With mayor’s blessing, women-only social club heading to Chicago
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Mayor Rahm Emanuel rarely wastes an opportunity to take a dig at his East Coast rival cities.
Earlier this month, he sent a letter to a Manhattan-based all-women’s club — which faces an investigation in New York for its membership policy — urging the organization to set up shop here.
“Though you may face obstacles in other cities, we welcome spaces dedicated to empowering women and understand and respect your mission,” the mayor wrote in the April 9 letter to the founders of The Wing, Lauren Kassan and Audrey Gelman, who, among other things, worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Gelman told the Chicago Sun-Times Monday she was “thrilled” to receive Emanuel’s letter, and that it’s the first time a mayor has personally written to The Wing, encouraging the club to come to his or her city.
“It’s heartening when we see elected officials who are willing to lend a hand to support businesses that are founded by women and that cater to women, rather than scrutinizing them,” Gelman said.
The Wing, which bills itself as a “network of co-working and community spaces designed for women,” has opened spaces in New York and Washington D.C., and reportedly has lengthy waiting lists to join. There are plans to open up branches in San Francisco and Los Angeles later this year — and Chicago next year.
But the club has also encountered some skepticism.
“In our city, you’ll find no shortage of women making trouble, making history, making a difference. At this point, not many of us choose to work our magic while sipping almond milk lattes while sitting on velvet club chairs overlooking the canal in Georgetown,” wrote the Washington Post’s Ellen McCarthy, the day before The Wing opened is first space in the nation’s capital last week. “But we’re eager to see if you can change that.”
The Wing’s airy, clean spaces feature an in-house cafe, galleries of women’s art and a library in which the books are arranged by the hue of their spines.
“One of the signature design traits of The Wing [is that] we have really great furniture and art. … And we also have an extensive library of books by female authors and, yes, they are arranged by color,” Gelman said.
Merchandise in the online shop includes T-shirts with the phrases, “Boys Beware” and “Internet Herstory” emblazoned across them. A key chain that says: “Girls doing whatever the f–k they want in 2018.”
But the club made headlines last month in New York after the press there reported that the city’s Commission on Human Rights had opened an investigation into The Wing’s membership policy, which excludes men.
Gelman dismissed the New York headlines as “a little overblown.”
“We received a request for a meeting from the human rights commission with regards to The Wing, and … we are planing to meet with them,” Gelman said.
Wing officials say they are unaware of any specific claims or lawsuits against their organization and they point out that, despite their membership policy, they have a number of male investors and supporters.
Seth Hoy, a spokesman for the commission, emailed the Sun-Times a statement: “The NYC Commission on Human Rights has an open investigation into The Wing following a tip from the public. The Commission works to ensure entities and businesses in NYC are in compliance with the City Human Rights Law.”
“What we’re trying to do — in a world where women face unsafe work spaces in many cases — is create an environment for women to be able to thrive and to find professional and personal opportunities,” Gelman said.
Emanuel appears to be offering just that.
“Most importantly, you will feel at home here,” he wrote. “Chicagoans work together, and that includes working to ensure that all of our communities participate in the city’s economic growth.”
Gelman said plans had already begun to scout out a Chicago location before the mayor’s letter arrived, but now it’s “much more gung ho” and “full speed ahead in looking for a space to call home in Chicago.”