how to support women and non-binary writers with cristina cala

The Why Women Project founder shares intel from their feminist book club.

by Laura Pitcher
Mar 15 2019, 5:26pm

Cristina Cala. Photo by Nadia Bedzhanova.

When Cristina Cala moved to New York without a job in 2009, she was in “defense mode.” Feeling “hardened” by constantly having to explain or defend her political and feminist values in her hometown of Ohio, she describes her youth as being “very split” between an open-minded community and a sort of “bro culture.”

After 10 years in New York, starting at a tech startup, and then moving into editorial advertising, Cala is creating a community for female and non-binary creatives. Starting The Why Women Project in 2017, she’s working to create a professional creative collective (or database) of talent telling stories from the feminist gaze.

This work spans from supporting up-and-coming female authors, partnering talent with businesses and job opportunities, and events such as their monthly Feminist Book Club, which focuses on new authors and authors of color.

i-D sat down with Cala after the latest book club to ask how we can all show more support to up-and-coming female and non-binary writers.

Tell me a bit about your background.
For the past 10 years, I've worked as a content creator on the advertising side of publishing. I specialized in content for advertisers at Condé Nast for almost five years, and then at Time for almost two years.

What made you want to start a female-focused project?
I was sort of feeling like stuck between two worlds because it was so wonderful to have these resources, but I was always telling the story of an advertiser and I'd like to be able to tell some of these more meaningful stories of women specifically. It was where my interest was most gravitating.

When did you know it would take shape as a database and collective?
While working on a project for a big beauty brand that I wanted to be empowering for women, I was like “let’s get an all-female crew.” I went to like the network that we normally used and there was literally no one. And so I thought, “something's off here.” I should have been able to go into this database and find a candidate who represents the audience that we're marketing a product to. And so a few months after that, I ended up coming up with the idea of The Why Women Project as a collective of talent that I would build so that this problem never happened again.

Reema Zaman and Cristina Cala. Photo by Nadia Bedzhanova.

Is this community you’re creating strictly for women?
We’ve also opened it up to non-binary talent and if there are male allies and our network and they believe in our message and our mission, then we can make room for allies also.

When did you launch the feminist book club?
Event production is something I always had envisioned almost from the very beginning. Our first book club event was November last year, and the idea is to bring in a small intimate group of readers to listen in to a live author discussion series. The writers so far have largely been first-time authors and 75% of them have been of women of color.

For those that can’t make the book club, how would you suggest they support female writers and creatives?
I think it is so important to find a community of other women or people who have similar goals. If you're in a position to hire, make an effort to include voices that are currently underrepresented in your business or your project you're doing. If you’re at an event the best thing that you can do is to listen. If we truly want to offer space for someone's voice to be heard, we can't be drowning it out. When I say we, I'm speaking as a person with privilege. I'm a white woman. So if I'm just always the one talking, then I'm not leaving room to listen to women of color and their experiences and learn from them and improve the way I live my life to make space for them.

Jessica Ciencin Henriquez during the Q&A A. Photo by Nadia Bedzhanova
Jessica Ciencin Henriquez during the Q&A A. Photo by Nadia Bedzhanova.

Do you have any book recommendations to get started?
I think important to like nurture talent early in the author’s journey. Our book club pick this month was Reema Zaman with “I am Yours.” She is the first female Bangladeshi author to write a memoir on themes of abuse and the culture of silence. Then there’s Blair Imani, who is a queer Muslim activist, with the book “Modern Herstory.” And also Gina Apostol’s book “Insurrecto.”

Why did you suggest those books in particular?
They all are an opportunity for us to reeducate ourselves, unlearn things that we've been incorrectly taught that are toxic or hurt other people. And if you are a person with privilege, white privilege or particularly male privilege, those are behaviors you need to identify in yourself and start to unlearn them. And that's what books do. And that's what education is for.

And what can we expect from The Why Women Project in the future?
Our long-term goal would be to create a database for a client to use and search through female and non-binary talent. If a client would come to us and say, “we're looking for a writer and it's really important to us that the storyteller has experience editing content for women of color” then we would provide them a candidate.

We’ll also be expanding our book club and other events. We've been asked by another venue if we would be interested in doing like a men's version of our feminist book club, so that would be interesting.

Join The Why Women Collective.