By Amy Morse
Rebecca is starting a revolution in our city – and when you read her story you’ll know why. Days before the Women’s March, lines outside her store The Outrage were often three hours deep. Her clothes read the newly iconic, “The Future is Female,” “Silence is violence,” “Resist,” “She Persisted,” and “Nasty Women Unite.” – among many others. These shirts and posters propel a growing underground sisterhood in D.C. – a mobilizing force of daily awareness ready to act for the protection of immigrant rights, social justice, women’s reproductive rights, and equal pay for equal work. Unafraid to speak out, Rebecca’s website reads like a manifesto. For those of us who are often personally or emotionally impacted by daily news – or exhausted from protesting and organizing – her contributions to changing our culture provide some radiant hope.
Rebecca is tapping in to a major dormant economic opportunity to connect purchasing power with values – women make an estimated 70-80% of consumer spending decisions yet have little share of top leadership in many of the companies that we buy from. She is not alone in realizing this opportunity and building something new. Rebecca Ballard’s Maven Women offers socially conscious clothing choices that connect local design with clothing makers (majority women) and ethics of the supply chain. Considering the concentration of conscientious consumer opportunity in D.C. – they are on to something important – especially if we can rally to support them.
Rebecca is also a very talented writer. Her words below describe her journey, outlook, a woman from history who inspires her, and organizations she recommends getting involved with to make a difference. I am grateful for her willingness to share her story with us.
Rebecca Lee Funk’s story by Rebecca Lee Funk
When I was a child, my dad, an organic chemistry professor, used to take me to see every visiting female scientist that spoke on campus. This lead to the sweetly naive belief that the hard sciences were fields dominated by women. And my mom, a strong, athletic and physical woman wasn’t about to nurture something in her womb for nine months without making sure it knew how to whip a baseball. The phrase ‘throw like a girl’ rang hollow in our house. This is all to say, I was raised in a home that was pretty gender neutral. Our interests and preferences were supported and encouraged, but my sister, brother and I were introduced to a wide-open world, one that wasn’t bifurcated along gender lines.
So when I left home, aptly nicknamed Happy Valley, I was knocked by waves of realization that my parents had presented me with an alternate reality. These realizations came hard and fast when I was an 18 year old fashion model in NYC. If you’re looking to be reduced to a mindless sexualized hanger, I can send you in the right direction. By the time my copy of Brothers Karamazov was sent home with the prop guy, because I couldn’t possibly be reading it, I was well on my way out of that industry and back into the land of academia.
But there were problems there as well. I, like many college students, was sexually assaulted and told not to make it a ‘big deal’. I started and ran my first business, a successful clothing boutique that was consistently treated as my pet project or ‘little shop’. I was asked in the final round of interviews for a prestigious scholarship if I was wearing glasses to make me look less pretty.
In graduate school, and I’m not kidding, the financial aid officer told me that I didn’t have to worry about my student loans because my boyfriend at the time was an investment banker. I still can’t write that sentence without saying this out loud: what. And then I entered the workforce- which any woman with experience at a handful of different companies will tell you is an absolute shitshow. Noontime calls to my girlfriends about how to deal with a certain sexist asshole without being perceived as bitchy or dramatic became commonplace. A man called me ‘sweetie’, asked if I could ‘keep up’ with his shoddily built excel model and said he didn’t like to work with ‘tall blondes’ in a three-person meeting with the CEO. The CEO was apparently plagued by sporadic deafness- he said nothing.
As I developed professional confidence and started to assert myself I was labeled bossy, a troublemaker, a bitch or any creative combination of the three. So as I continue to learn and grow as a woman in this society, I’ve developed my own mantra that serves me well when I face setbacks and fuels my fire when I’m grinding forward:
There is power in irreverence.
If you don’t take boundaries seriously, it’s not as scary to run up against them. There are consequences of course. You will likely be fired at least once, you will not always be liked, and you will sometimes be lonely.
For me, it’s been more than worth it. But I’m a white woman who was raised in an upper-middle class family with an Ivy League stamp of approval on my resume. I can speak on behalf of a very small and privileged group of women in this country. My experiences with sexism have not been compounded by racism, xenophobia or classism. My privilege, a hand I was dealt at birth, has played a great role in every opportunity put on my plate. It is my responsibility to identify that privilege, acknowledge it, and give it up. Or, to be irreverent in the face of institutionalized isms.
A woman from history who inspires Rebecca:
Identifying one woman is tough, but since I’m on the theme of irreverence I’ll go with Nancy Wake, a servicewoman in WWII with a give-no-fucks attitude. Her irreverence for gender roles within the Special Operations Executive eventually earned her a great deal of respect and paved the way for her to save hundreds of people in WWII as she escorted them through occupied France to safety in Spain.
And she was feisty. My favorite anecdote: After her parachute became stuck in a tree and a Frenchman commented that he wished all trees could bear such beautiful fruit she quipped “Don’t give me that French shit.” What a woman!
Rebecca recommends these awesome organizations:
The Outrage donates 15-100% of its profits to organizations that fight for women’s empowerment. I have weekly existential crises while determining where to direct funds, but it does allow me to meet powerful women that are real-life agents for change.
Here are a few:
She Should Run – a D.C.-based organization that inspires and educates women and girls about running for political office.
ACLU – most people are aware of the ACLU and the immensely important work they are doing right now, but in these times we can’t show enough support for our nation’s guardian of liberty.
Planned Parenthood – since we opened a retail space in D.C. we’ve raised $26k for the local branch (THANK YOU, D.C.!) and we kick proceeds from online sales to national.