The Brooklyn 100: Amber Gordon, Founder of Femsplain

Amber Gordon

Shouldn’t it be possible to harness the community-building power of the internet as a force for good? That’s the question that drove Amber Gordon to quit her job at Tumblr and found Femsplain, a community determined to foster a safe, creative place for women to interact with each other online. The community she’s built over the last year or so speaks for itself: women needed this, and need each other. Gordon’s just the one who made them feel safe enough to admit that.

What spurred you to found Femsplain?
A bunch of things really, I was really bored and frustrated with my previous position and couldn’t see myself leaving for something else. Femsplain was a side project started by my friends and I because we were tired of hearing the same voices and reading the same stories over and over. It sort of exploded over night and finally gave me a solid reason to leave my job and work on this full-time.

How’d you come up with the name and aesthetic?
Funny enough a friend of mine suggested that I “Femsplain” a name to him while I was thinking of what we’d name it. The blog originally was called “Sad Drunk Girls” but I wanted it to be something that anyone could read and relate to. As far as aesthetic, it’s a good reflection of myself personally, and if you know me you know I love pink. We used to get a bunch of crap messages due to our logo being pink, one time someone emailed me to say that we were “hurting the feminist movement.” I’m pretty sure I fell out of my chair laughing. Our logo is an F inside a chat bubble because our stories are meant to start a discussion.

What do you think most people don’t understand about community building?
It’s really not as simple as “If you build it they will come.” I strongly believe there has to be an existing passion or need for what you’re trying to build a community around. Also, in order for a community to be successful, whoever is managing it has to allow it to grow on it’s own without focusing too much on their own vision for it. Moderation is so important and having someone who lives and breathes the values you’re trying to emulate is essential.

Can you give us a brief rundown of accomplishments and background on the first year for the organization?
We launched October 27th 2014 as a side project that myself and Gabriela Barkho had together. In February we raised $30K from over 800+ people from Kickstarter which we used to pay our contributors for an entire year. Since then we’ve published 1,000+ stories from 500+ women and non-binary people around the world, approved 1,500 comments, had 3 live events and 2 workshops.

Let’s talk about the decision to take stop posting newcontent while you raise more money to pay contributors. Can you break that down for us?
We’ve had a really hard time finding a business model that works for our content as well as finding investors other than friends and family. The money we raised from crowdfunding was nearing an end, and because it’s only two of us. running all operations we had to take a break to figure out what our future looks like. We’re using this time to find a way to continue to operate and pay our contributors as we are firm believers in compensation. If nothing else we want to set an example and I know our community appreciated this decision. We’ll be back soon enough!

Oh, did you say Femsplainer? Tell me more!
It’s a short and to the point newsletter that gives you three things you need to know and read every day. We include something from Femsplain, something from a partner we love and a job listing to check out. It’s hand curated everyday by the Femsplain staff with love. You can subscribe here!

Why do you think there’s such a prevalence of emotional terrorism and bullying online?
I believe it’s because of the lack of accountability the people who are bullying have. The anonymity that places such as Twitter or unmoderated comment sections give is the perfect environment for harassment. Not to say that it doesn’t happen on other places where you have to use your name, but it’s mostly because there’s minimal moderation and guidelines put in place. Also, since users are so important for these companies, there’s nothing from stopping people from creating new accounts whenever they get banned or suspended.

How do you think we can stop it? How can we actually make women and other marginalized people feel safe online?
Honestly I don’t know the finite answer. As someone who’s constantly bullied and have been harassed online in the past I know things that can be done to help prevent it. Until websites invest in the protection of women and other marginalized people there’s always a way to get around technology. Whatever is done in the future needs to come from a place of empathy, and companies need to work with victims of online bullying and harassment to learn exactly where the holes are.

What do you know now that you wish you knew back when you started the site?
Never did I think I’d be running a company at my age, It’s something I dreamed of but I never thought I would actually be doing it. I wish I had more confidence when talking about myself and what we were building. A lot of websites have tried to emulate what we’re doing but I still think they’re missing the community aspect that we’ve built. You can’t copy that because it’s something that occurs naturally over time.

How can people support Femsplain?
Just by reading and sharing the content that already exists on our website. By reaching out to our writers if you enjoyed what they wrote and letting them know. I can’t say enough how good it feels to hear that someone relates to something you wrote. Subscribe to our newsletter, it’s really fun and informative. If you’ve got an extra dollar or ten lying around we could always use more support on Patreon.

What are you most excited about for the future?
Continuing to build our platform and change more lives for the better. I can’t wait to hear all the stories from people on how we’ve made them feel less alone or helped them realize something about themselves. I live for this.

To see the rest of the 100 Most Influential People in Brooklyn Culture list, please visit here.

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