“Colored Dress” poster (left), visual art by Shaimaa Alaa, and “Dream, Girl” director Erin Bagwell - Photo courtesy of dreamgirlfilm.com
CAIRO – 3 March 2017: When “Dream, Girl,” a documentary film featuring female entrepreneurs in New York, was screened in Cairo last December, the majority of the attendees were male. However, that did not bother director Erin Bagwell.
“It challenges men; it challenges their ideas of what femininity is, of what being a leader is. I love the conversations I have with men who watch the film and who become inspired by it and who become inspired by all the women in the film,” Bagwell told Egypt Today.
Annie Wang, one of the 11 entrepreneurs showcased in the film, shared a similar opinion in an interview after the screening at the American University in Cairo. Much like all the women in the documentary, she is a successful business leader.
“Even though it’s “Dream, Girl,” it’s for everyone, anyone with a dream…It’s wonderful that women can take the stage and show the world that this is what an entrepreneur looks like,” said Wang, co-founder of Senvol, a database for the additive manufacturing industry.
Indeed, some young men said in the discussion organized by the American Film Showcase following the premier that they were inspired by the featured women to become entrepreneurs and asked Bagwell and Wang for advice on where to start.
A business partner “Trust is the basis to choosing a partner. That is the foundations of any kind of business relationship… then you’re able to resolve any kind of conflicts… the only way to resolve conflicts is that you have to trust them so much that you’re willing to say I’m willing to give up my idea and go with your idea because I trust your judgment and I trust you, and the other way around,” Wang said.
Bagwell started off on her own to produce her film, but found her business partner in one of the women she chose to feature, Komal Minhas, an Indo-American film producer.
“We need to find people that are truly passionate about whatever the mission is that we’re working on but I think we also need to find people who we can communicate with,” Bagwell remarked.
1- Erin Bagwell during an interview with Egypt Today at the U.S. embassy in Cairo in December 2017 – Egypt Today/Sherif Ihab “One of the first things that we did was, like, have a really uncomfortable conversation around money and around what would happen if this happened, and I think you need to be able to have really uncomfortable conversations with people and you need to have honest conversations,” she added.
Where to start “I don’t believe in making reckless economic decisions without any kind of analysis,” Wang said of quitting a corporate job, adding that taking a job can also teach a person a lot of things.
If someone has multiple project ideas, the best way to find out which of them has the best product market is to sell, according to Wang.
She recommended making a prototype of each idea and testing them with the market, then getting feedback and working on the service a little more. An entrepreneur then should sell his product over and over again until the service really matches the market well.
Administrative steps should follow: register a business bank account and a contract between the business partners, including difficult to discuss items such as what happens in the case of death.
But first, that person should take a look at their family situation, their financial situation, whether or not they have support, emotional and financial support and then make a decision whether they are able to do a startup, Wang recommended.
If the project did not work, that is only part of the experience.
“If in your heart you want to do a startup, it doesn’t mean you have one chance in life. You can try and you can fail and you can try again later in life,” Wang said, noting that the project could be one’s sixth or seventh job.
“Keep that dream alive and find an opportunity to do it,” Wang emphasized.
For Bagwell’s part, she said “I would tell people who may be in a place where they’re feeling persistence or they don’t feel they’re really succeeding: sometimes it takes time. And sometimes the universe I think is giving us lessons and they want us to know something, and we’re not gonna be able to move forward and have success until we learn that.”
“Sometimes it takes failure after failure to harness that idea [of the entrepreneurial project]”… what are you learning from that experience, what are you taking away from that?” Bagwell said.
In charge: to be yourself or to be “compassionate like a woman” “If we ourselves don’t have role models, we should be willing to be on stage to be the role models that we had always wanted,” Wang said.
She emphasized she wants to see everyone who is given the opportunity to take the stage, be visible and be a role model for someone else. That is why she agreed to appear in the film, not realizing it was going to be widely distributed and that it would bring her to Egypt one day.
Wang is a leader in quite a male-dominated industry. She said in the Q&A session that sometimes in conferences and meetings, people would ask her business partner questions, rather than herself. Even when it is clear she has the analytical data, they still wait for another answer from her business partner.
Annie Wang – Photo Courtesy of dreamgirlfilm.com “When I first started in business I really had a hard time because I felt a sense of experience conflict: if I was not nice or demanding or aggressive, it meant that I was not a woman,” she told Egypt Today.
“Then I realized that it was society telling me, society is defining women as nice compassionate not aggressive not demanding… Society defined that for me, I never defined it. I never had any say in what a woman was and was not,” she said.
Wang then advised women not to think whether they are behaving like a man or a woman because that is irrelevant, and to think instead of what the business needs to be successful.
“Colored Dress,” an Egyptian docudrama on female independence An Egyptian docudrama produced in 2017 also has all-female protagonists. “Colored Dress”, directed by Ehab Moustafa, features 15 middle-class women of most civil statuses who have overcome difficult circumstances to lead independent lives.
“The very definition of the phrase 'an independent woman' needs to be corrected. People do not understand that an independent woman may be married, may be a mother or even a grandmother and is happy with her husband. We have the wrong impression of the phrase ‘independent woman,’” Moustafa told Egypt Today.
Unlike “Dream, Girl”, the Egyptian film is not business oriented, and it attracted a majority of female audiences in its screenings so far, according to Moustafa.
Hana Moussa, one of the featured women, speculates that fewer men than women attended because they do not believe that Egyptian women can really be independent. Independence to her is to be able to “lead a life without a man, be a leader at work, and impact others intellectually, emotionally and financially.”
Hana Moussa on her desk at a newspaper, July 17, 2017 - YouTube still from “Colored Dress Song,” Ehab Moustafa channel
Only two of the women in “Colored Dress” were married, though others were engaged, in a relationship, widowed or divorced. In “Dream, Girl,” there was clear spousal support in the cases of Bagwell and Wang, otherwise there were no significant roles played by men in the lives of the other entrepreneurs.
To Bagwell, marriage and motherhood are not obstacles; rather, it depends on the romantic partner.
“I think your partner is such a big determinant of what your career is going to look like. And I think sometimes we can have partners that support us, and I think sometimes we can have partners who demand a lot of our time.”
“It’s really important for young women and men to have those conversations… what is your life gonna look like in 10 years… do you wanna have a career, do you wanna have a family?”
Moustafa said marriage and motherhood do not constitute an obstacle to female independence; rather it is cultural heritage that impact all women, single or married, and it is one that the society “does not bother to investigate.”
Director Ehab Moustafa (front row, middle) with the crew and women of “Colored Dress” – Picture provided by Ehab Moustafa
“When a man realizes that her [his partner’s] success is his, her intelligence is his, her achievement is his, when he realizes that he will enjoy dealing with a successful woman more than suppressing and controlling a woman… that is an abnormal personality… a confident, smart, sophisticated man enjoys that his partner is successful,” Moustafa added.
The Egyptian director was inspired by the women in the film from “the first moment” because his criteria for choosing them are inspiring: middle-class women of ages between 22 and 45 years old and of all social statuses – all independent.
Moussa, who came to Cairo from Alexandria to live on her own and pursue a career in media, complained that Egyptian movies and drama usually show single women as “miserable,” and hopes “Colored Dress” will contribute to changing that notion.