Debbie Brannigan is a professional design engineer and the sole proprietor and editor-in-chief of CapitalistChicks.com, which she founded with daughter Tara three years ago. Geared toward a younger (and more female) generation of freedom-lovers, the site has been growing in popularity — with women and men — since its inception. It features articles, a financial advice column, profiles of high-achieving women, a news and events calendar, and a discussion forum.
Andrew Schwartz of the Atlasphere had the opportunity to talk with Brannigan about CapitalistChicks.com, capitalism, women, and the meaning of femininity.
The Atlasphere: What motivated you and Tara to create CapitalistChicks.com? How did the idea come about?
Debbie Brannigan: Well, a few years ago we moved to Seattle from Detroit. And when we got to Seattle, we found it a little bizarre to see this apparent, prevalent hatred toward even the word capitalism. We weren't used to that. Detroit is a bit more capitalist-friendly. The automotive industry is there, it's not a sin to create money there. In Seattle there's a different viewpoint, especially among younger people in Tara's age group.
So, given that, we made a couple t-shirts, just for our own personal use, that said: "Capitalist Chick." Just to let people know. (Laughing.) We didn't have any plans to launch a site.
But then we went to see a special Seattle taping of Win Ben Stein's Money. We wore our shirts, and I wrote on mine, "Capitalist Chicks dig Ben Stein."
Well, we had an incredible number of people come up to us and ask where they could buy these shirts. And then, Ben Stein spotted them, and he invited us back stage. He just loved those shirts! (Laughing.) And he actually flew us out to L.A. for four days to meet with Al Burton, his producer, to throw about the idea of possibly selling the shirts on Comedy Central.
That never formalized, because of conflicting brand identities or some such. We just enjoyed the four days in L.A.! But the whole experience made us realize a certain misperception we'd had, and when we got back from L.A., we said, You know what? I think there are more capitalists out there than we think. They just don't have a place to gather together.
Brannigan: Exactly. We thought, we'll throw a website out there, see if we can find some people who identify with it, and maybe we can meet some like-minded people out here in the Northwest. So we did that, and we put a couple shirts out there for sale — and we were just bombarded! (Laughing.) It has been growing non-stop ever since.
TA: Wow. That's great.
Brannigan: Yes. It makes us feel good to know there really are a lot of people out there who love capitalism. Plus, they span a wide geography: We've sent shirts to Germany, England, Sweden, Canada. Canada is remarkably one of our biggest market areas.
TA: That's interesting.
Brannigan: Yeah. California and Canada are where we get most of our orders from.
TA: Have you gotten any attention from the press?
Brannigan: I've been on a number of radio shows in California. And we actually just got an e-mail from ABC out in New York, asking if we'd like to do a radio interview.
Also, we were asked to speak at the University of Washington by the campus Republicans, and the response to that was quite something. We were told by the president it was the largest gathering they'd had so far. So it was very receptive.
Of course, it was mostly the campus Republicans. There was one socialist who showed up, and there were threats that a socialist group of revolutionary women was going to come and heckle us, but they never showed up.
TA: Well that's heartening.
Brannigan: Yes. (Laughing.)
TA: And with the website? What has the feedback been like?
Brannigan: It's been overwhelmingly positive. I think we've received only two or three vicious hate mails, which really is not bad, because we get anywhere from five to ten fan mails a day.
And that's from visitors just writing to say: Found your site, love it, keep up the good work. And for each person that sends a fan mail, how many people go to the site, bookmark it, and never write to say how much they enjoy it? I certainly don't write to every site that I enjoy.
So that's an incredibly positive sign.
TA: And do you have any future plans for CapitalistChicks?
Brannigan: Well, we've just been winging it until now, but at this point it really needs to take a focus and a direction, because the audience is growing. A lot of the e-mails I get are from eighteen- to twenty-three-year-olds, and they say things like, "You are the coolest site out there for capitalism," and "There's nothing else out there — we're so glad to have you." So it's something I really want to build upon.
Tara is actually coming down here to Portland in just a few days so we can sit down and come up with a business plan to expand the site. So, CapitalistChicks will be around for a while.
TA: Well, I definitely look forward to seeing what you ladies do with it. It's a great site, and I share the other people's enthusiasm for it.
Brannigan: Thank you very much! That kind of feedback motivates us to continue.
It's actually a lot of work. And especially when I'm working fifty hours a week at another job, it's difficult to find the slot time to write content for the site. There are some months when I just want to quit.
But then we'll get an email from Russia, saying "I love your site, I've bookmarked it!" and at that moment, I don't have to think twice: I'm definitely going to continue.
TA: Debbie, how did you become a "Capitalist Chick" in the first place?
Brannigan: It was through Ayn Rand and her work. I'm actually fairly new to Rand — I wasn't introduced to her work until my thirties, when my life-long friend (and coworker at the time) Monica handed me Atlas Shrugged. I always have to credit Monica with saving my life! (Laughing.) Everybody remembers the person who handed them Atlas Shrugged.
TA: That is true.
Brannigan: It was one of those books that I read and I thought, wow, that was pretty good — and then as the years go by and you get deeper into Objectivism, the more sense it makes and the more powerful you realize that book was.
TA: On the political level, had you leaned toward capitalism before that? I'm curious how you came to it.
Brannigan: I did lean toward capitalism, but with the typical, Republican, religious morality.
Personally, I really identified with Dagny. I've been called an over-achiever many times. I've worked many, many jobs, and my ethic is: If it needs to be done, just do it! And I think that's why my friend Monica handed me the book. She knew I was a producer, and that I was open-minded and honest, and would accept the ideas in the book.
So the idea of producing wasn't new to me. But the idea of producing for the sense of self, that was new to me.
TA: And you say it saved your life.
Brannigan: Yes. You see, I grew up in a born-again Christian household, where you are taught to serve others and not yourself.
I had no sense of self, and I struggled with that because I was always wanting to achieve — and that conflicted with the ideas of duty and giving to others.
Then, once I read Atlas Shrugged and grasped the Objectivist ideals, it completely changed the whole course of my life.
TA: What did you find most appealing about Rand and her work?
Brannigan: (Pause.) I guess I would have to say the most appealing thing was the idea of how great the human life experience is. Until I read Rand, I'd been taught that you should live in fear, that everyone is out to get you, that everything is evil. The most appealing thing about Rand is the idea that: No, this life is a one-shot deal, and it is the greatest thing to experience. And constantly improving oneself, for the sake of oneself — there's just nothing better to experience.
TA: So how did Tara come to it?
TA: Wow, so the two of you discovered it around the same time.
Brannigan: Oh, definitely around the same time. (Laughing.)
TA: That must have been an adventure!
Brannigan: It trickled down to her from me.
TA: Debbie, moving onto more cultural issues, one of the things that struck me while looking at your site and while looking at all these self-confident women you feature, was how flagrantly obvious a connection there is between capitalism and the stated goals of feminism.
TA: And seeing the site made it seem very ironic and almost bizarre that so many feminists are so often rabidly leftist. Do you have any thoughts about why that might be the case?
Brannigan: (Pause.) I really don't know . . . other than that I think they just bind together under the banner of victimhood. "We're all victims." If they would just let go of the victimhood and move on to victoryhood, I think they would embrace capitalism. As it is, they focus on victimhood rather than focus on success and victory. It's a kind of identity: the victim. And then they concern themselves with how women can get more handouts through the government, rather than on our own.
I'd also like to make a point about liberal views in general, because their foundation is always: Other people can't succeed. Other people are stupid. Other people are helpless. It's the elitist viewpoint that without intervention, people are just too stupid and can't succeed.
Whereas the capitalist or Objectivist viewpoint is: The human mind-body-and-soul is great and powerful, and people can do great things if left to their own devices.
I have an article on CapitalistChicks, called "Don't Call Me Lucky." It was inspired by one of these typical conversations with a co-worker about why we should increase the welfare system, and the liberals' reason is always the idea that other people can't get by; they're not lucky like you and me with our college educations.
And I'm almost grateful that I'm a high-school dropout, because it's like my trump card in all of these conversations. I tell them I'm not college-educated, and they say, "Oh, you're not — Oh, I didn't realize!" And I say: In fact, I'm a high school dropout. I was a teen mom! I did everything the wrong way — and yet when I finally decided to make something better of myself, I succeeded. I succeeded greatly, and I continue to succeed. But it's not through anyone's efforts but my own.
The few hate mails we've gotten on our site have all accused us of being rich. You know, "Daddy's little rich girl, out there trying to make more money." And it infuriates me that people just assume that if you're successful, you didn't earn it. Hopefully our site will start to infiltrate the socialist regime out there and begin to change that common assumption.
Incidentally, I designed the logo and everything on the site to target a younger generation, because it seems they don't have any place to go. There's nothing cool or hip for them to identify with. You mention capitalism and you picture some old guy and his stock portfolio! (Laughing.) And apparently our strategy has worked, because the average age on the site seems to be eighteen to twenty-three, which is really heartening for me.
TA: If you don't mind my asking, how did you come to drop out of high school?
Brannigan: (Laughing.) My mom used to always tell me, "You'd better hope you never get bored, because bad things happen when you get bored."
Well, I was completely bored with school. I was a rebel. I was unfocused. And at sixteen, I thought it would be so much more exciting to quit school and go out on my own. (Laughing.) I have to admit it was pretty exciting, though not a very smart thing to do. And then at seventeen, I was pregnant, and a mom by eighteen, and I realized then that I had somebody else to care for now. Which set my life in another direction.
I actually had very good grades in high school, and yet I never went. I had fifty-six absences in the last semester that I attended. And I still pulled good grades. I just wasn't being challenged enough.
So it was sheer boredom. There was no real reason for it, no mistreatment by my parents or anything of that nature. I was just bored.
TA: That actually sounds like a pretty good reason to me.
Brannigan: (Laughing.) Okay.
TA: Debbie, in the pro-capitalist world, the ratio of men to women is famously skewed. There seem to be a lot more men than women. Why might this be, and more importantly, what can be done to get more women on board?
Brannigan: This question of why there are fewer women comes up in every interview I've ever done. And really, I'm mystified by it. I've given it some thought, and the only thing I can come up with is that women's traditional role has always been the caretaker in the household. Financial planning, money, long-term investments — that was always left to the men. Those roles are shifting now, thankfully, but I think there's still a way to go.
And the thing is, I think you can't really get excited about capitalism and free markets without jumping into that arena of stocks, financial planning, long-term investment. Women are not so much afraid of financial planning — they're just not well informed about it. Usually, in marriages, who handles the checkbook in every day life? It's the women. But who handles the 401K and the retirement plan and the stocks? It's the men.
I see more women getting involved in the financial end of things, and of course, there are more women going into the workplace. Also, there are more women living alone. The numbers show that more women are not marrying at all, or are marrying much later in life. So I think the role of responsibility is going to start shifting onto the woman's plate.
Other than that, all I can advise is: educate.
TA: And it seems like you're doing a wonderful job of that on CapitalistChicks.com. The articles about finance are fabulous.
Brannigan: Thank you.
TA: Switching to a different topic, one of the pages on your site features photos of the women of CapitalistChicks.com, and there's a real sense there not only of intelligence and self-confidence on the part of these women, but also quite a bit of femininity. What does femininity mean to you?
Brannigan: Well actually, I'm constantly called a tomboy. (Laughing.) Which is fine, I'm a tomboy. But I'm still feminine. And the defining factor there is: I don't try to deny that I'm a woman. I celebrate it. I like being a woman. And even though I can climb mountain peaks and ride mountain bikes and spend five days out in the woods with a backpack, I still enjoy the fact that I'm not a man — I'm a woman. I can put on some heels and a dress and be deserving of attention in that respect.
That's femininity. It's not trying to be a man — it's trying to be the most woman you can be. Do all that you can do, and still enjoy that you're a woman.
TA: What do you think are the most important things a woman can do to cultivate self-confidence and psychological health in general?
Brannigan: Well, it's a long path to follow. It seems that women take so much longer to reach that level of self-confidence than a guy does. And I don't know if that's social upbringing, or if it's metaphysical. I don't know what the reason is.
But I know that the more self-reliant you are, the more your ego grows. And with each task that you initially think you can't do, and then you do it, your confidence grows. So I think you need to go out and pursue as many things as you possibly can, and prove that you can do each of them.
And I mean intellectually, physically, socially — they all tie in. You can be a super-brainiac, and still have low self-confidence if you haven't tackled your social inhibitions, or your physical inhibitions. You need to make conquests in your productive life, your social life, your romantic life, your physical life. And when your ego grows in each of them, that's when you become a more confident person.
And I have to say, I don't think people give enough emphasis to the social realm. Because there are, for example, a lot of women who are high-power execs, and they can mountain bike and do all of these things — yet you put them out there in the social and romantic realm and they just stumble and fall; they're very insecure.
Well, there are tests you can make for yourself on a daily basis and you can succeed at those every day. Every day you might go out and meet somebody new, strike up a conversation, and it gets easier each time.
I personally have become a professional student at community colleges just for the sake of continuing to learn new things. I took up mountaineering two years ago, which I had never done before. And to see those mountain peaks on a clear day, and to know I've been to the top of them, that's an accomplishment.