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THE DOYENNES

The Doyennes

The Doyennes is a website showcasing brilliant women doing brilliant things.

Founded by political scientist Maggie Alva and Art Director Anna Vaagland, with the simple goal of increasing proper female representation in the media.

Find out more here

How did you start with The Doyennes? What was the reason why you decided to create it?
Anna: It was around 3AM; Maggie and I were at an afterparty for a music video we were both in. Without knowing each other – tired, happy and drunk – we started discussing feminism. We were both speaking from a feminist point of view; myself as a former photo editor of Fett (a Norwegian feminist magazine) and Maggie having studied gender and politics as part of her International Relations degree. We were chatting loosely, but we both wanted to do something about the misrepresentation of gender in the media.
Maggie: I’d been thinking of starting a feminist blog or website, and mentioned to Anna that I needed a photographer. The next time we met we brainstormed a bit on the idea, decided on making it into an online magazine and an equal partnership. The Doyennes was born!
I read in an interview you were concerned on how women are being represented in media. Why do you think this is so? And what do you think can be done to change it?
Anna: Our experience was that women were often presented in a less serious way than men, and time and time again, journalists were introducing them as “the daughter of”, “the girlfriend of” or asking questions that men would never be asked like how they balance their career and personal life, or what kind of underwear they are wearing. Christine Dancke, a Norwegian radio host, sociologist and music expert had a segment where she asked men the questions women most frequently are asked on the red carpet: “How is it to be an all male band?” “Are there any beauty products you can’t live without?”, “Do you ever think about how your Instagram pictures affect young boys?” It really put the spotlight on how differently men and women normally are presented in the media.
Hadley Freeman (American/British journalist) once wrote:
“This is a strange pocket of the western world where it is still deemed utterly acceptable to take smart, successful women and reduce them to beauty pageant contestants …”  
Advertising accounts for a large sector of the mass media and just last week we saw an ad for a “women’s bike” by the company Biltema (a Norwegian chain focusing on car accessories) with the following text: “Women’s bikes should be fun and easy to use. A classic women’s bike is characterized by its low instep, which makes it easy to get on and off the bike, so you quickly can be on your way.” And you might remember when Bic had a special women’s day ad a couple of years ago with the text: “Look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, work like a boss,” which created outrage. Even Ellen DeGeneres had a rant on her show because of “Bic for her”, a special pen Bic made just for women in purple and pink that were designed to “fit a woman’s hand”.
These are just a few examples, but it has gotten a lot better the past couple of years because people have started talking about it, and campaigns like #metoo have created an awareness in people about the seriousness of the equality issue.
-Where do you get the content of the website and the information from? Do you have people from around the world sending it to you? or do you also contact people and are always looking for new stuff?
Anna:  We contact people we admire, scroll our way through the Internet and get tips from people who have visited the site.
Maggie: I actually got the idea of starting a website from thinking about how many cool and intelligent women I know, and being frustrated that other people didn’t know about them, because many newspapers and women’s magazines have become increasingly tabloid and focused on click-bait instead. So we started the site by interviewing women we know personally! Having lived abroad for almost a decade, a lot of my friends live in other countries, so our international contributors were actually a big part of why we decided to publish in English, and not in our native tongue, Norwegian. After having established our profile with friends and acquaintances we admired, it was easier to contact people who didn’t know us or the site – and now we get requests from all over the world! I should also mention that I read a lot, especially non-fiction, and often get ideas for people to contact through books or newspapers.  
-How can people that are interested contribute?  
Anna: We are actually looking for all kinds of contributors at the moment; people who want to write, take pictures or help us find amazing women to present. We are also looking for a good web-designer, and of course; if you know any women we should feature, we always welcome suggestions by mail!
-I really want to read, after seeing it in your website, “Why women will save the planet”and I have already read ‘Men explain things to me” which tackled the issue of women not standing up for themselves and speaking up. How do you think women can be encouraged to do so? And specially for the coming generations?
Anna: I think the most important part is knowledge. A lot of people still don’t understand that there is an equality issue, that women still earn less than men, that violence against women is a huge problem, that 700 million women that live today were forced to marry when they were kids and that only 17 of the worlds state leaders are women. The more we talk about it, the more female initiatives that are started, the more people will learn about this issue. We also need to present more female icons in the media so that younger generations see that there are female astronauts, doctors, engineers – that there is no divide between genders when it comes to careers.
Maggie: Agree. When it comes to both saving the planet and creating equality, educating girls is a huge part of the solution. Power being in the hands of a small part of the population, a part which almost never has included women, is causing trouble both for women and the planet.
Women in poor countries are usually the first to feel the effects of climate change, which is caused by a system that benefits rich men on the other side of the planet… More women in powerful positions and a more equal distribution of wealth is the only way to create any kind of balance to such a lopsided problem, and educating girls is the first step towards making such a change.
-I’m not sure I got the best translation, but in an interview I read which I think was in Norwegian, you are portrayed as “ damer” literally translated as Raw Women. Can you explain me what this means exactly or what kind of women you think you are or what adjective you would use to describe yourselves and the spirit of The Doyennes?
– “Rå damer” is more correctly translated to “awesome women”, but it is a funnier word in Norwegian because it can also mean “raw” like you’re saying. It’s a flattering description either way, and we think (or hope!) that it’s very much in the spirit of The Doyennes – all we want to do is present brilliant women in different fields, to spread knowledge and inspiration to others. We think that’s both awesome and also raw in some way – we just follow our instincts and aren’t driven by any pressure from anyone other than ourselves, or by income from ads or sponsors.  
-Maggie, I also read you have been fascinated by the connection between environmentalism and feminism and you discovered the word Ecofeminism, also called ecological feminism, branch of feminism that examines the connections between women and nature. Do you think nature has something to teach us to be applied to society in this respect? Specially now that society seems to be more prepared or open to it?
Maggie: Yes, I guess that for me, environmentalism and feminism are in some way two sides of the same coin (of injustice). The cause of both are an imbalance of power – mindless capitalism, driven by a small group of mostly rich, white men, is exploiting thousands of workers, most of them poor women, all while destroying the planet. For sure, there are very different solutions to stop climate change versus creating a more gender equal world, but at the same time, I don’t see a solution to any of those problems that doesn’t involve making our society less consumption-based, with a more fair division of power and resources. I do think more and more people are ready to make active changes to their lifestyle to achieve this, we see two examples of that with the #metoo movement and with the fast rise of veganism and vegetarianism, both different kinds of expressions of solidarity with other people and with nature. At the same time, the West seems to have become more polarised lately, we’ve seen that very clearly with the election of Trump in the USA and other right-wing populists here in Europe, so I think it’s more important than ever to talk about solutions, including having conversations across party lines, to achieve change. What we can do as individuals is to stand up for equality, take action when we can and show solidarity with those who need it the most – whether that’s women working in the fast fashion industry or our forests and oceans. It may seem pointless that one person goes vegan or stops buying fast fashion, but if thousands or even millions of people do it, we create a massive change collectively!
-Maggie I also read, you work as assistant of an ambassador during the day and DJ for the rest of the time. Ho do these 2 very varied occupations feed themselves?
Maggie: Haha, yeah, it’s kind of a strange combination, I guess! I think it comes from needing both structure and creativity in my life. I’ve tried only having an office job in politics and only working freelance in the creative industries, but I somehow always end up feeling like a part of me is missing… I love politics (I think my passion for feminism is part of that) – and I’ve always wanted to somehow help making the world a better place, hence I studied International Relations and work at an Embassy now. Diplomacy and communication between nations is extremely important I think – the challenges we are facing now are global, and we need to solve them together.  
When it comes to DJing, that feels more like a hobby, even though I do it professionally and earn money on it. Music has been extremely important to me since childhood, so it feels more like a part of my personality than just a job! When I’m not DJing in a club or at an event, I’m happy just sitting on the floor in my living room, mixing new songs together and just enjoying it! That said, music has also connected me with a lot of very interesting people around the world, so I guess there’s some international relations in that too, haha!  
-Anna, I read you also work as a freelance photographer and are specially interested in aesthetics. What stimulates you creatively in this aspect? In what things that you grab with your camera you see beauty? Do you have a favourite subject?
I think it is impossible for a photographer not to be interested in aesthetics, it doesn’t matter if you are a fashion photographer or a photojournalist, I don’t know any photographer who doesn’t care about light, composition or framing. I see beauty in most things, from wrinkly skin to architecture. My favorite subjects to photograph are people and nature, you can tell so much about a person from just one look, and nature is a never-ending mystery of beautiful colours and weird textures.
-And last but not least, have you thought what you want your legacy to be?  
Anna: If we were ever to have a legacy I would want it to be that we made some sort of positive change in the battle for equality.
Maggie: Yes, that’s the goal! If we can inspire just one person, show that there’s room for everyone to be successful in their own way, that’s something I would be proud of.
PS: -Any favourite quote, slogan or motto?
Maggie: Yeah, I have one from the Notorious RBG (Ruth Bader Ginsberg, US Supreme Court Justice): “Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” Cause that’s pretty much what The Doyennes is all about.
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