What Makes An Idea Valuable? Feminist Giving Explores

Have you ever wondered why, if we care so much about gender equality in the US, we make no progress on basic indicators like wage equality, which has been at a virtual standstill since 1994? 

Feminist Giving explores the terrain of how we give for gender equality.

One of the themes that my book, Feminist Giving, explores is the question of what makes certain ideas valuable, so valuable that they enter the mainstream of culture and become practiced in significant behavior changes.

The book demonstrates that what philanthropy does to change its behavior is very much a mirror of the rest of society. Sadly, the book concludes that it’s still a man’s world, and philanthropy remains a part of that problem.

But some of philanthropy is slowly changing, and perhaps in ten or twenty years, philanthropy as a whole will be working much more proactively to fight the tide of its own systemic injustices.

As a clinical therapist, writer, and activist, the question of what makes an idea valuable interests me greatly — so greatly that I decided in 2017 to start a website, Philanthropy Women, to explore all the gender equality strategies I could find. These ideas and strategies are virtually invisible to most of society. Mostly kept out of mainstream media and even marginalized by philanthropy publications, feminist giving ideas have a long way to go before they truly have their desired impact on the world. 

But they are getting there, slowly and surely. The book shows dozens of ways that feminist giving — giving largely by women meant to impact gender equality — is making its mark on the world.

The book explores the strategies of leaders like Yolanda F. Johnson, founder of Women of Color in Fundraising and Philanthropy, a pioneering thought leader who has made it her life mission to rebel against, and change, philanthropy’s exclusionary practices both in terms of gender and race. “In order to see real, lasting change, we must begin with ourselves,” says Johnson in the book. Johnson’s organization aims to be the hub and heart for women of color to take their rightful place in leadership in both fundraising and philanthropy.

The book also explores the history of the women’s funding movement and the narratives that have been included, and excluded, in that history. The book re-centers these narratives by highlighting leaders who went unrecognized in the past such as Madam C.J. Walker, an African American female philanthropist who was, until recently, largely invisible in contemporary culture. It also delves into the leadership of women like Matilda Joslyn Gage, who in the late 1800’s concerned herself with the rights of women who needed abortions and women who were divorced, only to be written out of the women’s rights history by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who deemed her ideas too radical and therefore harmful to the progress of the movement as a whole.

The book discusses how COVID has influenced feminist giving, and how it has also served as the ultimate sign that women’s leadership matters. It also provides a window into the world of ecofeminist giving — giving that takes both an environmental and a gender lens. 

The influence of women donors on political leadership is another subject of the book, showing how women funders have had a remarkable impact on elections in recent years, particularly the election of Kamala Harris to the role of Vice President. 

In another chapter, the book reviews a number of different gender lens strategies that are working away at women’s equality across the lifespan, starting with maternal care and going forward to discuss health issues particular to women such as menstrual hygiene, sexual assault, abortion and reproductive health, and elderly women’s health.

And there is more: a chapter dedicated to the strategies employed by state and regional women’s funds, with profiles of some of the most tenacious and ambitious leaders of our time like Ana Oliveira and Felecia Lucky.

With additional chapters on giving circles and gender lens investing, as well as a chapter dedicated to the men who give for gender equality, the book pans the scene from multiple perspectives. It also takes a deep dive into the particular dynamics of feminist giving by ultra-high net worth women like Mackenzie Scott and Melinda French Gates. 

In the end, the book questions whether our current economic systems are capable of truly serving to equalize opportunity and resources for women and girls. Offering alternative models such as Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics, the book provides insight into how we might restructure our economies to be more distributive by design.

The book is available in both ebook and hardcover book forms. For those who prefer direct internet links to resources, the ebook of Feminist Giving may prove to be a better value. For those who prefer a traditional book, the hardcover book also has footnotes for all sources cited. The book is also available on Amazon, but as a telling show of how a corporation like Amazon makes its profits, when I did a quality control check by purchasing the book through Amazon, I found out they are producing a substandard version with a lower quality of paper and an incorrectly colored book jacket. My publisher, Lulu, contacted Amazon about the problem. Amazon blamed it on their subcontractor Ingram, and they blamed it on a “printing floor error.” However, subsequent copies of the book ordered on Amazon have been printed exactly the same with the low quality paper and a pinkish book jacket. So while my publisher and I take on the David and Goliath battle to get my book produced correctly on Amazon, I recommend buying the book through Lulu. 

David Drewery, Executive Director of Alliance Magazine, a global philanthropy magazine, put it to me succinctly recently. In a discussion about the marginalization of philanthropy news stories in general, he made a remark about how it’s difficult to get mainstream culture to care about what men are doing in philanthropy, and when on top of that you ask them to care about what women are doing in philanthropy, it’s almost like they “double don’t care.”

So, I encourage people to “double DO care” about women’s philanthropy rather than double don’t care. It’s a much brighter, and more reality-based future, if you double DO care about women’s leadership and feminist giving. 


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Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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