And I'm going to claim it!
The announcement of the merger between Lovehoney and WOW Tech to form the Lovehoney Group has been somewhat of red rag for me. Not because they are inherently doing anything wrong, indeed, being valued at $1.2bn they are clearly doing something very right but, like most large global corporates, the CEO is a man.
Take a gander at the FTSE100 or the Fortune500 and female CEO's make up just 6% and 4.6% of the population respectively. The world average, according to Wikipedia, is 8%. I'm curious to know how that makes you feel; for me, on certain days, those figures provoke sadness, anger and despondency. Other days, clearly this one, I see it as a call to arms- why the chuffing hell are there not more female CEOs when all the women I have ever worked for and with are nothing short of bloody marvellous?!
Perhaps noting that there have only ever been 75 women who have held the role of President or Prime Minister since 1960 (and over a third of those have been in a temporary capacity and were never re-elected in their own right), offers an even starker reminder that very few women were or are "at the top".
Or we could consider the data coming out from the academic community where publishing by female academics has reduced by at least 7% since March 2020- if you want to know more this meta-analysis is an easy read.
Ok, so what has this to do with the sexual wellness industry? Well, The Lore of Change was founded by a woman as many start-up sexual wellness businesses are. After reading The Vibrator Nation (cracking book), one of the obvious themes was the conflict between Feminism and Capitalism. Now, I've read my fair share of Dworkin, Greer, de Beauvoir and other first and second wave feminists and yeah, capitalism is the purview of men during the 20th century. But, surely, in 2021, things have changed?
I provided all the stats above to suggest no, things haven't changed- I see no female CEO running a global sexual wellness corporation. I see too few women holding the highest offices of "power" and frankly, it pisses me off. How can things change if women are not at that top table?
Now, I know Sherly Sandberg said "Lean In" but to quote Michelle O "that shit doesn't work all the time". I would argue it's not worked at all. Dawn Foster's book Lean Out is next on my to read list (after I've finished devouring Buzz: A Stimulating History of the Sex Toy).
I'm interested to discover if Foster is going to focus purely on rejecting Sandberg's limited understanding of the world, namely that working super hard and taking personal responsibility will solve all woes of women in corporateland (bloody idiot). Or, if she's going to take a pop or two at the inherent flaw of capitalism, that being it is a patriarchal construct.
Now, before I lose my those who identify as male readers, I am a huge advocate of creating a conversation about masculinities- the emphasis being on the plurality here. There are innumerable "types" of masculine identity and I consider most men to be as restricted under patriarchy as women. If you fancy a proper geek out Alexandra Shephard's Meanings of Manhood in Early Modern England and John Tosh's What should Historians do with Masculity? have been hugely influential books to me and for academic texts, a pretty good read.
In "the other bit of my life" I work in an environment dominated by white men and that ain't unusual regardless of the industry. I fully subscribe to the glass ceiling concept- I can see the top, almost touch it, but that glass is pretty impermeable. The same would also apply to colleagues of mine who do not fit the white heteronormative male cardboard cut-out. Whitney Wolfe Herd, who was amongst the founding team at Tinder, removed herself and set up the commercially successful Bumble after experiencing sexual harassment. SHE HAD TO LEAVE SOMETHING SHE HELPED CREATE!!! Atrocious, as my nan would say.
Now, to be emphatically clear, I am not attributing any negative practises to Lovehoney Group but they do have a male CEO, and this fact is what fuelled this post. I believe that you can be a Feminist and run a globally successful business. Do I think Feminism and Capitalism can coexist? Yes, but the latter has to radically change. It requires a diverse group of folk to reshape political and economic theory, it needs more women in executive roles to redefine business practises, hell, it requires the further establishment in our cultures for the multiplicity of gender identities. In the meantime, I going to fucking own capitalism, I acknowledge it's existence and will not be crushed by it. I want to prove that ethics need not be compromised by Capitalism and that a woman can competently, with full emotional engagement (within herself and externally with the world), lead at the helm. Herd did it. Lake did it. Hartz did it. Davies has done it. Parsons is doing it. (And I know you're going to have to Google most of those names as sadly they're not as synonymous with our psyche as Gates, Zuckerberg, Branson...). So I ask, why can't I? Why can't you? Why can't we?
I am wildly keen to hear your thoughts, whether that be responding directly to this post or emailing me at email@example.com. Indeed, got something you want to say that requires it's own full blown blog post? Reach out- I am after more beautiful brains to challenge the male CEO narrative and hear your answer to the question: Can you be a Feminist CEO?
Ciao for now.