I interviewed Molly Moon Neitzel months ago. And it has taken me that entire time to sit down and write this piece. I had tons of excuses as to why I delayed writing it – I got married, traveled a lot for work, blah blah blah. All of that happened, sure, but mostly, I didn’t know how to respond to something Molly had said:
“I actually think PGC should think about your statement of purpose and whether, just by having it, you’re perpetuating the perception that women are judgmental and/or bitchy to each other. Giving that small part of human behavior so much attention might be magnifying it. I also think it’s a young woman’s perspective (please don’t hate me for saying that). But I doubt many of your crushes in their late thirties and older give a damn about women judging each other. We’re too busy accomplishing and trying to figure out how to crack this fucking glass ceiling or spend more time with our kids and lovers friends. “
But Molly isn’t wrong – not by a long shot.
But I still feel stuck here, and here’s my struggle: I do still get caught up in this tedium. Maybe not to such an extreme as I did ten years ago, but I’m a successful, intelligent, mature individual. I spend a disproportionate amount of my day thinking about gender binaries and wage gaps and glass ceilings. And still, I unconsciously judge women all the time. And when I recognize that judgment, I feel like an asshole. But the whole point I want this project to make is that we should do everything we can to recognize those judgments. For example, I felt like an asshole earlier this morning. I was listening to an episode of the Freakenomics podcast when I heard Stanford professor, linguist Meghan Sumner. She was a guest on a program about gender barriers, describing the unconscious stereotyping that occurs when a person hears a male vs. female voice. And, without even knowing I was doing it, I proved her point seamlessly. Some deep part of my gut heard her voice and instantaneously made some not-so-pleasant assumptions about her merit.
OK, so what am I not saying in that Project Girl Crush mission statement that Molly is missing? Well, it’s not about women being catty to one another (although, that is a pervasive and ugly issue that is rampant regardless of age). Rather, it’s about women on women insubordination, however it manifests. It could take the form a female writer ragging on Hilary’s pantsuits. Or, it’s Kathleen McGinn’s famous case study of Heidi Roizen, which produced the Heidi vs. Howard analysis. When given a story about a successful entrepreneur, half of a Harvard business class was told the protagonist was named was Heidi, half that he was Howard. When asked about the impressions of the entrepreneur, Howard came off as much more appealing. And this was a class of men and women.
Or the fact that we – again, guys and gals – unconsciously stereotype female speakers as less capable than male speakers.
So it’s not about how these micro-aggressions manifest, it’s about the fact that they are there at all. And furthermore, that we women are both participating in and perpetuating this behavior. I want us to recognize our unconscious responses, and the subsequent behaviors that result from those responses. At the end of the day, it’s all about being aware of how we women treat each other, regardless of how ‘natural’ a behavior feels.
Oooooook. That was my not-so-little tirade. And that was why I have been stumbling over this interview with Molly. But I’d like to get back to the woman of the hour because – guys. Look at how this woman has made me stop and think about the way I show up in the world. You want to know what’s so fabulous about Molly Moon? The fact that she doesn’t allow the bullshit of female stereotyping disrupt the person that she is. When she believes in something, she says it. She can be assertive and, yes, sometimes, it makes other people uncomfortable. “I’ve heard that my face looks intensely hateful. I’ve heard I’m callous. I’ve heard I’m too quick to speak. I’ve heard I’m brash. I don’t know what the general consensus is. I don’t really care.” And you shouldn’t Molly. Fuck those guys. Go do you.
So Molly, I am sorry this piece took forever, but just so you know, I applaud you. Intensely. Like, slow clap, standing ovation style applause. Thanks for speaking your mind. Thanks for making me think, really think, about what I am doing and what I am trying to say. Thanks for not caring about what other people think, and continuing to break through that fucking glass ceiling.
So! Tell me your life story.
I was born in Pocatello, Idaho. My birth mom gave me up. For most of my childhood, I thought my parents (who were rad and amazing and loving and had high expectations of/for me) could also give me up, so I was an overachiever, trying to ensure I would always stay with the family I loved. I got a little sister, who I adored. I ate ice cream almost every day of my life. I smoked pot with Joan Baez when I was trying to interview her for my high school paper. I scooped ice cream in college & was student body president & played a lot of guitar & thought I might be a singer/songwriter. When I was 23, a venture capitalist gave me & some friends $1.7 million to help young voter turnout influence the 2004 presidential elections by registering & engaging people to vote at concerts. I quit that job and wrote a business plan for an ice cream shop where I could still be my own boss and live & breathe my own politics, but make some money. My little sister helped me. Then she died after a motorcycle accident. I got married to my lobster (they mate for life & pinch a lot) after we’d broken up six times. We had a little girl. The venture capitalist is still my biggest mentor. My parents kept me & love me very much. I’m growing my company & trying to be a role model for girls & young women.
Tell me about your job at the ice cream shop...
When I was a freshman in college at University of Montana in Missoula, I first got a job at the public radio station (I was a broadcast journalism major & figured it made sense for my resume), but I kind of hated it, so I quit & got a job at a preschool and a job at an ice cream shop called the Big Dipper. My mom was worried. She told me, “Molly – you can’t just babysit & scoop ice cream your whole life. You need to get some professional skills.” I LOVED my jobs. I scooped 40 hours a week in the summer. I learned to write a schedule to make shifts work efficiently, and then the owner, Charlie, let me start making ice cream. I was an ice cream maker and scooper until half way through my senior year. At that point, I was super involved in my college community and was student body president. Then Charlie fired me for being too bossy / busy. It wasn’t a biggie. We’re still friends. He & I wrote my salted caramel ice cream recipe together six years later.
How did you get involved with Music for America?
When I was 23 I was living in Seattle after college, working a “grown up” job that I didn’t love but knew I needed to give me professional skills. I was married to my college boyfriend who was a musician. I was floundering. My second husband (just a friend at the time!) used to call me “career of the week Lewis” (my first married name) because one week I wanted to go to law school, another week I wanted to get my Masters in Public Affairs, another week I wanted to be a real estate agent, another week I wanted to found a Montessori school & be a Montessori teacher. Then I got really into Howard Dean. I found some kids on the internet who lived in Brooklyn & were throwing concerts to raise awareness and money for Dean’s presidential campaign, Dean for America. They called themselves Music for America. I emailed them and asked them if I could start their West Coast Chapter. They said yes. I started throwing shows at Chop Suey & asking bands to donate the cover to the campaign. I recruited voter registration volunteers. One day, we got an email from some guy who worked for a Silicone Valley Venture Capitalist who said he wanted to see our resumes and know what we were doing. I thought it was super weird but sent my resume. Then the venture capitalist wanted to come to one of my shows at Chop Suey. Then he said he’d fly all the Brooklyn kids out to Seattle to come to that show, too. They all came – the show was great & funny. There was a Dean/Nader fight on stage between some bandmates. In the morning, the venture capitalist asked all of us if we wanted to fly back to his house with him and talk about what Music for America could be. We did. We talked all weekend & dreamed about how to turn out more young voter through the power of music and shared values. After the weekend, the venture capitalist basically said “I think you guys can make a big impact on national politics in the next 13 months. And I think it’ll take about $1.5 million to do what you want to do. And I’ll give you the money… if you make Molly the Executive Director of Music for America. I’ll give you half an hour to decide.”
My heart stopped. I was not expecting that. I just wanted to be the West Coast Event Director or something. All the founders of Music for America went to fancy east coast schools (like Harvard). They were boys. I was a girl from University of Montana. I kept my mouth closed to see what they would say. Finally, one of them spoke up and said, “He’s smart. We have to trust him. Let’s take the money.”
We all quit our jobs and opened offices in New York and San Francisco. We hired 26 field staff in 13 states. Young voter turnout increased in 2004, though not enough to keep Bush from re-election. I was the Executive Director of Music for America for three and a half years. We built a membership to almost 90,000 young people. We partnered with hundreds of bands and did outreach on thousands of tour dates. Young voter turnout increased even more in 2006, and Democrats took back Congress, and everybody started talking about Obama. Nancy Pelosi called me to thank me. It was amazing, and exhausting.
Why did you start Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream?
I got really tired of asking rich people for money to keep Music for America going. I was living in San Francisco but wanted to move back to Seattle. I wanted to see if a business could embody really progressive values and still make a profit. I felt like I got mixed messages about doing the right thing and making money from all the rich people I was hanging out with in San Francisco. I wanted to try it. There was no good ice cream in Seattle, and I felt like this city was weirdly siloed generationally. I could go weeks in Seattle without seeing anyone under 21 or over 45. I missed the Big Dipper and its ability to create a gathering place for people of all ages and, to a certain extent, all income brackets. Going out for ice cream is a lot cheaper than going out for dinner. I was kind of out to prove a lot of things.
What has been one of your greatest struggles as an employer?
Being a good manager of human beings takes a lot of practice and a lot of focus and attention. When you’re running a company, and most of your brain is full of stuff about business strategy and brand strategy and the creative parts about making things delicious and craveable and designing spaces that people want to experience and worrying about the company’s finances and cashflow and making payroll in the winter, the hard work of being a good manager can constantly fall to the bottom of the priority list. I think I’m a really good boss, because the company works hard to give great benefits and make the jobs at molly moon’s great jobs that can support people living in Seattle. But for the few people who report directly to me, I don’t think I’m a great manager. But I’m working on it.
What has been one of your greatest struggles as a woman?
It’s so cliché, but the work/life balance thing. I have a three year old daughter, February Moon, who is the light of my life. I have a great husband who has stuck by me and supported me for 12 years. I have amazing friends, who I can’t imagine my sanity without. And I LOVE working. The competing loves in my life are so intense. And the sad thing that I’m realizing these days is that money can solve a lot of these problems. I just hired a regular housekeeper for the first time in my life, because I feel like I can now afford it. And the stress that relieves – the time that will give me with my daughter and husband – is going to be a game-changer. It’s also going to make me less stressed at work because I’m not going to have anxiety about what I’m coming home to. And I feel so guilty that I can afford this, and moms who work just as many hours and just as hard as me for far less money can’t. That sucks.
How do you think others see you?
I don’t think I have a ton of visibility here. I’m pretty sure most people see me as hard working and smart. I have dear friends who think I’m funny and loving. But I’ve also heard a lot of things about me. I’ve heard that I’m the most difficult client a design/build construction company ever had. I’ve heard that my face looks intensely hateful. I’ve heard I’m callous. I’ve heard I’m too quick to speak. I’ve heard I’m brash. I don’t know what the general consensus is. I don’t really care.
How do you see yourself?
I know I’m living my own values. I want to leave the earth better than I found it. I work to do that every day. I am kind, compassionate, motivated by progress and fairness. I’m a socialist and a capitalist. I’m a very good mom. I’m a good role model for girls. I’m a great friend. I’m not the best wife. I see myself as, probably above all, a VERY HARD WORKER – at all the things I see as important.
When do you feel the most yourself? Why?
When I’m playing one on one with my daughter, February, or running around town with her being social. Also, when I’m out with a group of girlfriends. I love the feeling of being out in a squad of amazing women who all appreciate and support each other and make each other laugh.
When do you feel the least yourself? Why?
Probably when I’m getting my photo taken. Ugh – I don’t know why. Probably because I’m vain & I just want the photo to not make my neck to face transition look nonexistent!
What do you love about yourself?
My fierceness, my confidence, my huge heart, my willingness to take risks, the fact that I’m a very stable mom making a safe home for my girl. My eyes are pretty, my hair can be really good on the third day, my metabolism is still pretty awesome.
What don’t you love about yourself?
That I can’t do more, that I’m tired at 8 pm, that I’m grouchy to my husband when it’s not about him, that my intention doesn’t always match my impact (therapy speak, but it’s real), the wrinkle between my brows.
Talk about an instance in your life that made you feel the most vulnerable:
Marrying my husband. I begged him to marry me for years. And then we stood up on this stage in the woods and said our vows and I felt scared and vulnerable and worried and thankful and very, very naked and like “oh my god – I hope we can do this!”
What did you do to make it through?
I’m still doing it, and probably have the hardest work ahead of me, in this regard. It’s tough to allow myself to be vulnerable at home when I spend my whole day being aggressively confident. It takes more trust than I currently have, which takes practice getting vulnerable and then having enough positive experiences when you do to try it again.
When is the last time you remember feeling incompetent?
Wow you guys – this is rough! You’re making me cry! I have a bad relationship with a business associate who is a man that I really don’t like or respect. He insults me in a pretty anti-woman way, and I get completely flooded by emotions of anger and injury. I don’t feel strategic or articulate when it happens, and the stakes are sort of high in these conversations. It sucks.
Name one of your girl crushes, and why you are crushin’ on her:
Senator Patty Murray. Oh my god, is she amazing. She is authentic. She is no bullshit. She is working every minute of every day to make the world a better place for women and families. And she’s pushy. She looks me straight in the eye and questions why I haven’t run for office. It feels like I’m disappointing her in the way that you hated to disappoint your very favorite high school teacher. She makes you think, as a woman, “how can I possibly complain about my work / life balance or about politics being fucked up when she’s doing the hard work every day and I’m just sitting here watching it all play out?”
When was the last time you were guilty of judging a woman too quickly?
I don’t actually think I do this. I think the last time was probably ten yearsago.
What frustrates you about the way women treat each other?
I am rarely frustrated by how women treat each other. I’m far more frustrated by how men and the current global economic systems treat women.
What do you love about the way women treat each other?
Women are born to be compassionate. It’s in our DNA. The women in my life are so loyal and protective and supportive. I actually think PGC should think about your statement of purpose and whether, just by having it, you’re perpetuating the perception that women are judgemental and/or bitchy to each other. Giving that small part of human behavior so much attention might be magnifying it. I also think it’s a young woman’s perspective (please don’t hate me for saying that). But I doubt many of your crushes in their late thirties and older give a damn about women judging each other. We’re too busy accomplishing and trying to figure out how to crack this fucking glass ceiling or spend more time with our kids and lovers friends.
I would love to see your evolving project’s statement of purpose include an examination of the deep-seated cultural barriers to gender equality. Maybe this girl-on-girl judging thing is one part of that. But what about the perception that young women aren’t as dedicated to their careers as young men are? What about the fact that employers feel fine paying women less than men, that its culturally normal to assume women will be worth less in their careers? What about the reality that the US is the only country in the world that doesn’t pay women on maternity leave, which starts a snowball effect that leads to gross pay inequity every year after women have their first child? What about the fact that women’s careers are often stifled by motherhood? What about the bullshit attention to women’s appearances in politics and the media (and I don’t mean the entertainment industry)? What about this article?: http://www.forbes.com/2006/08/21/careers-marriage-dating_cx_mn_0821women.html