Lizzy Okoro | La Gazette Feministé
Founder & Editor in Chief Bunch Magazine
Lizzy Okoro is the founder, Publisher, and Editor in Chief of BUNCH Magazine. Lizzy lived in New York attending graduate school and was inspired by the creative community that she interacted with on a daily basis. With that inspiration, she realized that resources for creatives looking to build and develop their careers were few and far between and decided to create a print magazine in an effort to help connect the dots for these professionals. After launching BUNCH in New York, Lizzy moved back to her native land - Los Angeles where she currently resides with her boyfriend and puppy, Peter.
What was the inspiration behind Bunch? Why did you feel the need to start it?
I was living in New York City and I was constantly meeting people who all seemed to have one thing in common: they knew how to monetize their creativity. It appeared to be they had figured out the formula to a happy life while all of the rest of us were hoping that safe paths and security would afford us the same level of fulfillment. Obviously “safe” and “secure” jobs are subjective and also can lead to fulfillment but being honest, too many people have forgone their dream jobs in favor of what they think is a sure bet. The thing is that there’s no sure bet in life so you might as well attempt to pursue your passion if that’s what will make you happy.
After the thousandth person I met who had this same dream career-dream life thing going on, it made me evaluate everything in my own life. I was on a safe career path, I was in graduate school for something I was only halfway interested in, I was blogging as a creative outlet when my entire life I had always written and dreamt of having a print magazine. The more I researched, the fewer resources I could find for people who wanted to pursue creative careers. It seemed as though there were tons of people who assumed that creative equals starving artist and that the ones who “make it” were part of the lucky 1%. And those “lucky 1%” were being ignored by most career focused media outlets. I felt that there was a real opportunity to start a conversation around creativity and to show others that you can marry your passion and your profession.
How do you see your work (Bunch Magazine) fitting into the feminist movement?
I think about this all the time. It’s hard to navigate through the world of business without considering my womanhood and the responsibilities that come with that. Am I representing our collective stories accurately? Am I creating opportunities? Am I reaching back and pulling up my fellow ladies? How am I operating as a business woman? Am I demanding what I deserve?
While Bunch is a magazine for anyone, we have a very large female audience. Most of the stories we develop don’t just speak to creative entrepreneurs but specifically to the issues that directly affect women. Closing the gender wage gap, business psychotherapy for entrepreneurs and how counselors approach men versus women. These are the issues that people want to discuss and I feel a duty to help unpack these topics.
It’s so important to have sacred spaces where women can talk about the issues we face in the company of other women. What Bunch offers is the opportunity to bring men into the conversation as well since our platform doesn’t cater to one sex over the over. I hope that we bring value to the fight for gender equality.
Do you feel your race or religion has affected your relationships, or achieving success within your industry? How so?
How much time do you have because I have a lot to say about this! :)
It’s hard to say definitively how my race and gender have impeded my ability to succeed. Have I experienced racism? Absolutely. Have I experienced sexism? You betcha. I’ve been called “nigger” before and more than once in my life. I’ve been told I’m smart “for a black girl”, I’ve been told I’m not like other black people, as though those are compliments or that I’ve achieved a level of acceptability. I’ve been called “sweetie” and “honey” by a 65-year-old, white male boss. I’ve been called a “bitch” and a “cunt” by another older, white male boss. I’ve experienced intimidation, lower wages, the whole 9 yards. As a black woman who runs a media publication consumed by a mainly white audience, I’ve shown up to photo shoots where the assumption has been that I am an employee and not the employer. Is it because I’m a black woman? I can’t say for sure but it’s hard not to draw that conclusion, especially when other black people have never posed that question to me.
As someone who feels unshakable and confident when it comes to business, there are moments when I falter. I have caught the doubt creeping in. For a long time, I struggled with whether or not I wanted people to know that I ran Bunch magazine because I didn’t want anyone to feel disconnected to my work because I am a black woman. I didn’t want to color their experience with my color, so to speak. Which is insane to even admit because I am so fiercely, unapologetically me in all of my black, Nigerian-American, womanness. To acknowledge that I would even consider trying to hide who I am for someone else’s comfort is painful. It’s in those moments that I realize that racism and sexism are like smog: no matter how hard you try, you can’t help but internalize the negative effects.
You interview a lot of people in your line of work. The tables have turned! What has been your experience in collaborating with women? Do you feel there needs to be a more collaborative attitude amongst women?
I love this question!
No, I don’t think there needs to be a more collaborative attitude amongst women. Not a day goes by without stumbling upon a new women’s organization, meetup, blog, or network devoted to helping us achieve our best lives both personally or professionally. I say the more, the merrier. In fact, I just wrapped up a call about partnering with a women’s network that is devoted to closing the gender wage gap. It really does feel like a revolution is happening and I’m excited for it.
If I’m being totally honest, my personal feeling is that women have generally always had a collaborative attitude and the thought that we don’t is quite antiquated. For as long as I can remember I have had a strong girl squad, one that is rooted in love, strength, and support. Even now, I’ve only experienced an outpouring of that same love, strength and support from women I’ve only recently met. I’ve had a long work history with women bosses, high ranking executives and colleagues. The culture was supportive and I felt encouraged to be the best employee I could be in that environment. I don’t feel that this experience is the anomaly, I think it’s the norm but we’ve been made to feel as though women tearing each other down is the modus operandi. Of course there are people who are jealous and combative and some happen to be women. You can usually spot them because they’re the ones who say things like, “I only hang out with guys, girls are too much drama.” Those are the women you have to watch out for because they’ll stab you in the back and blame it on girls just being girls.
Taking it one step further, how do you think we can further the collaboration and conversation throughout all races and religions?
The first step is to acknowledge intersectional identity. Women of different races, ethnicities, sexual orientation, sexual identity and religion outside of the white, Christian, heteronormative identity tend to understand intersectionality. Too often I see white, cisgender women who are full of so many emotions, determined to fight for equality amongst the sexes but who are quick to dismiss the narratives of those who don’t look like them and it is so frustrating. A great example of how I experience intersectional feminism is this: Am I supposed to cheer and cry tears of joy for Hillary Clinton because she’s shattering the glass ceiling and ignore the fact that she referred to black youth as super predators? Or that President Bill Clinton’s policies that she supported exacerbated the mass incarceration of people of color in America? Am I less of a feminist because I struggle to support her? These are the challenges that I have as a woman of color. Two identities in one body. That is the world I have to live in. Me highlighting this fact is not comparing oppression, I don’t necessarily have it better or worse than any other woman. The focus here is entirely on the fact that this is the feminist struggle in my world and the world of so many other women whose oppressor has doubled down on her.
How do you wish to see feminism change?
I think it goes back to what I mentioned about intersectionality and embracing the fact that feminism doesn’t look the same on every woman which is okay. Too often the conversation about feminism turns to whether or not there is room for different points of view and distracts from the goal: equality for all.
Lastly, is there anything you wish to say, off the cuff?
Being a woman, as complex and layered as it is, is amazing. I understand why so much of the conversation is focused on what is plaguing us as a community and the specific ways in which we have to endure oppression. I think those conversations are raw, honest and necessary. Look, there’s no point in sugarcoating things, it is HARD. But I do think there’s room for us to celebrate ourselves and to feel empowered in the face of the adversity.
For example, when Beyonce’s “Who Run The World (Girls)” song dropped, I lost count on how many think pieces there were, almost all of which were titled, “Girls Don’t Run The World”. I’m not here to argue about the validity of Beyonce as a feminist leader, I won’t even say that I disagree with anything that was said on either side. And if you’d like to know what was said you can see an example here:
The Cliff’s Note version is that women were pissed. They felt that Beyonce was propagating this idea that girls are not oppressed. Whether or not that’s true, my position is that there is room in this conversation for us to feel joy and pride in ourselves. For us to look in the mirror and feel good even though we’re knee deep in shit.
Motivational speakers have all said the same thing: when they were at their lowest point, they still practiced speaking daily affirmations and envisioned where they want to be rather than where they were. To me, I think that there’s a space for us to feel empowered, to feel like we’re in charge of our lives, to feel sexy, beautiful, confident and fierce. Because we are all of those things.