The Wing is an exclusive club for women in New York City founded by Audrey Gelman and Lauren Kassan
The Wing – what is it exactly? In brief: Just imagine one of those clubhouses, but without all the stuffiness of regular country clubs and fraternities. And it also holds a variety of meetings and events that include film screenings and readings as well as meditation and work out courses to provide for lots of creative and relaxing input – and it’s in the middle of New York, and exclusively for women. The interior is pastel-colored, furnished in modern Scandinavian design pieces, all very feminine but without of any of the kitsch. When they opened the doors last month to this exclusive women’s-only social club in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, the founders were motivated by perhaps too noble a goal for that.
29-year-old New York native Audrey Gelman is the brains behind the ambitious project, an “all-American girl” you might think at first glance. But behind the shiny hair and Colgate smile, Gelman is a businesswoman to be reckoned with and a diehard feminist as well. In fact, her biography reads like a coming-of-age story. She is a longtime confidante of Lena Dunham (who created her Girls character Marnie based Gelman), the ex-girlfriend of Terry Richardson, and she made a name as a successful political PR consultant. Her illustrious clients include Hillary Clinton, whose election campaign team she was part of in 2008. This year she established herself as a self-made entrepreneur and, by the way, also married Genius founder Ilan Zechory (the dream wedding was covered by Vogue, among others).
The business idea came to Gelman on a hot summer’s day in 2015, when she found herself in a public restroom, changing between meetings, desperately trying not to touch the bathroom floor. It was then she realized that what was needed was “a home base for women on their way.” Everything went quickly after that bathroom changing incident: alongside co-founder and social media pro Lauren Kassan, she created a business plan, went fishing for high-carat sponsors, and after months of work The Wing just celebrated its opening in October of this year.
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The premises of the penthouse include office rooms for meetings and phone calls, a snack bar with all kinds of healthy refreshments, a locker room for keeping personal items overnight, as well as a lounge room and a library stacked with tons of reading matter oriented towards women. No wonder then that the Who’s Who of NY-based lady bosses are on board – the founding members include Man Repeller Leandra Medine, Into the Gloss and Glossier founder Emily Weiss, model and transgender aktivist Hari Nef, as well as illustrator Joana Avillez and many more.
With the aid of women’s historian Alexis Coe, Gelman and Kassan researched the roots of women’s clubs and stumbled upon a rich history that traces back to the 19th century, peaking in the Roaring ‘20s. Then due to historic events such as the Great Depression and two World Wars, the sororities were oftentimes neglected and turned into libraries, women’s shelters, or other social welfare spots. By the Post-War era, women had mostly been driven into the domestic realm and it was common for women to befriend neighbors, taking care of the children together and helping each other out with housework. Luckily times have radically changed and today, more than ever before, women are an important part of the public sphere.
Several feminist waves later, and in light of our current state of emancipation, we have to ask ourselves: do women still need a space of their own?
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According to the social media response, it is a subject of contention. Critics are questioning the true feminist intentions of The Wing. In face of a monthly membership fee of $185 (catering facilities still excluded), the project seems rather elitist and the founders seem to be targeting a specific type of New Yorker. Yes, a certain level of social standing and wealth seems to be required.
In spite of the criticism, it is obvious that Gelman and Kassan have found a gap in the market that is perfectly in line today’s fast-paced zeitgeist: they are filling the niche between home and office space, and it is something that makes membership particularly interesting for women who work as freelancers in the digital field.
However, there’s another major advantage to creating a club that is reserved for female members. At The Wing, women are entirely by themselves. Whether it’s work or free time, they can pursue a variety of activities without being objected to the nosy, watchful, or even intrusive gaze of male co-workers, roommates, or spouses. The Wing provides a safe environment for the most intimate of activities, like taking a shower, breast pumping, or changing pads and tampons – organic ones at that, provided by the startup LOLA.
It’s a shame that our society still hasn’t come so far to find these kind of specifically female needs satisfied as a matter of course and that similar, but public, facilities haven’t been made available. That leaves a problem that should be resolved by the state in the hands of private investors – and access not given to all women, but only those capable and willing to pay for it.
Whether an exclusive club can magically fix macrosocial problems like sexism and workplace discrimination remains to be seen. However, The Wing creates a space for women to engage in public exchange and, thereby, creates a new sense of sorority. Men are excluded from the clubhouse – not to demonize them, but to celebrate womanhood and let ladies be themselves among their peers. Only time will tell whether the project will be able to establish itself internationally. So far, a second location in New York City is already being planned. We’re excited to see what the future brings!
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“As a busy New Yorker and former public affairs guru, Audrey Gelman had changed her clothes in her fair share of Starbucks bathrooms and done pre-event makeup in many a Sephora. She had her big idea two years ago: what if city women had a third place, besides the office and home, not just to primp but to network and plot the rise of the #matriarchy? The Wing evolved from there. In October, Gelman and cofounder Lauren Kassan opened the door to their first women’s-only social club and coworking space in Manhattan’s Ladies’ Mile. Hear how they raised over $2 million from (mostly female) investors, and why women need a place of our own.”
Listen to the podcast on Forbes Podcast (episode 12), and find out how they received a two million US-dollar investment along with why women need a separate space for themselves (hosted by Clare O’Connor):
Find more information about the The Wing here.
After spending a gap year in Paris, Jessica Aimufua set her heart on Berlin, starting her art history and cultural studies undergrad in 2012. As a keen observer and critical thinker she developed an urge to express herself inventively at an early age. In both English and German she writes about contemporary culture and modern aesthetics, with a focus on film, fashion and art . At hey woman! she writes, edits and translates.