Monday, 6 April 2015

Interview: Amber Gordon, founder of Femsplain


“I just wanted to build a community of people who can support each other whilst feeling comfortable and safe expressing themselves.” - Amber Gordon, founder of Femsplain


For over 50 years, women of the world have grown with the feminist movement. However, only in the past few years has feminism really come to the forefront in the media, both online and offline.

Personally, I love discovering empowering women around the world whether it be on the internet or in real life – really, it makes me all happy and fuzzy inside. I love finding driven women who aim to inspire, inform and achieve. So imagine my delight when I got the opportunity to interview the founder of Femsplain.com, 25-year-old Amber Gordon for my final project magazine, Bloom.

“Femsplain is a community of people who’ve come together on the internet to change the way women are discussed - through discussion. We call ourselves a shared experience publisher and we only share stories that are very personal to our contributors that hopefully our readers can somehow identify with or support” says Amber.


The site launched on October 27, 2014 - coincidentally the same day that Taylor Swift launched her 1989 album: “not intentional, we just wore the same dress to the party I guess” Amber laughs. Since the launch, Femsplain has received a whole lot of internet lovin’ from the likes of Lena Dunham and Tyler Oakley. And in February 2015, Femsplain launched a Kickstarter campaign in order to raise money to fund the website, the contributors and future Femsplain community events. The Kickstarter campaign surpassed its target of $25,000 and raised a whopping $30,608.


So who is the founder of such a fabulous website for anyone who identifies as female? Amber Gordon is a 25 year old creative strategist living in New York City. Originally living between both Connecticut and Wisconsin, Amber decided to move to the Big Apple almost three years ago, a place she has “always dreamed of living.” 


With her previous employer being Tumblr, it’s fair to say that Amber was doing pretty well for herself beforehand, however she explained “since I was a kid, I had always wanted to build something of my own,” describing Femsplain as her baby. And although she is not currently earning a salary from it, it is clear how passionate she is about the site, saying “I’ll do whatever I have to do to support it and make it a success.”


Initially, the idea for the website had been titled Sad Drunk Girls – a title Amber and her friends aptly gave to posts they would write to each other in group texts when they were, you guessed it, sad and drunk. This initial concept then formed the idea for Femsplain as the girls decided they should “build a platform for other people to do this, to feel safe, to meet people and help themselves feel that they’re not alone whatever they’re going through.”


Once they had a platform they needed a name, when one day the lightbulb moment came as Amber’s guy friend said to her: “Why don’t you just Femsplain a name to me Amber?” and that was that. Speaking about Femsplain, Amber said “Our mission is to change the way women are discussed through discussion, so we’re trying to change the name Femsplain too. It’s not really a positive word, it’s the opposite of Mansplain which is negative, and so we’re reshaping the conversation on women as well as reshaping the word Femsplain. Plus it’s a catchy name and easy to remember!”



Although the website predominantly receives articles from its contributors, Femsplain accepts all types of content including videos, art, illustrations, music and of course, writing. However, when pitching to Femsplain, contributors must bear in mind the website’s theme each month. For example, one month the theme was Fear, Amber explains: “we ask people to submit content keeping that broad theme in mind. It doesn’t directly need to be about fear itself but more about a particular time you’ve felt fear or how that theme applies to your life.”


Giving an example of a piece written for Femsplain’s fear theme, Amber said: “A young 15 year old girl from the United Kingdom wrote about how she’s learning about what feminism is in school right now including empowerment and equality. She believes in feminism but she’s afraid about what happens when she leaves school: will she be able to take her knowledge into the work force? Will she have to suppress it because if she wants a promotion, will that be annoying to her boss? She’s afraid. And that’s the kind of raw, awesome stuff we post!”


“Our content is meant to be very relatable and just because female-identified women are the primary voices, men can totally join in the discussion and the articles are definitely relatable to anyone.”


However, Amber does note that Femsplain avoids publishing anything that attacks a certain thing or person without proper knowledge or backing. Fortunately they have only had one slip since starting the website, on a piece written about names of modern romance novels. Speaking on the honest mistake, Amber said: “It’s like a learning curve for us. One thing that we didn’t think was offensive happened to be offensive to a whole group of people and we obviously apologised and have learned from it.”



Despite making one mistake, Femsplain has continued to grow as an online forum. It’s raw, gritty and honest content makes for great reading. Its community-feel is like no other website. Yes, there is similar content on sites such as Hello Giggles, Jezebel, The Toast and Thought Catalog – but nothing seems to compare. Amber explained: “I pull my inspiration from a lot of different things including The Hairpin and Rookie magazine but the main reason we created the site was because we thought there was a lack.”


“I think what sets us apart, number one – all of our content is contributed so our voice is so diverse and unique and we’re highlighting personal experiences. We’re also providing a platform to anyone who’s female-identified. So, not just women but transfems too. It’s for everyone. We want to support all women.”

And clearly all of the readers want to return the favour by supporting Femsplain too, with 780 people backing Femsplain’s Kickstarter campaign. The aim of the campaign was primarily to earn enough money to pay the people contributing to the website. In a world where people are working at magazines and websites for years for free, we asked Amber just why she felt it was so important to pay her workers:


“Right now we’re paying our future contributors and those that are giving us content every single month $100 per piece, which is above the industry standard. Most places don’t even pay at all and that’s so offensive to the people who are building their site and building their voice for them. It’s not much but it’s a thank you and it’s recognition to say: “your work means something.” Quality content deserves compensation and I feel like no-one else is doing it so I need to set some sort of standard.It’s so interesting because a lot of people ask the same question like “you’re paying your writers? That’s SO different” and it’s shocking to me that that’s the norm."


"We’re hiring an intern, we’re paying our intern. I don’t get a salary but we’re paying her and paying for her travel too. It’s important if you want to have a good morale overall. When people talk about Femsplain, I want them to be like “yeah that’s the site that pays their contributors and this is all the other great things they’re doing.”


As well as having a successful army of backers on their Kickstarter campaign and an ever-growing audience, Femsplain also has the backing of one of our favourite ladies on the planet, LENA FUCKING DUNHAM!  On 18 November, 2014 Lena Dunham tweeted: “I love Femsplain cc: @missambear” (tagging Amber Gordon in the tweet too!!) Naturally, the site was inundated with traffic and was brought down for seven hours.


Reliving the moment, Amber excitably explained: “OH MY GOD. When that happened I was still working at Tumblr. I was having a bad day and my Tweetdeck just started going crazy. At first I thought it was a parody account but clicked on it and saw the little blue tick and stood up from my desk and was like “OH MY FUCKING GOD, LENA DUNHAM JUST TWEETED AT ME” and then everyone in the office just started clapping for me. It was like the best day of my life. And then she took down the website.”


However, every cloud has a silver lining as a sysadmin from the Isle of Man volunteered to help Amber get the site up and running again after Lena’s tweet. The same sysadmin got the site back on its feet after a DDoS attack caused the site to be down on one of its most important days for content since its launch – International Women’s Day.


When speaking to Amber, she had explained that the hacking stuff had been happening since the site launched, however had never been to the scale of the International Women’s Day attack, explaining that "with the Kickstarter campaign, a lot of good people came but a lot of bad people came too."


“We had just posted an article about Hilary Clinton running the campaign called Not There about how we’ve come far to equality but we’re not quite there yet and it’s so funny that the day that was meant to celebrate women, we were being silenced.”




The organised attack happened at 12:00pm on March 8. “It was really upsetting and unfortunate but a lot of good happened from it too. We got a lot of press coverage and people were cheering us on with words of encouragement. We received $2000 in donations and were able to use that to buy software that prevents DDoS attacks and were also able to compensate our sysadmin.”


“Once we got it back up, everyone was so happy - it was like a celebration. Yes, it was unfortunate but it just shows how many people care and support us and the good does triumph evil. Plus, we got more traffic in those 2 days than we’ve gotten in a month!”


After four hours, Femsplain was back up and running and posting lots of International Women’s Day content featuring inspiring women. We were intrigued to find out, as an inspiring woman herself, who Amber Gordon’s inspirational female was growing up: “Can I say my mom?” she giggles. “My mom and step-mom are both two really strong women. My real mom had a lot of personal issues when she was growing up so she wasn’t really around much in my life, so my step-mom was like that role model for me growing up and then my mum did a complete 180 and turned her life around and she’s just been the most supportive person to me on the planet and is always there for me. She’s an incredible woman and anytime you tell her something, she’s just like “Do what you gotta do kid.”


After 45 minutes our phone call, which had felt like a conversation with a friend I had known for years, was coming to an end. So, came the final question, what does the future look like for Femsplain?


“My short-term goal is to have a little full-time team working together in the office. We also have an offline component of events, so hire event coordinators and maybe a visual artist to do all of the great graphics on the site. With staff comes more content, so long-term, the future is that we have this fully sustainable community that’s connecting and new people are meeting each other through Femsplain. Offline, we have events happening all over the world with people who met each other on the site meeting in real life and supporting each other and doing things together.”


“Femsplain was born because we decided we had to do something, so just the act of doing something is what we hope will inspire other people. If you see something wrong and you think you can change it, just do it.”


“Femsplain is my baby so I’ll do whatever I have to do to support it and make it a success.”

If you haven’t yet, visit Femsplain.com to be a part of the new online community of inspiring, real and empowering females. I'm super grateful to get the opportunity to interview Amber and hope to meet her at a Femsplain event in the future! 

LONG LIVE FEMSPLAIN <3

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