What is feminist leadership? We have gone a long way from having a distorted image of feminism as a “man-hating” ideology into an understanding that true feminism can only be intersectional and inclusive. The importance of inclusivity and collective leadership in feminism has recently come to the forefront as the world experiences an upheaval around issues of privilege and inequality.
To talk about this timely topic, I’m joined by Meghan Corneal, a disruptor and feminist facilitator of movements of change who uses the power of feminist storytelling to activate the collective against the patriarchy. Meghan sees feminism as an evolving movement and believes that true feminist leadership should step up to address inequality outside the exclusive space of women’s issues.
Listen to the podcast here:
Feminist Leadership With Meghan Corneal
I’m speaking with Meghan Corneal, founder of a feminist consulting collective that works to dismantle power dynamics like gender, race, and ableism inside of corporate companies. We’re unpacking what feminist leadership looks like, why feminism requires intersectionality and how to embody feminist leadership in your life and business in order to smash the patriarchy and show up as your authentic self. Let’s get started.
I’m super excited to be talking to you. I am looking forward to this conversation because I think it’s one that is important. A lot of people want to discuss how to be a feminist leader, but sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what that looks like. Before we jump in, if you could tell us a little bit about yourself, how did you find yourself in the feminist space, and then what are you doing?
I’ve always been more of a go against the grain type, a rebellious female from childhood. That’s ingrained in me. After going through school, I found myself in the humanitarian sector where I spent a good chunk of my career. Through that, I have been exposed to how women are treated in different cultures and the power dynamics around gender and marginalized communities. It’s interesting because feminism can be a charged word for a lot of people because it brings up this idea of man-hating.
There’s this evolution of the terminology of that and we’re going through this reclamation of the term and embodying something different. The reason I bring that up is because of my experiences from a broader lens. I believe that feminism doesn’t involve just women’s issues, but is also about bringing the inclusion lens.
I worked in the humanitarian space. I got out of working within humanitarian organizations for a variety of reasons. Some of which involve the nonprofit industrial complex and things like that. I work with a feminist consulting collective that I helped found.
We work with organizations to dismantle some of the power dynamics within and bringing a greater lens of inclusion and also working on gender and inclusion from different lenses, including gender disability inclusion. Also, my work includes feminine leadership and working with more of the creative disruption space.
Working not through a particular sector, but all women or people who identify as women, to look at feminine leadership and how we reclaim that narrative. Using things like storytelling and more collective spaces like fostering community around this idea of reshaping. I use the word feminine leadership but it is essentially interchangeable with feminist leadership.
That’s how I met you. Someone recommended you to me saying, “Meghan is all about feminine and feminist storytelling.” I honestly can say that you were one of the people that helped me own this piece of my journey and step up into this piece because you were all about stepping up into yourself. It’s interesting that you say, “Feminism is not just about women.” I agree that there’s a huge narrative around this word coming from different waves of feminism or types of feminism that we’re all man-haters and we’re burning our bras and whatever else.
To embody true feminism as it stands now, it has to be intersectional and inclusive to everyone because you can’t say that women and men can be equal when you have inequality between minorities. I love the fact that you’re all about the inclusive intersectional feminism because that’s how we get in there and make a big change.
What would you say feminist leadership is or feminine leadership is? What would you say that it looks like? How can we embody feminine or feminist leadership?
Feminine leadership is all about the collective. Click To Tweet
One place I like to start with that is that we need to embrace this notion that it’s evolving. It’s fluid in the sense that it needs to be adaptive too. There are a lot of terms for it, but it’s an interesting place in history where there’s this opportunity to reweave our social fabric. If as a society, we step forward into that space, as a majority, there are many people who have been working hard at the grassroots level for decades on these issues. I’m talking about the majority stepping forward into embracing a change in the narrative.
That point of being adaptive and living from our value systems, our principles, and leading from that instead. One thing that we often say in the consulting collective is it’s not about what we’re doing, it’s about how we’re doing it. “How” matters and too often the patriarchal narrative of leadership is around the “what”. It’s more driven from places of ego than it is driven from where these value systems and these principles that are inclusive.
They’re about bringing everybody in and not just about the individual self. That’s another aspect of feminine leadership. It’s about the collective. Often, I’ll use interchangeably feminine leadership and collective leadership because an important aspect of embodying feminine leadership is that it is about the collective.
We can have our own gifts within feminine leadership, what feminine leader do you want to be? That is about your individual gifts, but it’s what contributes to the collective narrative of leadership around that. It’s not about accumulating your power sphere, which is different from the patriarchal narrative of that.
There’s almost a sense of not your mother’s feminism because it has shifted and changed so much. This is what I love about the shifts that we’re seeing into value-based marketing, where it’s becoming more and more important, especially for younger Gen Xers and Millennials to purchase and work with and work for companies that align with their values. I know this is true of myself and a lot of my friends.
We want to know that we’re supporting companies and industries that are making a difference, that are walking their talk, that aren’t just using feminist language in their advertising, but not showing up and helping to create actual change. Those two things go hand in hand with the rise of value-based buying and marketing in our online business culture and culture in general and this idea of showing up in your feminist collective leadership role as well.
You bring up what comes to my mind around that, which is also an interesting thing to play with. What does accountability look like within a feminine leadership structure? Patriarch, it’s punitive but instead, we’re holding different industries accountable to having a different type of the way that they lead. There’s a lot of power through social media and the different generations who have buying power now and how they’re buying. I totally agree with that.
It’s been interesting to watch having been in the online business industry since 2015, it’s been interesting to watch the switch from what I call Bro-Marketing, which is much that patriarchal in your face, here are all the capitalist things you can buy with these gobs of money that you’re going to make on the internet, into this overall arching message of like, “walking your talk.” Showing up unapologetically as yourself and speaking to those themes of inclusiveness and lifting up black business owners and other business owners of color and being more inclusive in the online space.
We have such a long way to go for this still, but watching the change even over the few years has been positive to me. It feels like we’re slowly inching our way in the right direction. I almost wonder if there is anything that we could do to help that process along. In this leadership space, is there something that we can do individually or as a collective to help this process along to move the needle in the right direction?
For instance, in the space that I’m working in around feminine leadership and the container that I’ve been building as I’ve mentioned, you can have this individual gift, but how does it contribute? Being within community, having that mindset to be able to see that you’re going to grow and nourish your own business as well as contribute to industry-changing things by being in community with other women who are buying into these particular principles.
It’s having a shared foundation but also honoring everybody’s own unique flavor that they bring to a particular industry and that’s shifting. A lot of this gets back to how we interact with each other and how we identify and name power dynamics and actively look to work to dismantle them. While things are shifting, there is still a strong sense of competition. I’m not saying that there’s never going to be competition, but there’s a far different element to the patriarchal competition.
There’s more of a zero-sum game of their winners and losers. We see that within society and that permeates business. It seeps into everything instead of having this Rising Tide Society that says, “Community over competition.” I don’t know if they were the ones that coined that.
You see this framework a lot in businesses where you’ll see people posting in business-oriented Facebook groups where people are like, “There’s not enough to go around or whatever.” If they are doing that thing, then that means there’s not enough for me to do that thing as well. That’s the theme that pops up where it’s like, “You have to remember, and we’re all in this together. We’re all supporting each other.” Especially in online business, we’re like our own little microcosm where we’re all supporting each other and showing up together. It’s good to remember that we are all in this together.
If you want to go further, you have to surround yourself with like-minded people, which does, in my own experience, make the discovery of these things so much easier because it’s both a place where you can go to learn more. It’s also a place where you can go to almost be called out on your shit. I know that I can go to my own community of these women and be like, “This is the thing that I’m experiencing or seeing.”
We can have a great discussion about it, or somebody can be like, “You’re fucking up. Here’s how you can learn more and fix it.” With that, there’s also got to be the desire to look inward and see where you may not be stepping up in the way that you could be and to be able to honestly sit down and dig into that and want to change it as well.
That’s where it’s important that we also identify that we need to do our work, but also this needs to be a stronger balance between the end of it. You and I are both based in the US and we’re a society that’s built on this narrative of individualism. If we’re not talking about community, who lives directly around us, but the community in the business space can sometimes be co-opted towards this notion of like, “How does it further my individual needs?” instead of, “I’m doing this for the greater collective.” It’s an intertwined business narrative, society narrative. That’s where also it’s important that we bring in groups.
I identify as a white woman. It’s important for me to understand that all of the wisdom and knowledge are not mine. I don’t have the answers for everything and I need to invest and be open to bringing in community and other people who are from minority and marginalized groups who have the wisdom to contribute to the conversation. That’s where the collaborative aspect comes in. It is essentially staying in your lane. Knowing where to draw upon wisdom. When we have inclusive spaces, then we’re not trying to step into somebody else’s place where we’re not honoring other people’s wisdom. When we have inclusive spaces, then we already have that wisdom there to be able to collaborate. Being intentional about that is what I’m trying to say.
You can’t create change if you’re talking to a room of people who look exactly like you. Click To Tweet
I’ve seen several instances of people who discuss inclusivity and then they’re lining up all-white panels of speakers for their next event. You do want to make sure that if you are going to be speaking out, you’re not speaking out into a vacuum. You can’t create change if you’re talking in a room full of people who look exactly like you. The idea of surrounding yourself with voices who can speak better to these institutions of patriarchy and racism, who can help educate if that is what they want to do, then you have such a broader capacity for change and understanding, as well.
That work never ends. Understanding that we all have tons of work to do. Who are the wisdom keepers in this? For instance, in the feminine leadership collective, the container that I’m working in, it’s not about how do we bring our gifts, but also the wisdom that we keep that’s deeply ingrained in each of our ancestral narratives even. In our lineages, in our cultural narrative, things that we can change. There are things that white people don’t have that others have.
Being able to honor and be in spaces embracing that instead of seeing it as a lack of, being able to know that there’s a lot that we, as white folks, need to do and know that it’s ongoing. When we surround ourselves with people who keep us accountable to that, that’s important. With some of the women who I’m close with, it’s like a sisterhood. It needs to be all-encompassing. It can’t mean a bunch of white women sitting in a circle. We’ve seen a whole lot of that, especially in the spiritual community. A whole space is being co-opted and that creates greater division and exclusion.
If you were going to sit down with someone who was at the beginning of this journey and they’re trying to figure out, “Where do I go? Where do I start?” What advice would you give somebody who asking, “Where do I start on this journey to becoming a better feminine collective leader?”
One of the most important things I would say is listening to lived experience. Deeply listening, oftentimes we want to engage. I say this to my four-year-old all the time because he’ll say, “I want to be a leader.” I’m like, leaders lead with, or leaders lead from behind. Often the good leaders lead from behind. We don’t need to be in the front. We don’t need to be centered. It’s having a deep sense of humility and listening to lived experience around marginalization and understanding those things and seeking wisdom from people who have that lived experience instead of intellectualizing things. Our culture has a huge tendency to do that.
That’s even something in my own personal journey, as well as things that working with women is around like, “How do we heal those things within our bodies?” The feminine leadership is about embodiment, too. The patriarchy has already done the expert-ing, the intellectualization of everything, the degrees. All of the things that make people feel less-than instead of that journey towards wholeness and realizing that if we show up as we are, we can start there.
It’s almost this sense of knowing when to speak. I also identify as a white woman. For white women, it’s also knowing when to speak out and when to lift up marginalized voices. There’s that balance of you want to be an advocate. You want to be an ally. You also want to make sure that you’re not grabbing the megaphone or running up to the podium and speaking on behalf of marginalized voices.
There’s been all this stuff that’s come out about George Floyd and Amy Cooper and all these other stories of names that I wish I could remember off the top of my head. Our ownership in these situations, as white people, is to lift up and listen to marginalized voices, their lived experiences, and then also to turn around and call the shit out in other white people. We can sit here and we can preach about it all day long, but it doesn’t do much if we’re not calling it out when we see it and being a voice for change within our own immediate community of other white people.
It’s interesting because I identify as a disruptor and I have been in the online space. I oscillate between these pretty harsh jolts to the audience, “Pay attention!”. What I’ve also been feeling into is that from the restorative justice perspective. There’s a lot of work to be done, and this comes back to the accountability element…how do we change the narrative of what’s happening? While calling our people in to keep them accountable without it always being punitive, because there needs to be some community accountability mechanisms.
How do we do that within our spheres of influence? It might start out as restorative justice. It starts at the community level and its microcosms, but it’s effective. How do we do that? There has to be a balance between this awareness around these issues because there is not enough. There is still a lot of people that are living under that film of conditioning and haven’t removed it from their eyes. How do we bring people into seeing it?
I remember when I was first learning all about this because I grew up as a Southern Republican in a family where questioning the norm was not encouraged by any means. When I started meeting people who weren’t like me, because I moved out of that sphere of influence, I was able to start questioning things that I had always believed to be true for no other reason than someone told me they were true. I was able to take a step back and listen to other voices.
The most important part is surrounding yourself with people who are not going to tell you what you want to hear or straight up agree with you. You hear the word privilege like white privilege, cis privilege or male privilege, and people automatically shrink at that word because they assume that the word privilege means everything in your life has always been easy and nothing has ever been hard.
I don’t think the definition of white privilege or privilege, in general, has changed, but there is a commitment to defining this word in ways that can help people understand what it looks like. It was like, “White privilege doesn’t mean your life has always been easy. It just means that the color of your skin has never made it more difficult.”
Being able to have those conversations about like, “What does this look like so that when you see it, you can call it out?” versus like, “If you’re white, it means life has always been easy for you.” That allows other people to distort the narrative around what it is we’re trying to do with shedding light on that word and those institutions.
Good leaders often lead from behind. Click To Tweet
One thing that in my communities we often talk about is context is crucial. There used to be this balance between these overarching societal narratives of power and the realities of structural violence and then zooming it into what a particular context is. In anti-racism work that I’ve done, there’s interpersonal and then there’s critical analysis. There are these different lenses. There are different organizations bringing this analysis. These are the facts of racism in the United States, these are indisputable facts and then there’s the interpersonal connection. You need to have both. It can’t just be a mass overgeneralization of things without zooming it into a particular context.
You have to make it mean something. Human beings need things to mean things. We need the stuff to have meaning for us to understand and connect with it. That’s such a great point around it. It’s not just showing someone a report or a poll, you also have to bring this down into the micro-level and make it mean something in a real-world application, and then you can see it through a different lens. That’s a powerful point to make. I want to ask if you would have one piece of advice that you could give to our feminist visionaries and budding feminist leaders, what would it be?
I would say to dig into the stories behind feminism, the individual stories, looking at getting started by reading. It’s important for women and people involved in the feminist movement to look at individual stories of movement makers across the board. Not just about white feminism, but also reading, Audre Lorde and other black feminists. A lot of the original feminist thought came from their leadership. Being able to look at the individual stories that they’ve experienced as well as what they’ve written because they’re powerful. It brings it down to that palatable, relate-ability because so much of feminine leadership is about relational and relatable it’s interpersonal. It’s making it so that it’s humanizing things and that’s where we lead from, not from this sterile type of leadership where everybody’s robotic.
You’re all a position on an org chart somewhere. There’s got to be that interpersonal connection. I am excited to have you here. I enjoyed this conversation. It was amazing and very informative. I would love for you to share where people can find you on the internet?
I’m in a couple of different places. My website is MeghanCorneal.com. On there, you’ll find more about the Creative Disruption work specifically around the Wild Hearth Feminine Leadership Collective. Also, our Humanitarian Feminine Consulting Group is RootedImpact.com. I’m also on Facebook, @MeghanCorneal. I’m in a couple of different places but they’re all linked.
There are lots of fantastic conversations that are happening there and I’m excited to see how that grows and changes and affects the overall face of feminine leadership as a whole.
I’m excited because we’re all learning together. It’s an evolving container.
Thank you. Have a great day.
- Rising Tide Society
- Meghan Corneal
- Creative Disruption
- @MeghanCorneal – Facebook
About Meghan Corneal
Meghan Corneal is a disruptor and feminist facilitator of movements of change.
As an edge-dweller, she walks thresholds to cultivate alliances with other formidable womxn to dismantle systems of oppression and co-create a more inclusive world.
Meghan works from the belief of mobilizing creative disruption, emergent spaces and strategies, and collective leadership to transform systems.
Her service is a mosaic of humanitarian consulting, feminine leadership circles, and storytelling.