community.
Cindy Charles, (disclaimer, my girlfriend) the senior member of this group, has her roots firmly planted in the middle class urban landscape of Forest Hills, Queens, New York City. Her only extended time away from that great city was a four year detour through (SUNY) Buffalo where she received her Bachelors Degree in Political Science. Educated in the hard core, second wave feminist principles of the 1960’s and 70’s, but never able to (or interested in) making a counter cultural leap, she returned to NYC to get her law degree, live the 80’s disco life, and begin her working ascent. She was there, ready, and open to enter the unknown new world of internet entertainment. The perfect place for a woman (as seen by the men in charge at that moment), a lower rung of the traditional media ladder; not the solid, “real world” of albums, of cd’s, of television, of film. No, this small niche could provide opportunities for the women, keeping them happy while the men handled the real business of entertainment. Perhaps the “girls” might even make some money for the company. She began at MTV, in the internet division, and moved on to Medianet, a back end music service, and rode this wave, standing close to the center of the new media world, well connected to post-industrial powers—Google, Facebook, YouTube, the digital divisions of Universal and CBS, MySpace, Yahoo, and many other smaller companies making their way in this emergent universe.
Cindy understood the significance of living slightly off beat, in a terrain populated by large numbers of strong, smart women who had risen to the top of this new realm, the one they were permitted to control. There was no glass ceiling here, but rather an always felt, opaque barrier to the parallel universe where real power was situated. Like the garment center of old, where Jews could attain material wealth while the financial world remained firmly in the control of a WASPy elite, these women were separated from the power base that fed them.
Fueled by a clear vision of her place in this new world, feminist critical theory in hand, and possessing legendary networking skills, Cindy built an elaborate web of contacts, of women who understood the power of connection and support, who understood the need to band together to create a space/place where they could feed each other in mind and spirit, nurturing the strength that would surely magnify and deepen through such gathering. And so empowered, Cindy, with Aileen, Heather, and Amy, officially created Women in Digital Media. Meeting quarterly at various stylish locations around town, the group has quickly expanded from the core of four, multiplying membership through Facebook (although not all who wish to join are allowed in), and other channels of electronic communication. A synchronous community has been created. Yes, individuals leap forth, but connected to the group, the whole moves. Understood is that true power is only cultivated through connection, that although one alone might penetrate the rarefied corridors of male domination, all together, this collective force cannot be resisted and women manifesting this group stuff will push evolutionary and historical inevitability, bringing them into the center, throwing over male hegemony with some new form, in some new way, a balancing act of estrogen and testosterone, of Goddess and God.
And there is no shortage of testosterone in this group. Women achieving, pushing, demanding their place, their due. But not masculinity. No, this is powerful female beauty, sexiness seasoned with that male hormone which demands what belongs to it, what is his, what is to be hers. The younger women at the core of WIDM, the high achieving thirty and forty year olds, Aileen, Amy, and Heather, trained at prestigious centers of higher learning, whose paths were cleared in part by the feminist voices of an earlier generation, assume their positions, recognize the barriers, understand them, and get ready. Poised, they respect, acknowledge, and pay tribute to the battles fought and lessons learned by Cindy and her predecessors. In this group, there is no acceptance of pre-designated place, no settling. And though they may struggle with the pull of family, of baby bearing and child rearing, they assume their handling of it all. They take it on.
Money is neither collected nor exchanged at these get togethers. Food, drink, and place are donated by interested sponsors. Sometimes a law or public relations firm that gets the value of its association with such a group, of tapping into this field of creativity. Or a winery recognizing a valuable pool of potential consumers. There are no membership dues or entrance fees, no cash bar. Just a room full of high energy professional women seizing their rightful place. Cindy says the core doesn’t want to monetize it. That somehow capitalizing the idea would corrupt it. That its strength lay, in part, in its purity. Connections will be made, jobs will be found, but much deeper is the power generated. And while this neo-feminist group fully embodies the post 50’s critique of male domination, it also reaches back further to some kind of Goddess knowledge, a full embrace of female spirit, rooted in an understanding that the concept of the modern individual is limited, the industrial male position of singularity flawed, in its death throes, and that the women need only collect themselves, wait a bit, then push gently. The men will move over. The dying way will stumble. And it will end.
So one woman has become four whom have become three hundred. And though there might be many motives for these women coming together, from job hunting to emotional support to community building to the toppling of the patriarchy, what is undeniable is the communal knowledge of the great power in the gathering, that an ancient collecting of women is happening today, that perhaps the post-industrial and the post-feminist are merging right now, at this transformative moment.
Copyright 2008 Ricky Fishmanricky@rickyfishman.com www.rickyfishman.com