- The Buy Up Index: An Interview with Amy-Willard Cross
I met Amy Cross in Washington, D.C., to learn more about the recently released app, Buy Up Index. The app provides a simple index for rating brands according to the women-friendliness of a particular company, coupled with a scoring system for that company’s advertising. What Amy hopes is that women will use the app when they shop, just as many use other certifications and scoring systems from Fair Trade to LGBT rights. The difference here is in the potential impact. Women drive worldwide consumption in a way that no other group does. To the degree that they choose to put their spending to work behind their own rights, the impact on both brands and daily life could be huge.
Amy, let’s start by hearing how you came up with the idea to start Buy Up Index.
In 2008 I was running an op-ed website—I wasn’t trying to make money. I would go to women’s media conferences and I learned that Feministing was run as a nonprofit. At the time, it was the most important women’s feminist website, with about two million readers. And all the contributors worked part-time jobs. And I thought, “This is the most widely read feminist site and you’re all working for free. This is wrong. This is crazy. The market should be able to support feminist media. I’m going to start a for-profit feminist website so the market can pay for women to write about these issues.”
There are 12 million people out there who support women’s organisations—Planned Parenthood, Emily’s List, Women’s MBA Association—and still there’s no women-owned media site that talks about issues that they care about. (N.b. Blogher was just acquired/merged into PE-backed SheKnows.)
And we know that all advertisers would want to reach us. Anyway, so I started a site called Vitamin W. I wanted to do media that’s good for women. And we did do good stuff. I was hoping to be like a clearinghouse for all this activity going on in what I considered to be a renaissance of feminism…a sort of economic feminism. Yes, “economic feminism” or “business feminism.”
After a few years doing Vitamin W, I realised maybe what I could do that’s useful is to do reporting on what are companies doing.
When several new women were elected to Congress in 2008 elections, I decided to check who was funding them. About nine out of perhaps 11 newly elected Democratic Congresswomen were funded, not by industries, but by Act Blue and Emily’s List. It was an epiphany for me. I realized: Women are totally outside the normal funding mechanisms of politics. No wonder there hasn’t been greater change. Then, I went to look at what the proportion of political funding is donated by women. Well, it’s around 24 percent, and the proportion of women elected is about 20 percent. If we were providing half the donations, we would be getting half the representation.
I’m really upset with how little political movement there’s been during my lifetime. I grew up in Washington. I marched for the ERA when I was a young girl, on my own initiative—I still have my sash, and I continued Alice Paul’s march. And we still don’t have that legislation. You know, we can’t get those few words. It just made me realize that, politically, there’s very little movement.
When I came out of Wellesley, I thought everything was fixed. But I kept on hearing stories about how things weren’t exactly equal, especially after people had children Anyway, so that’s when I thought, Well, why don’t we look to the market? Why don’t we see what the market can do to promote equality. They’re always talking about women’s economic power and about the power of the purse, but I see very few examples of women actually trying to wield it.