People 12 November 2019
How many times have you looked at something and thought: I wish this did more? And how many times have you thought long and hard about what else you could make it do, if you had the resources, time, and a factory-load of people working for you?
We've all certainly been there. Whether we were 5 and inventing a flying Barbie, or futuristic football, or 35 and looking at the kitchen imagining a self-taught robot that would help with the nightly dinners. We've all come up with what we thought were million dollar ideas - but almost none of us follow through because we're already too busy, and somebody else has probably invented it already.
For one woman, this very sequence of events took place when she was just a teenager. Unimpressed with her dog's collar, she created a new one with florescent sides (making them more visible to cars at night) that would fit more comfortably on a dog or cat's neck. But because of her relative youth, the collar was never produced, and a year later was released and patented by another company.
The girl, Joy Mangano, vowed this would never happen again.
Fast forward to 1990. Single mother-of-three, Mangano has a bigger, bolder idea. This time, the Miracle Mop is born, launching her career as an entrepreneur and setting her up for a life in the spotlight with her product launch on QVC. Between then and now, Mangano has accrued 100 patents (for products like the Huggable Hanger and My Little Steamer) and her company, Ingenious Designs is worth over $50million.
This story was told in Hollywood by David O.Russell in 2015 with his Golden Globe winning movie, Joy. Jennifer Lawrence's portrayal of Mangano served to highlight the difficulty of entrepreneurship and instruct on the minefield of patent disputes.
Mangano's latest product is one she says she's been working on for her entire life: a journal, a manual and a self-help for entrepreneurs wrapped up in her book, Inventing Joy: Dare to Build a Brave and Creative Life.
SWAAY spoke with Mangano about the necessity for this kind of book in this age of entrepreneurship, and how it will resonate with aspiring female inventors and change-makers.
Drawing on her success and the pains it took to get there, Mangano has penned a book that will no doubt be a bible for those looking to take their flying Barbies or futuristic footballs to market. "I️ believe it will be a resource for people they can keep coming back to," she remarks. "This book truly is a lesson for anybody - in their careers, no matter what age."
Her family have been crucial to the whole process of building her brand and expanding Ingenious Designs, for the last 17 years, and have informed many of the chapters in the book. "I️ am fortunate enough to work with my children, family and friends and they were completely integral (to the books production)," says Mangano. Her daughter Christie serves as SVP Brand Development, Merchandising & Marketing Strategy having worked with her mom for thirteen years. “She's my left brain," laughs Mangano. Both her son Bobby and other daughter Jackie have worked elsewhere before also coming under their mother's umbrella. Bobby currently serves as Executive Vice President of the company and Jackie is involved with the fashion side of the business, which is certainly no mean feat, as she is also involved in styling for the upcoming reboot of The Murder on the Orient Express.
"When you can do things in life - work and follow your passion with people you love - it makes it all that much more meaningful and pure happiness."
The launch of her book signals new territory for the serial inventor, who has her first opportunity to tour the country and speak to those whose homes she has appeared in for the past 15 years on QVC and HSN.
"This is really one of my dreams," she comments. "I️'ve always wanted to go around the country and meet all of my customers and this is one way to do that. It couldn't be better."
"95% of my customers are women so I️ can't help but be an advocate always."
While on tour, Mangano is destined to meet a host of people that will tell her of their inventions or start-up ideas, but none more so than the millennials, who are completely reinventing the notion of entrepreneurship. Mangano hopes that through the book aspiring female entrepreneurs will be able to take solace in the fact they don't have to do it all. "I️ truly believe - this is a generation I️ watch, a lot of them work for me and with me - today, more than ever, they think they have to do it all."
"Dressed beautifully and in a meeting, they'll say 'I've been up since 5. Dressed the kids. Fed the kids.' And then (after work) they'll come home, have quality time, bath time. And I️ say - you can miss a game." If there's one thing she would invent for millennial women, it's this very advice, she says.
Rather than a product, or an item, it's this advice that, contrary to the millennial mindset, you don't have to be five places at one time or working 20-hour days to get where you want to be. Instead, Mangano has sections of the book that will inform on how better to manage your time and your ideas - to employ her methods - so you can become successful with (a little) less stress.
When asked how social media and the digital age has influenced her real-world inventions (like mops, hangers, steamers and pillows), Mangano chuckles. Technology, rather than impairing the invention of real world application actually opens up a 'wider range' tells the inventor. “It opens up a direct - to - consumer feedback and enhances your platform."
"With Instagram and Facebook my customers communicate with me. That's critical for looking at what you do and for the future of what you do."
Out of the dozens of things she's invented, Mangano won't say what her favorite is. "What am I️ most proud of? That's hard to say - that's like asking what child do you love the most and I️ don't think I️ could be prouder of any of them."
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It's the question on everyone's tongues. It's what motivates every conversation about whether or not Liz Warren is "electable," every bit of hand-wringing that a woman just "can't win this year," and every joke about menstrual cycles and nuclear missiles. Is America ready for a woman president?
It's a question that would be laughable if it wasn't indicative of deeper problems and wielded like a weapon against our ambitions. Whether thinly-veiled misogyny or not (I'm not going to issue a blanket condemnation of everybody who's ever asked), it certainly has the same effect: to tell us "someday, but not yet." It's cold comfort when "someday" never seems to come.
What are the arguments? That a woman can't win? That the country would reject her authority? That the troops would refuse to take her orders? That congress would neuter the office? Just the other day, The New York Times ran yet another in a long series of op-eds from every major newspaper in America addressing this question. However, this one made a fascinating point, referencing yet another article on the topic in The Atlantic (examining the question during Hillary Clinton's 2016 presidential bid), which cited a study by two Yale researchers who found that people were either the same or more likely to vote for a fictional male senator when told that he was ambitious; and yet, both men and women alike were less likely to vote for a woman when told that she was ambitious, even reacting with "feelings of moral outrage" including "contempt, anger, and disgust."
The question isn't whether a woman could be president, or whether a woman can be elected president – let's not forget that Hillary Clinton won three million more votes than the wildly unqualified man currently sitting in the oval office – it's whether or not it's appropriate for a woman to run for president, in a pre-conscious, visceral, gut-check way. In short, it's about misogyny. Not your neighbors' misogyny, that oft-cited imaginary scapegoat, but yours. Ours. Mine. The misogyny we've got embedded deeply in our brains from living in a society that doesn't value women, the overcoming of which is key for our own growth, well-being, and emotional health.
Why didn't we ever ask if America was ready for Trump?
That misogyny, too, is reinforced by every question asking people to validate a woman even seeking the position. Upfront, eo ipso, before considering anything of their merit or experience or thought, whether a woman should be president, that, if given the choice between a qualified woman and an unqualified man, the man wins (which, let's not forget, is what happened four years ago). To ask the question at all is to recognize the legitimacy of the difference in opinion, that this is a question about which reasonable people might disagree. In reality, it's a question that reason doesn't factor into at all. It's an emotional question provoking an emotional response: to whom belong the levers of power? It's also one we seem eager to dodge.
"Sure, I'd vote for a woman, but I don't think my neighbor would. I'd vote for a woman, but will South Carolina? Or Nebraska? Or the Dakotas?" At worst, it's a way to sort through the cognitive dissonance the question provokes in us – it's an obviously remarkable idea, seeing as we've never had a woman president – and at best, it's sincere surrender to our lesser angels, allowing misogyny to win by default. It starts with the assumption that a woman can't be president, and therefore we shouldn't nominate one, because she can't win. It's a utilitarian argument for excluding half of the country's population from eligibility for its highest office not even by virtue of some essential deficiency, but in submission to the will of a presumed minority of voters before a single vote has ever been cast. I don't know what else to call that but misogyny by other means.
We can, and must, do better than that. We can't call a woman's viability into question solely because she's a woman. To do so isn't to "think strategically," but to give ground before the race even starts. It's to hobble a candidate. It's to make sure voters see her, first and foremost, as a gendered object instead of a potential leader. I have immense respect for the refusal of women like Hillary Clinton, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and pioneers like Carol Mosley-Braun, going as far back as Victoria Woodhull, to accede to this narrative and stick to their arguments over the course of their respective campaigns, regardless of any policy differences with them. It's by women standing up and forcing the world to see us as people that we push through, not by letting them tell us where they think we belong.
One of the themes I come back to over and over again in my writing is women asserting independence from control and dignity in our lives. It's the dominant note in feminist writing going back decades, that plea for recognition not only of our political and civil rights, but our existence as moral agents as capable as any man in the same position, as deserving of respect, as deserving of being heard and taking our shot. What then do we make of the question "is America ready for a woman president?" Is America ready? Perhaps not. But perhaps "ready" isn't something that exists. Perhaps, in the truest fashion of human politics, it's impossible until it, suddenly, isn't, and thereafter seems inevitable.
I think, for example, of the powerful witness Barack Obama brought to the office of president, not simply by occupying it but by trying to be a voice speaking to America's cruel and racist history and its ongoing effects. By extension, then, I think there is very real, radical benefit to electing a chief executive who has herself been subject to patriarchal control in the way only women (and those who others identify as women) can experience.
I look at reproductive rights like abortion and birth control, and that is what I see: patriarchal control over bodies, something no single president has ever experienced. I think about wage equality; no US president has ever been penalized for their sex in their ability to provide for themselves and their families. I look at climate change, and I remember that wealth and power are inextricably bound to privilege, and that the rapacious hunger to extract value from the earth maps onto the exploitation women have been subject to for millennia.
That's the challenge of our day. We've watched, over the last decade, the radicalized right go from the fringes of ridicule to the halls of power. We've watched them spit at the truth and invent their own reality. All while some of our best leaders were told to wait their turn. Why, then, all this question of whether we're ready for something far simpler?
Why didn't we ever ask if America was ready for Trump?