Glynnis MacNicol is the author of the new memoir No One Tells You This, which came out last month. She has spoken frequently on national and international media outlets on the intersection of media and politics. Her work has appeared in print and online for publications including ELLE.com, where she was a contributing writer; The New York Times, The Guardian, The Cut, W, Town & Country, and Shondaland.com. MacNicol co-founded TheLi.st, a network and visibility platform for professional women, with Rachel Sklar. Named to Good Housekeeping's 2016 Awesome Women Awards by Shonda Rhimes, TheLi.st has been covered in The New York Times, The Guardian, Elle, Marie Claire's 'New Guard', SAI 100, Lucky, Mashable, Fast Company, Refinery 29, HuffPost, and The New York Post. MacNicol lives in New York City.
We spoke with Glynnis about her memoir, being a pioneer of women's-only clubs, and the latest trends in marketing to women.
How did you get the idea for this memoir?
The memoir came about because I wasn't married and didn't have kids, and as I approached my 40th birthday, it felt like a gauntlet with this increasing level of anxiety. It was also a sense of shame, almost. You don't have the things you're told to have, and as a woman, you're really conditioned only to be married and be in the process of having a baby. And it felt to me like once I hit 40 without those things, even though I had a successful career and I was enjoying my life as much as most people do, I had a sense of dread, like, "Well, what happens to me? Do I cease to matter?" We have a lot of language diminishing the value of women when they leave the general idea of their childbearing years and are not in a support role of wife or mother. What would the world do if all the women were happy with their lives?
So I turned 40, and the year that followed was a really exhilarating one for me. It had a lot of travel and some adventure, and it was also really difficult, my mother was quite ill, my sister was suddenly a single mother with three kids, and it involved a lot of responsibility on my part to care for family and friends, and at the same time I was having all this unexpected freedom to go places and do what I wanted. Both those things undermined the expectation that we have, the language we use around women's experiences who are single, which is either you're an object of pity, or you're spoiled rotten.
I spent a lot of that year complaining about how there were no good stories about single women, period, that didn't end in marriage or a baby. At the end of that year, I sort of had this moment of, "well, write it." I wanted to see my life reflected back at me and my life is similar to that of so many women I know, and I wasn't seeing any of our lives reflected back to us. So I decided to write it myself.
The book shows how much responsibility single women can have. Do you think we're getting closer to a place where women get credit for that?
I think it's still early days. But I do think we're getting there. I have increasingly had friends who are married or have kids be much more vocal about the importance of the women friends in their life who don't have kids, who aren't married, and who provide a real support system.
Just this morning, I was at my goddaughter's school share day, which they had named something like "Grandparents and Special Important People Day.” I'm noticing a real move around these sort of rituals to recognize what support systems actually look like.
One of the interesting things about the response to my book is how people have really responded to my mother's illness and this idea of being a caretaker. I think that so many women are experiencing that, and the fact that it's striking people as like, "I'm so glad someone finally wrote about this," is not a measure of my writing as much as it is the lack of conversation and stories around these experiences which are pretty commonplace.
Do you have any current role models who are older than you?
It seems like there really aren't a lot. The last two years I've been fortunate enough to spend tons of time in Paris. When I'm there I encounter older women, in their 50s and 60s, who have these really full lives and they're so chic, and they're so vital, and they're so vibrant, and the culture in France, obviously, is different than ours significantly when it comes to sexuality, women, and later in life.
It's interesting to think nothing pops to mind, and that's unfortunate because I have no doubt that there are many women whose lives I deeply admire and would want to emulate.
They're so invested in quality of life, and we don't celebrate that for women. After a certain age in all stories, women seem to be bit players — moms and wives, too. As a single, 43-year-old woman, I have a hard time convincing people who don't know me, not that I try that hard, to believe that I can be happy. The automatic response I get is, "Don't worry," or "I'm sure it'll still happen for you," or this sense of there's no way that I could possibly be enjoying my life.
I think we're seeing this explosion of memoirs about motherhood, because it's equally as difficult to not be allowed to talk about the challenges of that as it is for me to feel like I'm an automatic object of pity, even though I've just returned from hiking around Paris every day with a baguette and cheese in my bag.
What is the role that instinct has played in your career and/or life?
I follow my gut pretty thoroughly. I do have faith in my instincts. I think generally speaking, women are rarely encouraged to follow their gut. It's everywhere that you should be second-guessing yourself. There's this sort of endless array of industries that make zillions of dollars based on feeding into women's insecurity. I also think I have a high tolerance for risk, and I don't think I learned that. I think some people are born with a high tolerance for risk. This memoir was a good measuring stick of what I think is normal and other people are like, "That's crazy," and I'm like, "Really? I don't know, is it?" I run membership group for women, and one of our main functions, unintentionally, has been encouraging women who want the question answered, "Am I crazy?" "Am I crazy that this happens in the boardroom?" We really struggle to believe ourselves and our initial gut reaction, and there's a reason for that because clearly there's nothing out there. Men are always like, "Trust your gut." Women are told, here are seven reasons why there's something wrong with you, you should make it better.
Women-only spaces and clubs are so big now. The Li.st was really ahead of its time.
Rachel (Sklar), my business partner, describes The Li.st as sort of the Old Boy's Club for women. It is a membership group for women, initially in tech, but tech, media, politics, entertainment. It functions as a sounding board of trusted women who we can talk to, the sort of network that men have taken for granted essentially forever, that women rarely have access to. “I need this connection, I need this intel, I need this institutional knowledge." We sort of function as a stop gap for that. In 2012, we formalized it into a business, which is sort of incredible when you think about how much attention groups like the Wing, the Riveter, these amazing work spaces for women and these clubs. There was so much blow back to Rachel and I having the audacity to formalize a group where there was a membership fee, whereas now it's not just considered commonplace, it's the thing that everybody wants to do. It's amazing to watch the conversation around that change.
Do you think companies are learning how to market to women better?
We're starting to see intersectional language or body positivity incorporated into advertising. I don't know if that is good or bad. Who's making money off of that is always my first question, and I have such cautious concerns. When I look on Instagram and I see so many women just replicating the poses of magazines my mother would've read in the 50s, these really restrictive ideas of beauty and posing. I sometimes think that we're performing feminism, and packaging it and selling it. When you see the Dove campaign, or you see whatever these different campaigns are that are on the surface appealing to a more diverse idea about what it is to be a woman. There need to be more structural changes before we get too excited. I'm happy to see those things, but I don't see that they are resulting in any real changes yet.
Since publication of this interview, MacNicol and her business parter sold the Li.st to New Power Media.