Feminist Oasis was started as an experimental and exploratory business, and continues to be a evolving and fluid entity. So when people ask me, as the founder of this business (or social enterprise), how it came to be, they may expect a founder’s story that involves market research, business plans, messaging studies, a highly-produced rolled-out launch, etc.
The actual birth of this business happened when I finally set aside the need for finalizing these “reasonable” steps, embracing the experimental possibilities contained in the core vision and then taking the leap and just launching it. I wanted to come up with the answers that are needed to grow into a future home (answers that concrete business plans, etc., help determine) by exploring the questions together, as a community. I update this from time to time, but the origin story remains.
—Crystal Paradis, Founder
Where did Feminist Oasis come from?
Starting in early January 2017, founder Crystal Paradis began to formulate ideas around creating a physical gathering space for women and/or social justice organizers. This space would enable like-minded organizers to come together and work on community issues, create art, talk about big ideas and do so in an environment that was a haven from the corporate patriarchal atmosphere that was so pervasive in traditional spaces in our mainstream culture.
On the one hand, Crystal liked the idea of having a space to host all of the events and programming ideas that she wanted to do, and she knew lots of other organizers and activists who would use a space like that, too. Crystal had lots of ideas of fun workshops, media discussions, consciousness-raising discussions and opportunities to build community in a new way. The idea vacillated between a more work-centric or co-working space to a more casual and radical collaboration space for artists and organizers. But having a physical came with questions like: should it be in a more obvious place like Portsmouth, already known as a hub of creativity, or in a place more accessible for folks who had already been pushed out of these more expensive downtown hubs? What about finding an urban downtown that could really benefit from this type of innovative revitalization? What about finding a farm about to be retired for lack of interest in a next generation of farmers, and build this space around sustainable food, therefore integrating even more life needs into the offerings of this space?
In June of 2016, founder Crystal Paradis quit her job under circumstances that pushed her into what she eventually coined “values-centric work.” For the rest of that year, she worked as a community organizer to elect Hillary Clinton and Democrats all the way down the ticket in New Hampshire. After the November election, she was facing a truly blank slate. No job, no permanent residence, no future plans. While applying to new jobs and generally recovering from the life of a campaign organizer, Crystal was surprised to find how quickly she was able to create an economically stable life for herself, based on her own deeply-held values. She saw so many other people, particularly brilliant and qualified women, who were working to make others wealthy but who wished they could do what they really wanted to do: work that they really believed in. She did a Pecha Kucha talk on “Values-Centric Work” and continued to incubate ideas that would become Feminist Oasis throughout 2017.
Her ulterior motive for a work-centric space was to pool together resources that would make it much easier to overcome the true barriers that many women, specifically women who have children or limited economic capital, face when taking a leap of turning a side hustle or passion project into an economically viable business.
Another major consideration that I was going back and forth on was the issue of whether this space would be unapologetically for women (as were many exciting new places popping up around the country, like Women’s Center for Creative Work, The Wing, The Coven, New Women Space, etc.), or be open to anyone who felt aligned with the community values (more in line with a post-patriarchal society — but were we really there yet?). The more obvious the oppression of women and marginalized communities became in the daily news throughout 2017, the more necessary a haven from white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy felt. No matter where on this particular gender-inclusive spectrum the eventual space would be, I knew that it would be inclusive to all women-identifying people, including trans women and gender non-conforming or nonbinary folks, so I started gravitating towards the spelling of “womxn” that was the most inclusive (recognizing the history of transphobia that “womyn” carried with it). More on our inclusive language here. It only took the first few events to show us, though, that there was no need to exclude any genders — we quickly shifted into “all genders welcome” for everything we were doing.
Throughout 2017, Crystal met with a good amount of community leaders, consulted with the NH Women’s Business Center, approached a local developer with the idea and had meetings with several friends across sectors like architecture, business, art, community building, etc., eager to get a plan together and start raising money to build this utopia. She drafted a plan of the space, outlining what it would look like, how the community would operate and share costs, how resources like transportation, childcare and healthcare could be pooled to make them more accessible for everybody. She envisioned a public-private partnership with a town; coop-like revenue models split with the community members and municipality. She started wondering if people were going to actually live there, too — it made sense in some ways, but felt too big in other ways.
She also thought about the flip side of having an actual physical space — what if it remained entirely organized events/pop-up experiences? We could take over spaces for periods of time, an evening or a few weeks, during times when spaces were not being used or had space that we could use for our purposes that complimented the space’s primary use. Crystal’s campaign organizer/community organizer brain tingled at the thought of this — could she put to use my network of collaborators, and find a lower-overhead way to access the physical spaces and the focus would remain in the programming itself? Would this make workshops and events easier to offer? Or would the organizing energy of frequently moving outweigh the cost savings?
That thing began to happen that happens to so many big ideas — the founder/orginator of a new idea became overwhelmed with the enormity of it, and caught up in the “analysis paralysis” that happens when you’re stuck in a cycle of questions that you can’t make up your mind about. Location, name, community segments, financial models, physical space versus pop-up experiences and how broad the mission and audience was. The more people Crystal talked to about the idea, the more enthusiasm grew — but so did the complexity of the idea. Everybody had additional considerations to add, new ways that this could succeed for more people. It was great to see the energy growing, but she was losing sight of her original vision and mission.
By the end of 2017, Crystal had taken the idea underground for a bit, deciding that she was going to stop talking about it until she’d figured out and nailed down at least some of the big questions.
Okay, let’s go for it.
On November 21, 2017, Crystal had a routine a hair cut with her longtime stylist and friend, Jessica Todd. They chatted as usual about our upcoming projects, and Jessica asked Crystal what big thing she was up to next. After hesitating at first, wondering if she was ready to even be talking about her big idea… she decided to just go for it and tell her. Crystal outlined a really high-level view of the idea for the space, what people might do there, and how it would be a place to host all the events and programming ideas that she had.
“What kinds of events would you even do?” Jessica asked.
“Oh, that’s the easy part,” Crystal said. She started by telling her several of the ideas that she’d had. “First, I want to have a women-only screening of Beyoncé’s Lemonade, followed by a discussion with maybe some women’s studies professors, on the feminist theory in that film. Also, I want to have an intergenerational feminist discussion, where people have to bring someone 15 years older or younger than themselves so we can talk about the feminist movement informed by past, present and future perspectives…” Crystal went on and mentioned a few other ideas, like a pop-up coworking series, and Jess was on board right away.
Not only did Jess remind Crystal of how exciting these ideas were (she’d lost the excitement because she’d been thinking about them for so long), Jess also offered up her own space to host a first event or two. Crystal told her that an additional hesitation she had that was keeping her from just starting pop-up events was that she didn’t have a name yet, or any branding done. In order to make pop-up events memorable and harness those multiple experiences together into equity under one brand name, you really have to have a name, right? It might have been a silly thing to get caught up on, but it seemed like a crucial piece.
The very next day after that hair cut conversation, having been re-energized by seeing and hearing enthusiasm from another person about these ideas, Crystal had the name: Feminist Oasis. She’d been brainstorming and trying to figure out what exactly she wanted to convey with the name. The word oasis came, and she immediately Googled Feminist Oasis. She was shocked to discover that the .com URL and major social media handles for “feministoasis” were available. From her time in marketing and naming products and businesses, Crystal knew that for two easily-spelled and relatively short words, this almost never happens. It seemed perfect — not, perhaps, for a future permanent home, but certainly for this pop-up entity. It said exactly what Crystal was going for — an oasis from white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. Cut, print. She was going for it.
The signature color
So as to not get caught up in a branding analysis paralysis of a logo and typeset wordmark, etc., Crystal thought the easiest way to make an immediate visual impact as a pop-up entity was to have a unique signature color. When taking over a new pop-up space, using that color would easily transform the space from its usual look, and people could start to to recognize a Feminist Oasis event.
Crystal wanted to ask questions and gather feedback and input at every event, so seh knew that interactive Post-It walls would be present at most of the events, too, adding more opportunity for that color.
She decided on a vibrant green, just a bit dialed back from a garish lime. Green said “abundance” and an abundance mentality goes directly against the scarcity complex that our unhealthy power structures are built upon. It also said growth, nature, life, renewal — all great things.
Feminist Oasis, LLC
On January 3, 2018, Crystal filed official paperwork through the State of New Hampshire for Feminist Oasis, LLC. It came with a “Certificate of Formation” — a clear sign, she thought, that Bey was watching over us.
Hello, Feminist Oasis, LLC.
Why a business? Why not a nonprofit, a 501(c)3 or 501(c)4? See FAQs for this oft-asked question!
The Lemonade launch — our first event
“As I started planning our first event — that Lemonade screening — for January 20, 2017, the ‘I’ quickly became a ‘we.'” Crystal says.
Jessica Todd and her staff were the host and significant collaborative partner for this launch event. Feminist scholars from UNH’s Women’s Studies Department and Phillips Exeter Academy were enlisted. DJ Skooch, Laney & Lu and Kate & Keith Photography came on board offering services at the event. NH Women’s Business Center, L’Oreal and 3S Artspace sponsored projector equipment, a screen and chairs. The New Hampshire Women’s Foundation and Celina Adams Consulting came on as fiscal sponsors to help cover the speaker fees and other costs that tickets wouldn’t cover.
We committed from the start to paying our panelists and all vendors — even if it was not their full fee, it was really important that right out of the gate, we were a business that paid for labor. The economic empowerment, particularly of professional women, was not going to be undercut just because we were doing “good work.”
“The event was incredible,” Crystal says. “While much of it was a blur as I pushed through insecurities to execute this personal and professional milestone, one moment stands out so very clearly. A friend and attendee shared her thoughts on the experience towards the end of our post-film discussion. With tears in her eyes, she expressed gratitude for being in this space, for being surrounded by such an incredible group supportive women, lifting each other up.
“It was a perfect articulation of my goal behind this event, and behind Feminist Oasis as a whole.”
We were off!
Promoting intersectional feminism
Using the word “feminist” brought with it an increased feeling that all genders must be welcome — while spaces created and unapologetically reserved for women are undeniably important, the perception of the feminist movement as being only about women or only for women is a misconception that we wanted to help break down. Feminist theorist bell hooks defines feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation and oppression.”
Part of ending sexism is ending discrimination against women, particularly those of color, of varying socio-economic backgrounds, with disabilities, of varying gender identity and sexual orientations. But part of that is also the recognition of sexist oppression of men and male-identified people — cultural messaging and expectations around masculinity, chivalry and emotional expression — and gender binary thinking, period. Feminism must address all of these systems of oppression and more.
Just because we had “feminist” in our business name did not mean that we were solely responsible for shouldering the work of an entire movement, just as one person or group or business cannot be the sole representation of an entire movement. However, the word “feminist” is already so polarizing, that by using it in our name, we hold a certain responsibility of being the best representation of the movement we can be. And to us, that means being an inclusive representation for the intersectional movement.
We remain convinced that spaces reserved primarily for women/womxn are necessary, but eventually decided that a business with the word “feminist” in it is not the right vehicle for gender-exclusive programming.
There are some events we do that certainly center womxn, though. Galentine’s Day, for example, is traditionally “a celebration of female friendship” even if all genders are still welcome to our Galentine’s Day parties. And particularly for our discussions around feminism and social issues, and our action plans, we absolutely must have men involved in order for these conversations and actions to have maximum impact in the community.
We’re finding already that simply having the word “feminist” in our name leaves most men to assume that it’s not for them. We certainly don’t have an issue with womxn’s voices being centered at these events — at least, that has been our experience thus far. We want to create spaces centered around values of intersectionality and inclusion, and we’re working to get the word out that we want all genders (that means you, men!) to join us.
Dismantling patriarchy is not the sole responsibility of women, just as dismantling white supremacy is not the sole responsibility of people of color. These systemic structures are harmful to all, and we must all work together to dismantle them and build sustainable alternatives.
One of the benefits of being a pop-up entity is that we can experiment with various locations around the region, and different types of spaces. We’ve already held or are planning to hold events in: hair salons, art galleries, cafes, private homes, dance halls, universities and performance venues.
We would love to explore even less traditional spaces — such as off-hours businesses and other partially-unused spaces — for future experiences.
We are always looking for new spaces as we create these events — for limited or ongoing collaboration. Some host venues split programming revenue with us, others benefit from sales of goods they offer our participants. We discuss how we can create mutual value with all of our host partners. Got a space to offer? Contact us!
The types of experiences we are currently working on:
- Feminists, Waffles, Work — coworking sessions kicked off by workshops around feminist entrepreneurship and sustainable models of business, art and activism
- Oasis events — parties & celebrations for fun & inspiration (See: Get Cozy + Creative and Lift Each Other Up)
- Community conversations + listening sessions — issue-specific discussions around intersectional feminism
- Book Clubs & Article Clubs — discussing intersectional feminist writings
- Member socials — just like it sounds!
- Field Trips — organized group visits to art galleries, films and feminist-centric events organized by others that are values-aligned
Building alternatives to white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy
We have found that the phrase “building alternatives to white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy” can be unsettling. That is okay — it is going to be uncomfortable to dismantle such deeply-ingrained systems of oppression. Those in power benefit from perpetuating a sense that current power structures are good, or at least are inevitable.
However, it is also up to us to educate our community that working to dismantle these unhealthy power structures does not mean that we are against the people that these structures claim to benefit. We are not anti-white people, anti-free market or anti-men. These unhealthy power structures are harmful to all involved. White supremacy is most harmful, and even deadly, for people of color, but it is also damaging to those who believe themselves to be white, too. Capitalism which is built on colonialism, oppression and slavery is not a truly free market, and it is unsustainable even for those at the narrowing top. Patriarchy is oppressive to womxn and femininity, but it is damaging to all genders.
This is why we are focused on building alternatives to these structures. We believe that by demonstrating that there is a better way, a more equitable way — that it is not necessary to rely on existing models built on these problematic structures — that people will see by example that it is possible to do things differently. By no means do we think that we are the first to try to do this. We are inspired by so many who have gone before and questioned these power structures and fought for justice, and we seek to lift them up as examples, to spread their stories more widely and to inspire new possibilities by following their examples and building off of them.
Lifting each other up
Thankfully, the concept of women being filled with competition or cattiness is dying out already, but patriarchal power structures continue to promote the scarcity mentality that there are limited spaces for women.
Part of building alternatives to that mentality is unabashedly lifting each other up. If Feminist Oasis could be encapsulated in a GIF, it would be this one by artist Libby Vanderploeg, entitled “Lift each other up”:
There is no shortage of work to be done in any or all of these arenas. We are seeing more and more like-minded organizations, businesses and entrepreneurs emerge with unabashed values-centric practices.
One of our the ways we show up is “Yes, and!” — meaning that there is space for all of this work to be done. And there is space for everyone to be doing it in the way that best fits them, with focuses that they care about the most.
To bring this goal into practice in a very tangible way, we hope to organize regular parties and celebratory events where our sole purpose is just to lift up those around us doing amazing things. We want to collaborate with many mission-aligned entites, and are excited about continuing to lift each other up in all the ways.
Calling all co-conspirators!
Alexandra Bishop quickly became an integral collaborator for events planning and for kicking around big strategy, goals and messaging for Feminist Oasis. Crystal and Alexandra decided on “Co-Conspirator” as a fitting title for Alexandra. They liked how “conspiring” had more secretive or undermining/radical connotation than simply co-organizer or a co-somethingelse.
A few days later that Crystal saw a tweet quoting author Angie Thomas: “We don’t need allies in the fight for social justice — we need co-conspirators.” It called to mind the phrase was reported to be used by social worker Feminista Jones in 2015 and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza in 2016. Wherever it originated, this alternative to “ally” is an action-centric one, and therefore aligned with our ethos.
On our frequent check-in conversations, Alexandra & Crystal discuss how can rethink assumptions at every possible stage of this evolving entity — from subscription structures, business memberships, events budget structure including percentage shares for panelists and organizers, sliding scales for more marginalized community members, and all manner of radical experiments. We’re talking about recording these conversations and releasing them through a podcast — not as a sign that we’ve figured everything out, but on the contrary to make our explorations transparent. For now, we publish things on our blogs when we have time outside of promoting our events and creating resources for our members.
There are other co-conspirators, too, in big ways and small. We’re looking forward to build this new economy and create spaces for all of us to work together, rethink assumptions, learn about those who have gone before us, build on their work, listen to each other and act for justice. (Want to join us? Let us know!)
What makes this all so exciting is the freedom to explore, to test the hypothesis that a truly intersectional anti-oppression force for equity and justice can also be sustainable: economically, energetically, environmentally, communally.
There’s no real end to the origin story of an entity that is still evolving, but I suppose this brings us up to relatively present time. We’ve recently wrapped up a very successful (from multiple perspectives) first series of coworking, with 9 sessions throughout the month of March at Teatotaller. It was enlightening to learn how much effort it takes to organize these sessions, learn what aspects were the most valuable to participants and even testing out a new location, which ended up being a wonderfully-aligned partner where I’m sure we’ll have many future Feminist Oasis events. Our first book club was a smashing success. Our first field trip was inspiring. Our first action plan is being released any day now. And on an on it goes!
What is Feminist Oasis (today)?
I’ll wrap this up with as concise an overview as I can muster right now, as to what Feminist Oasis is — today. This is how I framed this question at each of our nine coworking sessions in March 2018, knowing that, while our vision is steady, the details of how get there continue to evolve from day to day, as we continue to listen to our community.
Feminist Oasis is a social enterprise, organizing to cultivate feminist community and explore feminist values in action.
We co-create feminist events and resources.
We focus on: Solidarity, Resilience, Sustainability and Systemic Justice.
We envision, as a community, what alternatives to white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy could look like, and explore how can we can build them, together.
We promote intersectional (inclusive) feminism through spaces (to work, create and play) and experiences (to act, challenge and inspire); and create safe and fun spaces to lift each other up.
Our key areas of focus are:
- Systemic Justice
Keep in touch as we evolve!
Follow along by subscribing to our email list — we’ll let you know of upcoming events, and new cornerstone writings here on our website. Keep an eye out for bright green zines, periodicals that we update with upcoming events and sneak our intersectional feminist propaganda into and leave around the region.
Got ideas, reactions, questions or other thoughts? Please leave them in the comments below. This is an ongoing conversation!