Last year, Erin Bagwell was working in corporate America as an interactive designer — and she was suffocating.
“It was really damaging to me,” she said. “Really dumb, stupid things would happen. It’s almost sneakier now [than it was back in the “Mad Men" days]. It’s harder to combat things like snarky comments.”
Feeling starved for stories of inspiration — particularly, inspiring stories of women and their successes in business and the arts — she launched Feminist Wednesday, originally a newsletter sent to 20 friends that has since blossomed into a feminist storytelling platform. And as of the Friday, Feminist Wednesday is now also a documentary, “Dream, Girl,” which was fully funded by Kickstarter.
“Feminist Wednesday has grown like a little weed in my life,” Bagwell said. “I needed empowering women’s stories from business, in the arts,” Bagwell explained. “I wanted to see my brand of feminism reflected. I did my research, and I just didn’t see that anywhere else.”
Her “brand of feminism” is best reflected by Feminist Wednesday’s mascot and logo, Betty the Beaver: smart, funny and “a little risky.”
After she was empowered to quit her corporate job and work part-time with a friend, Bagwell began channeling that smart, funny riskiness into a documentary project. With all the extra time to devote to Feminist Wednesday, she began attending networking events for businesswoman in the New York area. From there, she became friends with a pocket of female entrepreneurs, attending breakfast clubs and talking about the challenges they face as women in the typically male-dominated world of business.
Bagwell was hit with the idea of filming these women, telling their stories and sharing them with audiences to foster a larger conversation about the need for female role models in this quickly-growing space. Bagwell is quick to remind viewers that women are starting 1,200 new businesses every day.
After assembling the crew and the film subjects, Bagwell searched for funding. She liked a couple of things about Kickstarter: She liked the community aspect of it, and she liked the “all-or-nothing gamble.”
Luckily for Bagwell, her crew and feminists everywhere, the gamble paid off. The Friday of Labor Day weekend, after several months collecting donations via the “Dream, Girl” Kickstarter page, Bagwell was on her computer, watching the number tick up as a couple of powerful social honchos drove even more contributors to donate.
Two different group messages lit up her screen with texts from family and friends. Bagwell hadn’t allowed herself to dwell upon an alternate plan for fear of losing her commitment to the Kickstarter page.
“I was trying not to have a plan B,” she says.
She didn’t need one. On Aug. 29, “Dream, Girl” met its $57,000 goal — and as of this post, contributors had donated more than $100,000.
A former film student herself, Bagwell points to another feminist documentary, “Miss Representation” as the inspiration for “Dream, Girl.”
“That film really motivated me, the portrayals of objectification in the media and in advertising,” she said. “To me, the second part of that is ‘okay, now we need to make it our goal to make young women leaders.’ ‘Dream, Girl’ is really a call to action that came directly from watching that.”
Now that they’ve matched their original goal, Bagwell has set a $110,000 “stretch goal” before the Kickstarter campaign officially closes on Sept. 5. The extra money would go to better cameras, lighting equipment, sound equipment and more, to get “really intense cinema quality,” as Bagwell described it.
She also wants to widen the scope beyond the women and girls who will be naturally drawn to the film’s themes of empowerment and mentorship. She wants entire groups of friends to see it and be influenced in much the same way that “Miss Representation” affected her understanding of women in media.
Already, that dream is closer to reality.
She remembers one night with friends, at Daisey’s Diner in Brooklyn, “after a long night of drinking.” Over chicken fingers and frosty glasses, they were laughing and discussing (what else?) feminism — and of course, talking about “Dream, Girl.”
“Feminism plays such a huge role in my life,” she says. “When I go to bars, it’s what I talk about. All my best friends are guys — which is weird, I know — and as I’ve been on this feminist journey, I’ve watched them on theirs.”
That night at Daisey’s, Bagwell was talking about the early stages of “Dream, Girl,” chatting with her friends about how important female role models have been to young girls and to her documentary subjects.
A (male) friend piped up: “Hey, you know, that’s a problem men have, too.”
Before Bagwell could respond, another male friend jumped in.
“Another of my friends leaned over and said, ‘Dude, have you heard of #yesallwomen and #notallmen? We need to give women a space to talk about these kinds of things,'” she remembers. “And I hadn’t said a word! I didn’t say anything!”
Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Erin Bagwell’s name as “Erin Bragwell.” The story has since been updated.