Zoe Cremer meets with Bristol’s Josiane Smith and discusses the consequences of equality
We may protest and hold bare-breasted speeches, we may refuse to shave our legs and we may master careers in science. There are many ways to show that one is a feminist, but I recently stumbled upon an alternative, which might not seem as intuitive.
I recently met with Josiane Smith, an alumna of our University, who is now working in the Middle East to support social enterprises. The link between ‘feminism’ and ‘social enterprise’ is not an obvious one, but I will take the chance to illustrate how the essential motivation of the two concepts is related and I will offer a suggestion of how feminism can go beyond itself, by being aware what comes after one’s declaration of being a feminist.This becomes a most vital question: what are the consequences of equality?
I met Josiane as she revisited Bristol and was able to dig deeper into her experience of feminism, the Middle East and her role as a woman in social enterprise. As I tried to understand what it is that leads people to move country and start a life of uncertainty, she said to me “I wanted to tell a different story. I wanted to be proud of the story that I tell about my life”. It is indeed precisely that which lies at the heart of feminism, at the heart of social enterprise and at the core of all those who seek change. There is a desire to tell a different story about history, about women and men and about the role of business in society.
I am personally fascinated by the stories of social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs are not only compassionate and beneficial to others, but are also smart in business. They sustain the life of co-founders and employees by seeing problems as an opportunity, which they exploit by creating solutions. I admire those social entrepreneurs for which profit is never more or less than necessary to expand the reach of positive impact. Profit is not the core of their business, but rather a means to an end.
“I wanted to tell a different story. I wanted to be proud of the story that I tell about my life”
Josiane benefited from Bristol’s rich landscape of opportunities in this sector. After graduating, she worked for various social enterprises, such as Stephanie Heart Enterprise, Host Universal and the Challenge Network. She is also a former fellow of the RSA (Royal Society of Arts) and, at the time of interview, was working with Haya Cultural Centre in Amman, Jordan as a Social Development Specialist.
Josiane has seen feminism from various perspectives, in the West and in the Middle East and is especially outspoken about the issue of women regulating women.
Me: Josiane, can you tell the story of feminism through the eyes of a social entrepreneur?
Josiane: There is a gender stereotype that women are natural caregivers and therefore more likely to be involved in social enterprise than men. When we say that women are naturally anything in relation to behaviour, business capacity or success, we frame all that she does within a lens she may not herself see her world through, and therefore, ultimately we remove her right to be the author of her identity and life. This has a detrimental effect on the potential for female-led social innovation, which works only when frames and schemas and expectations can be, and are successfully, broken.
My first encounter with social enterprise was an internship at Stephanie Heart Enterprise, which is actually a movement amongst young girls and women to become conscious and critical of, and hopefully unharmed by how the female body is represented and manipulated in online and offline advertising space. I came in from a feminist perspective, but I like things which people haven’t heard of before, which have a different story. Social enterprise is fulfilling and constantly evolving.
Me: Social enterprise and feminism are both strong communities. I find the idea of joining two movements, which are still undergoing phases of development and innovation, challenging and promising.
I agree. Another similarity is that both movements are disruptive. They are disruptive industries and disruptive theories. This works in their favour in terms of how they could work together. How can a feminist work in an organisation that ultimately is serving a patriarchal system such as capitalism? Innovation happens through disruption.
Me: How far do you believe one has to take feminism? Is there an inherent contradiction in a feminist working in a corporation that includes oppression and is not disruptive of a hierarchical system?
It depends on how you act. If you’re living on the edge, you are somewhere where disruption is happening, on some level, just by nature of you being there. So if you are a feminist surrounding yourself with other feminists, or indeed someone with strong social or environmental principles but have only ever worked in the third sector, very little change is going to happen where you need it to anyway.
In my opinion the consequence of equality is our ability to explore our full capacity in contributing to the mutual relationship of giving and being given. Social enterprises provide a nurturing soil for creating something new, for sustaining ourselves; it allows us to advocate for feminism by showing our capacity to stand up for those who have not been listened to.
Special thanks to Josiane Smith