Marianne Schnall is pushing women and girls to use their voices to be the agents of change that our families, workplaces, and society need right now.
How I'm Skirting the Rules
More than 20 years ago, Marianne Schnall created Feminist.com, the first online home to curate the most impactful women’s activist groups, such as the Ms. Foundation for Women, Equality Now, and Girls Inc. She has sat down with some of the biggest influencers of our day, including Sheryl Sandberg, Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, Madeleine Albright, Oprah, and many, many more. Beyonce was recently quoted as naming Marianne’s latest book, a collection of interviews with prominent disruptors called What Will It Take To Make a Woman President?, as a must-read for her younger fans. Find out why this skirter believes turning inward is the first step to changing our outer reality.
I’m Skirting the Rules by letting my inner knowing lead in both my professional and personal life. I think it all starts with being in touch with our inner worlds so that we can know who we really are in order to use our voices from a more powerful place. We get so many disempowering messages starting from when we are young girls—whether it is to be something other than ourselves or to want things we don’t necessarily want or need —that block us from our brilliance.
I believe the most powerful feminine strengths that help women get ahead are, well, I always like to emphasize first that masculine and feminine strengths are present in both men and women. We need more men to also be in tune with their feminine values and qualities. Also, this isn’t to say ‘all’ women embody these qualities. However, in general, in interviewing women and men for the book, many spoke of women generally being good consensus builders; good listeners and communicators; and able to reach across divides to find commonalities and solutions.
The biggest risk I ever took is founding Feminist.com more than 20 years ago because I was still figuring out what feminism was for myself. We’re planning a redesign and rebranding of the site to reflect the more inclusive movement that it has become and the diverse voices who are at the forefront of feminist issues today, including young women, women of color, men, LGBTQ communities, and more. I also think there is growing awareness about how there are no such thing as “women’s issues”—the status of women and girls is interconnected with so many issues affecting humanity and our planet. We all benefit from a more equal, diverse, and just world.
An example of how listening to my intuition has helped me is when I left a secure, glamorous job for an uncertain freelance career that was focused on being an activist for women and other social causes. I was in my 20s and working as a reporter for Us magazine, interviewing some of the most well-known celebrities on the planet. It was fun going to red carpet events, and I remember everyone being very enamored with my job and my life. Still, I knew there was something I was meant to be doing that would be more deeply fulfilling for me.
Then in 1992 I covered The March for Women’s Lives in Washington, DC. It was the first time I was interviewing celebrities like Gloria Steinem, Jane Fonda, and Sarah Jessica Parker who were speaking out for a cause. It was an epiphany moment. I suddenly discovered my passion and knew that I wanted to leave Us to interview celebrities about their causes rather than only about the movies they were making. I pitched the idea to InStyle magazine and went on to interview celebrities about their causes and charities for the “Cause Celeb” feature for many years. It also led me to start Feminist.com. Something had awakened in me and I heard it, and I followed it.
My secret talent is getting the people I interview to share very candidly and personally about themselves and their lives.
My biggest rebel move is more of a daily thing I’ve done throughout my life, and it’s using my voice to speak out against the status quo and various forms of injustice to try to make change for a more equal, peaceful, sustainable world. I do this through my websites (in addition to Feminist.com, I co-founded the environmental website ecomall.com with my husband), my writing, my speaking appearances, and just generally in my everyday life. I think that any time you don’t just sit on the sidelines and instead become an active participant to try to create a vision of a more positive world, that is a form of being a rebel.
A woman is most powerful when she knows who is and stands boldly and proudly in her own skin. When she dares to be herself, follows her intuition, and speaks from her true voice. When she sees herself as the agent of change in the world that she truly is and that we need her to be.
A time I wish I’d listened to my inner knowing more was when I was an adolescent and tried too hard to fit in and conform because I was so caught up in what other people thought of me. I didn’t have to be so tortured and fixated on things that didn’t matter. I remember Jane Fonda telling me during an interview that it wasn’t until she was 62 after her divorce that she really got in touch with her true self. For me, it wasn’t until I was 30. After I interviewed her I thought, this is ridiculous, let’s not waste half our lifetimes not being true to ourselves.
The female disruptor who most inspires me and why is Eve Ensler for her courageous and beautiful spirit. I was in the room that electrifying night when the term V-Day came into being. It happened when Eve came to pitch her vision of using her play, The Vagina Monologues, as a vehicle to raise funds to stop violence against women at in a board meeting of Feminist.com. It was that electric night when the term V-Day and the first seeds of the organization and first fundraiser was born. It is amazing the impact it has had—and continues to have. Since then, V-Day has gone on to raise more than $100 million for women’s causes around the world.
My advice to my younger self would be to reduce the amount of media that you’re reading and stop fixating on the pictures of what you think you’re supposed to look like or be like. If you’re always trying to fit yourself into others’ vision of who they think you should be, you will not be able to find your true path.
My favorite “mini-skirt” is connecting with nature. When I’m feeling disconnected or overwhelmed, just looking up at the sky, or listening to the birds sing, or being out in wildlife with the flowers, butterflies, and trees, or looking up at the stars and moon, is so grounding.
I find the possible within the impossible when I use courage. One of my biggest obstacles are the little voices of self doubt that sometimes try to get in my way when faced with a challenging situation in my professional and personal life. Whenever this happens, I think of what Dr. Maya Angelou told me, which is to have courage! So I always try to remember to push through my doubts and fear and believe in myself.