Break the Rules Like ... Erinn Carter
Not all Wonder Women wear capes, and not all Unladylike role models need to sit in the C-suite to spark change. Each week, we're introducing y'all to rad women and nonbinary folks we admire. They'll offer up pointers on how we all can #breaktheruleslike they do and help them make the world a better place. If you have a role model to shout out, send hot tips to email@example.com.
1. Introduce yourself: Who are you, where are you from and what do you do?
My name is Erinn Carter, and I’m one of the founders of Frailty Myths. I’m originally from Southern California. I grew up in a small suburb of Los Angeles. I met my best friend, Georgia Hirsty, at a small liberal arts college in Los Angeles called Whittier College. We are the founders and directors of Frailty Myths, a nonprofit that empowers women, trans, and gender non-conforming folks to become leaders, challenge the myth of frailty and smash patriarchy through hands-on education in skills traditionally dominated by men, like woodworking, sailing and climbing.
We launched in October 2016, and since then we’ve hosted more than 400 folks in free workshops from Oakland to Brooklyn, learning the self-reliance and leadership skills we need to change the world around us for the better.
2. When did you first realize this was the right path for you?
What surprises me the most each day is how much creating Frailty Myths requires us as founders to smash our own myth of frailty each day. For every day that I feel sure and empowered that quitting my job and making a choice to create our dream rather than working for someone else’s was the right one, the next day is filled with apprehension and anxiety that I’ve made the “right” choice. While that unease is with me every day, I remember our first workshop launch like it was yesterday. When we launched in October 2016, no one knew us or knew what we were doing. We were just hoping that 10 people would sign up and say they were interested. Two weeks after our launch, over 300 people had signed up for our first workshop and over 1,200 people said they were interested in future events. I knew after that day, it might not look like what we imagined, but we had a compelling idea that people clearly believed in.
Since then, I’ve focused less on finding the destination “happiness” and more on just enjoying the journey. I’m not sure if this is the right path, but I feel so fulfilled and joyous on this journey to find out.
3. What’s unladylike about you and what you do?
One of our tag lines is “Reimagine Femininity.” By that we mean, we want to infuse and re-infuse power, respect, and agency to the idea of “feminine” or ladylike acts. We build wood stools, benches and sail boats, and climb mountains. And in each case, we believe that all of those things are feminine and ladylike because we’re women or feminine and we’re doing them. We’re mindful of politics that attempt to divide women and feminine-identified people into “good” manifestations of femininity and the “wrong” manifestations of femininity. If there’s one thing that we do that really challenges how people understand being ladylike, it’s that we reject the idea that female acrimony should be the norm. Often it feels like as feminine-identified folks, when we are strong, capable and confident, that means that we have to sacrifice our womanness. We reject that idea. Frailty Myths is a space where we are grounded in nurturance, love and collective empowerment.
4. Which of your heroes or role models would you immortalize in bronze?
There are so many incredible leaders I can think of and too many to list here. With the election having just passed, I’m struck by the ways in which Black women have been a driving and purposely hidden force in changing America for the better. I’d like to immortalize three generations of black women that have inspired and transformed my life with their scholarship, mentorship and friendship.
My initial thoughts are Ida B. Wells, an amazing black woman, leading journalist, and one of the voices documenting the 100 years of lynching of Black folks in the United States. I think a lot about her famous quote, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth on them.”
When I was a young college student, I was lucky enough to meet Dr. Melina Abdullah, an incredible scholar and activist in Los Angeles. She’s one of the founders of the Black Lives Movement in Los Angeles and has been a leading voice in the fight for police accountability, justice and reform throughout Southern California. She is also a professor, a mentor, a mother of three. I’m privileged to have been able to watch her lead and am constantly blown away by her strength and determination.
Finally, my friend Christina Griffin is one of the most incredible young Black women I know and is a leader in the fight for respect and justice for workers in San Diego. She is an organizer, a jiujitsu queen, and is helping bridge the divide between black and brown communities on the border of San Diego and Mexico. She leads with grace and by example, creating a beautiful bridge between the radical politics of our history with the radical arch of the politics of our future.
5. What was your feminist aha moment?
There hasn’t been just one feminist aha moment in my life, but a series of them. The last one was a reminder that growth still happens when you think you’re “woke” or educated on a topic. About a year ago we had a workshop, and like we had before, we asked people to share with us their name and “preferred pronouns.” After going around the room, we got to a participant who identified as gender neutral. They said to the group, “My pronouns aren’t preferred.” Their comment was so poignant and so important for us to hear. Here we thought we were being supportive allies to our trans family only to learn that we had completely missed the boat. It’s not voluntary to get someone’s pronouns right; it’s basic dignity and respect.
While it was so heartbreaking to learn that we had been hurtful, I felt so privileged to be in a space where folks felt comfortable to challenge us and help us grow as instructors.
We’re feminists grounded in intersectional feminism and value recognizing horizontal privilege and violence, which just means we create space to acknowledge the different experiences women can live, and we’re aware that we have the power to hurt and limit each other. As a black woman, I often find myself in the position of subjugation; my feminist aha moment was learning that feminism done right recognizes the difference in all our experiences, acknowledges the past and our mistakes, and strengthens the threads that bind us as a community.
6. What’s the best advice you’ve received? The worst?
Best Advice: You need a therapist.
Worst Advice: You don’t need a therapist.
Get a therapist. Changing the world is hard; there’s nothing shameful about needing support.
7. What’s bringing you joy right now — or at least keeping you sane?
I’m task oriented; I love completing things. I’ve recently started indoor gardening. It’s been incredible to have my own Truman Show where I’m controlling all of the elements of life for my plants. It’s been amazing to have something to be really mindful and present with. Running has also been a passion of mine for the past few years as well. Anything I can do to unplug my mind and ignore the sound of social media notifications is bliss to me.
8. Aside from keys/wallet/phone, what do you never leave home without?
My charger. Between my phone and iPad, there really isn’t much need for me to be tied down by an office. We’re constantly on the go, between meeting new partners, coming up with new workshops, or building new stuff, and being able to charge my phone and connect with our network is really paramount. Inspiration, coffee and an outlet are all we really need to make Frailty Myths go.
9. How can unladies help you and/or your mission?
We need donations and financial support to help us reach even more people. We want to teach more communities of women, trans, and gender nonconforming folks how to use their hands, build stuff and smash the myths of patriarchy. By donating, you can help us host more workshops in more communities across the United States and around the world!
We also need skilled trainers to help us facilitate more workshops across the country. If you’ve got a hands-on skill and are down to teach, email us, and we’ll tell y’all more about helping us smashing the frailty myth.
Become a member of Frailty Myths and support us year-round, invite us to do a workshop in your workplace and help sponsor more free community workshops, and sign up to become a volunteer at future workshop or event. You can sign up at frailtymyths.org/member and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about workshops.