What’s Wrong With a Women-Focused Workspace?

The Wing

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Over at Vox, Anna North and Chavie Lieber write about The Wing, a coworking space designed exclusively for women:

When The Wing opened in 2016, coworking spaces like WeWork were already popular. But the pool tables, free booze, and what some have described as a “frat boy” culture at WeWork don’t always make women feel comfortable.

Meanwhile, public spaces aren’t always a better option for women. Take Bracey Sherman, the reproductive justice activist, who says that because of her job, working in a coffee shop can be difficult. “It’s really exhausting to be on a conference call in a cafe and people looking at me funny because I’m saying the word ‘abortion,’” she told Vox.

At The Wing, she said, that isn’t a problem. “The fact that I can work on a comfy couch, it smells really nice, I can say the word abortion over and over and no one side-eyes me, and that men aren’t asking me stupid questions and trying to hit on me while I’m trying to read and get my shit done, is huge,” she said.

Sounds great! But this being the 21st century, there’s a problem:

This sanctuary, of course, isn’t available to everyone. It’s application-only, and its $215 monthly price tag (or $250 to access all locations), though affordable in the realm of coworking spaces, puts it out of reach for many women. Per critic Kaitlyn Borysiewicz, the Wing focuses on “the advancement of a certain type of woman.”

….“Women of color are more likely to occupy low paying or working poor jobs,” Borysiewicz wrote, meaning they’re unlikely to be able to afford The Wing’s membership fee, and the promise of upward mobility and networking offered by The Wing is closed to them.

….The Wing pointed to women of color, including Nicole Gibbons, who started their businesses out of The Wing. These women say they recognize The Wing as a space that is invested in diversity. The Wing also offers two-year scholarships for those who can’t afford its membership….But, Borysiewicz asks, “why are you making underserved women compete for access to these valuable resources?” And speaking of The Wing’s founders, she asked, “why are these socioeconomically elite white women setting the criteria on what an underserved woman deserves?”

The intersection of feminism, racism, and class is a fraught one. But it’s unclear what the problem is here. If you’re running a business in an expensive urban area—any business—it’s going to have a high price tag. There’s no way around that. And if it’s a for-profit business, that high price tag gets passed along to customers. Even at $215, my guess is that The Wing is losing money in order to build market share. There’s just no way they could cut their price to $50 or $100.

More generally, though, there are all kinds of business models. Some are aimed at people with modest incomes (Walmart, used cars), some are aimed at the middle class (Starbucks, Toyota Camrys) and some are aimed at the rich (penthouse suites, yacht mooring). These are all perfectly legitimate businesses, and their business models are designed with their target customers in mind. The Wing’s target market is the middle class, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Shared workspaces aimed at a higher or lower price point would also be fine. But there are millions of businesses with products that are too expensive for the working poor, and that’s hardly any reason to criticize them. They fill their part in the business ecosystem.

But then Borysiewicz gets worse, snarking about The Wing’s scholarships: “Why are these socioeconomically elite white women setting the criteria on what an underserved woman deserves?” she asks. Seriously? They make an effort to serve a certain number of lower-income women, and all they get is that?

Has the conflict between white feminism and black feminism always been as strong as it appears to be today? I don’t know the history well enough to say. But from the outside, at least, it sure seems to be getting nastier and more destructive all the time.

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