The Female Founders of FEM Project
FEM Project is changing the way women in LA feel about at their periods, one month at a time. Started by two 18 year olds (they're still in high school!), FEM Project has helped well over 25 women in poverty in the LA area manage their period. I’ve been following FEM Project for a while now and really support the mission. Pink Things just participated in Fem Fest MKE. FemFest is an annual fundraiser that donates to the women’s organizations in Milwaukee, WI, some of which goes to purchasing menstrual supplies for women who can't afford them. This is similar to what FEM Project does. Access to menstrual supplies is really something we don’t think about when we have the privilege we do, but tampons and pads are expensive! But don't take it from me. Learn all about it in our interview with the founders, and two incredibly inspiring females, Isabel Fields and Grace Westlin, below!
Can you tell our readers what FEM Project is and does? And who are you? Tell us about yourselves.
Isabel Fields: FEM Project is a non-profit that aims to destigmatize the period while providing menstrual supplies to homeless women in the LA area. My name is Isabel Fields, I’m 18 years old, and I attend Crossroads School for the Arts & Sciences in Santa Monica, CA. I’ve always been passionate about human rights and would definitely consider myself an activist. Last summer I interned at Human Rights Watch where I gained a lot of skills that help me with FEM.
Grace Westlin: I am currently a Senior at Crossroads School for the Arts and Sciences in Santa Monica, CA. In the past, I've participated with other nonprofits in the Los Angeles area like The Miracle Project at Vista del Mar and 5 Gyres Institute. After learning about the lack of menstrual supplies donated to women’s shelters in America and around the world, I was determined to start a forum for people to get educated and involved. I hope that, ultimately, we can destigmatize menstruation and provide relief for women around the world!
How did FEM Project come to be? What inspired you to start the organization? Tell us the story from the beginning!
IF: Last spring, as juniors at our school, we had to come up with a community service project. I had the idea to hold a menstrual supplies drive at our school and Grace offered to help. It was a success! We raised over 3,000 supplies in five days, all of which went to Safe Place for Youth. Since the drive went so well, Grace and I didn’t see a reason to stop. All summer we worked on setting up the website and FEM was born.
For me, I feel as though I have all these large aspirations in life and I can’t do them at my age; I can’t go to Thailand to start a school or be an international human rights lawyer, but FEM is something I can do here and now.
GW: I know that my period has been such a complicated and personal right of passage. The fact that the government doesn’t provide homeless women with something as essential as menstrual supplies turns your period into a shameful monthly ordeal. When Isabel and I learned that there was such a great need for menstrual supplies in our own city, we both bonded over our passion for Women’s Rights and decided that we could destigmatize the period while providing homeless women with the essential menstrual supplies that they deserve.
Your project is called FEM Project. Why FEM? How intersectional is your organization?
IF: FEM stands for Feminine Every Month because well, you menstruate every month. We started going by FEM Project just because it’s easier to remember and rolls of the tongue better. While I won’t deny that two white girls living in LA started our organization, we are hoping that our FEMbassadors -- FEM ambassadors across the US -- will help us diversify and reflect that we support all women and we don’t discriminate.
GW: I want to start by saying that FEM project is for everyone! Though we use the shortened phrase FEM/FEM project -- it has more spunk to it -- anyone can get involved and feel passionate about this. We loved the Feminine Every Month hint because that is what we are all about, every month you menstruate, and that is something that we should start to embrace.
So how do you raise the funds and products? You host events right?
IF: We have had two fairly successful fundraisers that we promoted through our newsletter. So far we have hosted one event, but our next is on March 19th at Junior High from 3-5. All our events are free, but guests are asked to bring a box of pads as an entry fee. While each event has a different theme, one of the core activities is to create Period Packs. Period Packs are filled with chocolates, baby wipes, enough pads for one cycle, and little notes. By packaging these kits, it encourages women to start conversations about their own cycles. The March 19th’s event theme is self care, so we are having Lauren Kruz, founder of the Wildrose Sisterhood, come and teach yoga to help alleviate cramps. We’re hoping to spark some more conversation with women about how they take care of themselves. The whole idea is you take care of yourself while helping another woman do the same.
GW: In addition to all of the events and partnerships that Isabel listed above, we try to reach out to people through social media and the internet. We have contacted countless artists who are willing to donate art to us in hopes that we can both share it and gain a following. We have even had the artists donate the profits from their work to us!
Do you have any partnerships to help with the fundraising?
IF: Well, I’m not sure if I would call any of them partnerships but we do have a really great community that has helped us. We have partnered with Lead Like Her to host our last event and our next event. She helps plan and promote our events. We have partnered with Aunt Flow to host a giveaway for our Instagram followers -- in fact, they are giving a free box to everyone attending our next event. We are also working on a secret project with Conscious Period, but that’s top secret!
So tell me about the role that the art you feature on your website and Instagram plays in this broader picture and your goals.
IF: Grace has done a great job getting all these amazing artists to contribute. Part of our mission is to destigmatize the period, and we feel art is the best way to do so. Art has this amazing capability to reach people in a way words sometimes can’t.
GW: I really enjoy reaching out to artists on Instagram. I think it is a really nice way to spread the word about FEM project while creating traffic on our social media that is compelling. The artists are always really happy to help, and most of the time they are not even aware that this is an issue. We believe that art is one of the most powerful ways to communicate our ideas and are hoping to start a #freetheflow campaign where artists will create art that is inspired by destigmatizing the period.
What are your goals? Besides the ones you state, to destigmatize the period and alleviate sexism in your community, are there other goals the organization has?
IF: As far as FEM is concerned, I think our goals are always changing. One day it’s to host a certain type of event, one day it is to gain more followers on Instagram. Most of our goals are small, but important -- baby steps. I guess the big goal is to have FEM locations and FEMbassadors across the country, but that’s a big one.
GW: Each day is different, but ultimately we want to spread the word about this issue, and get other people involved. We would not be where we are now without the random acts of kindness from those who connected with our mission statement. Hopefully the more we spread the word, the more help we will receive, and progress we will make.
What about individually? Have you achieved your goals? Tell me about your accomplishments so far. I understand that you’ve helped at least 25 women in the LA area!
GW: Wow, that is such a big question. Aside from obviously reaching more women who we can be of help to, I would really like to grow our social media presence. I think that the best way to reach women and tell women to embrace their periods is through Instagram, and with more empowered women comes progress.
IF: My personal goals, wow, those are always changing. Whatever path I choose to go down, I want, when I’m on my death bed, to be able to say that I’ve made a difference in this world. That’s incredibly important to me. And yes, while our original goal was for FEM to sponsor 25 women for 6 months, we have helped way more women. So far, we have donated over 10,000 menstrual products to the Downtown Women’s Center and Spy.
How do you feel about the current threat to women’s healthcare and how does FEM Project plan to combat this?
GW: Though FEM project is not an organization designed to directly oppose these issues; we are fully against them. I think that the more women we reach and empower, the more women will stand together and the more equipped we will be to overcome.
IF: I am personally incredibly upset by it. I am astounded that the government wants to infringe on my rights as a woman. The more our voices are heard the more change that is possible. FEM Project is another platform to stick up for our rights.
So let’s talk about the color pink. Your logo is pink, and much of your site features pink content. Tell me about the role that the color plays in FEM Project! What are your personal opinions on the color?
IF: While many people view pink as a “girly” and “weak” color, I think it’s incredibly powerful. For me it says, I’m a woman and I’m powerful. What other color says that? Pink is exciting, riveting, powerful, classy, and fun.
GW: I absolutely ADORE pink!!! At one time it represented “weak” “girly girls” (and in the twenties it represented boys), but I think that we are taking the color pink back. And pink is not only for women; even men’s fashion is starting to feature the color.
What are your thoughts on the power of the feminine?
IF: As far as the power of the feminine, we are a ton of hella powerful women. I think there needs to be a mental shift from looking at your period as a curse to looking at it as an ultra-feminine power, but that’s going to take a while. Even just making sure you are super comfortable while menstruating is super important. Get yourself good 100% cotton tampons, stay in bed if you need to, eat some chocolate, drink a nice cup of tea, take care of yourself. That can make all the difference.
If you had some advice for young women your age looking to combat the feminine stigma, what would it be?
IF: Honestly, get involved. Do your part. My pet peeve is when people complain about things but don’t take action. I totally recognize that I am guilty of it myself, but I still get involved. Don’t be complacent in a society that you are upset with. Find an organization you like and see what you can do to help, even if it is just calling your senator.
GW: BECOME A FEMBASSADOR! Sorry for the shameless self-promotion, but honestly if FEM’s message doesn't resonate with you as much as another non-profit's, almost all of them have ambassador programs. It is such an easy way to get involved and stay up to date, because staying informed is almost as important as taking action.
What’s next for FEM Project?
IF: Well, we are hosting an event on March 19th and another one in April (date TBA). Also, we are working towards sending out Period Pack Kits so people can host their own period parties to create packs for homeless women, but that’s still a work in process.
GW: I really hope that we can make our business more accessible to people from all over. We want to start kits so that you can host your own period party from across the world, or contribute by being a FEMbassador. I hope that eventually everyone who wants to can contribute and help out through FEM Project, because after all, we are 100 percent stronger together.
This interview was conducted via email and has been condensed and edited.
Images courtesy of FEM Project