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[Sarah Armstrong - A Name Brand Co.]Women of Design event: No Need for Permission

This article is written by Sarah after she gave us an amazing speak at Women of Design event in August 2017. Original ink below:

(I originally gave this as a talk at an AIGA "Women On Design" event in August 2017)

When I first set out to put together this talk, I was torn.

Torn because, well, I'm a feminist. And I believe that feminism is really about all humans being equal with one another.

I believe that catering things (be it conferences, razors, or ballpoint pens) specifically towards women, often times, is pandering at best and damaging at worst, to our overall cause for equality.

But. I am also a woman who exists in this world. A queer woman, at that. I know what its like to exist in a space, in a system, that wasn't necessarily built for me. Not built for us to succeed, not built for us accomplish the dreams we have or to go after the experiences we want in this life.

So, while believing in equality, I also have to believe in breaking this existing infrastructure that wasn't built for me. I have to bend and break and work to change this system that's around me so that there can even be room to rebuild it and make it a thing that facilitates equality. And that's a thing that I, that we, are having to work at all. the. time.

All of this to say: putting together talking points under the banner “Women On Design” put me in this quandary, right? Because what does that even mean? What do I even have to talk about?

I'm going to share with you something I've been thinking about a lot lately. I'm going to talk about permission, and how you don't need it from anybody.

It's 1995, and I am completely bowled over, BESIDE MYSELF, as I watch the Babysitter's Club Movie for the first time. Seeing Schuyler Fisk bring this effortless, charismatic, tomboy charm to the role of BSC president Kristy Thomas… stoppit already with that freckled face and ginger hair tucked under your backwards ball cap! I can't! But also watching as that tomboy just decided that her middle school self was going to start and operate a summer camp? Because why the heck not? "I've got my friends, there’s this space available, and a bunch of parents with money who need to do something with their kids. Of course I'll just make a summer camp happen!"

To be fair, I probably did not have a spark quite like that the first time I watched that movie. But as I revisited it on Netflix on a sick day in my adulthood not that long ago, I sort of shot up with this realization of how my 8-year-old self would have internalized that message. Whether or not I knew it at the time, it planted some real good seed in me. Thanks, Babysitter's Club!

When I was in elementary school, I wanted me and all my friends to play laser tag at the Hilton Fun Quest. But it was a lot of money and we were kids and our parents weren’t going to shell out that kinda cash. So I organized all my friends and supplies, put signs up around the neighborhood, and we had a car wash in my driveway. We totally crushed it, and took ourselves to Laser Tag the next day.

Growing up in Reno, Nevada surrounded by bars and casinos, I felt a definite lack in anything for people my age to do, so at 14 I started booking, promoting, and producing all ages shows and events all over northern Nevada. I did that well into my early 20's.

After a few years of working as a designer in an incredible art department, I realized that what I love most about this profession is connecting with people and solving problems… and that I would never actually be fulfilled by simply executing design briefs. I needed direct contact with clients and creative control over projects. So I started A Name Brand Co.

A few years into my growing self-employment life, when I couldn't find a coworking space in Orange County that suited my needs, I opened up my own.

A weird thing happens once you graduate high school or college. There's no longer a next step being dictated to you. We spend our whole lives being told the next thing to do (preschool to elementary, elementary to middle, etc), and then it's over. All of a sudden, you're the person who is calling the only shots. You decide how you're going to spend your time, what you want to make happen, what you should do next. Where you should go. What curiosities to pursue or plans to set into motion.

Maybe even more jarring, no longer is anyone telling you when something has run it's course. When it's time to put this thing down and go to the next.

It's all ours to decide. I know it's cheesy and you've heard it before, but really listen to me when I tell you that you are the only architect of your own life. Build it however you want it. You only have this one pass at this iteration of your life on this planet.

This is particularly important to drive home to us women. Because we largely don't believe in our own autonomy as equal participants of the world we inhabit.

Really. Even those of us who claim to be feminists or empowered or whatever. Everyone is brought up on the same stories that planted these seeds deep down in our collective psyche.

The female characters that we see in movies and stories and shows that we start consuming as soon as our eyes and our ears are functioning, those women don't really make a lot of decisions. Most of the stories we are conditioned with involve women whose sole character arc, even if she's the main character, are solely about getting someone to fall in love with them.

That's the story we get.

That's our number one option, and every other story is exceptional or extraordinary. Any other extraordinary or exceptional female story arc is also a completely common storyline for male characters.

This world that we currently live in hardly allows women any sense of identity at all, so of course it doesn't come natural to see ourselves are directors of our own lives.

I feel like I painted a certain picture of myself earlier on in this talk, to be sure. But those were a handful of moments in a lifetime.

I am constantly finding myself in moments where I'm still waiting for someone else to invite me to the discussion, rather than just starting the conversation I want to be having.

Waiting to be brought in on someone else’s project, rather than starting my own.

I am constantly having to remind myself that I am, completely within myself, a force.

A force that is moving through the world around me, able to make shit happen, to change courses, affect people, create art, and start things.

And so are you. If you've felt unsure about it before, let me be the one to clarify it for you in this moment, that you are indeed a force in this world, and you can do whatever the fuck you want. You don't need anybody's permission.

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