Clearing Up Rumours and False Allegations Made By Amy Walsh and Dusti Arab
I’m under siege, online, because people are saying and writing things about me that are not true. One of the most hurtful and inaccurate things that people have been saying is that I’ve plagiarized or appropriated the work of others.
That is absolutely wrong and untrue.
These lies aren’t just unfortunate; nor should they be accepted as simply what happens to women, online. Women should not have to put up with rumour-mongering, character assassination or online abuse simply because we have a public profile and are therefore vulnerable — not from our ideological opponents; not from trolls; and, most heart-breakingly, definitely not from fellow feminists, former friends, clients and colleagues.
Lies reported as fact, deliberate misinformation, and libel have a material consequence. Personally, and collectively.
Collectively: when we seek to destroy each other using rumours and misinformation and engage in paper warfare and vengeance-via-online-takedown rather than having frank accountability conversations, we are doing exactly what we’ve been conditioned to do by patriarchy and the net result is that we erode our collective resources and our ability to organize with each other. We also use the same oppressive methods of dominance, othering and dehumanization that we otherwise oppose. We become what we oppose.
Personally: These false allegations directly cost me business and threaten my ability as a sole provider to care for my elderly mother-in-law and my children. That’s not a small thing. I’m not a person with a book deal or a huge online following or an independent source of income. To have contracts cancelled is terrifying and I am worried to the point of panic that I may never financially bounce back from this or be able to grow my writing career because of these accusations. And again, this is continuation of the very systems we decry as a community. We know that patriarchy means women struggle to build careers and livelihoods. It’s then deeply anti-feminist for apparent feminists and change-makers to make and refuse to correct false allegations that damage another woman’s livelihood and reputation.
And in fact what I’m being accused of is the polar opposite of my actual practices.
For example: it is my philosophy and visible daily practice to give credit and attribute.
On a daily basis, visibly, and across time, I consistently cite my influences and deliberately and visibly use my own work and platform to boost the signals and businesses of others.
Here are the events, dates, timelines, quotes and screenshots that prove this. The facts (and even copyright law! ) support me and disprove the false allegations and rumours.
I believe that together we rise.
I believe that none of us accomplishes anything alone and that we can use our personal platforms as stages for many people, not just ourselves.
I believe that one of the flaws of conventional online marketing and what I call “The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand” is that it teaches us to manufacture authority by positioning ourselves as independent experts who know a secret that no one else does.
Because I oppose those tactics and that outcome, I strive to do it differently.
- I specifically make it a daily practice to boost the signal of other thinkers and professionals in my own FB status updates and shares and I consistently teach my clients and community members to do that, too.
- I do something that we don’t see enough in online marketing spaces: I cite and reference and quote other people’s work and ideas, even in my short FB status updates.
- I do this when I’m asked to participate in podcasts, too. Someone will ask me about concepts we talk about in my community, and I will say things like “That didn’t originate with me, that comes from Person X.”
I even cite other people on my sales page – and this is a significant departure from usual marketing practices. Conventional copywriting/marketing formulas, for example, teach us never to link out or reference other people (except as testimonials) on our sales pages.
But when I wrote my latest sales page, I did something different: I annotated it. I specifically cited other people’s work and areas of expertise (and not just a few times – there were more than 20 annotations!).
And before I even started explaining the program, I started the sales page by explaining why I was annotating the sales page. I wrote this :
I believe in showing your work and celebrating our lineage, so I annotated the hell out of it.
I deliberately deviated from the sales writing convention in our industry because I believe it’s important that we rise, together, and acknowledge that ideas and people flourish in community.
This is my personal philosophy and practice. You can see it across my body of work, on my website, in my classes, and in my FB posts.
- I footnote my Subscribe page.
- When I saw other people using the sales of their products to raise money for charity and then decided to follow suit, I shouted them out as the source of that idea.
- In my Feminist Fix for Your About Page workshop I teach people to document their influences and lineage in their online bios.
- In my paid social media workshop, I do the same thing. I have a specific strategy in my layer cakes method that I teach to encourage us as a community to document our influences and rise, together.
- I’ve written that self-care professionals should cite Audre Lorde and bell hooks as the originators of this field.
- I link out in my newsletters and my FB posts and on Instagram to people whose work informs mine or parallels mine.
In addition, in my own work, I deliberately did not trademark a concept I invented, The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand. I came up with that name to describe a particular phenomena. I specifically didn’t trademark it 21 months ago because if other people found it revealing and useful, I wanted them to be able to use this idea and build upon it and extend it in their own work.
I also call myself a Feminist Marketing Consultant and if someone else called themselves that, I wouldn’t feel aggrieved. It’s a short phrase. I can’t possibly own it.
This is how I approach my own work personally and in our community and what I teach others to do, too. I encourage people to document their influences in their About pages, in social media and even on their sales pages.
I do these things because I want to interrupt our conventional marketing patterns and because I want us to reference the wisdom and brilliance in the community and people around us. We rise together.
It’s unfortunate, then, that two people, Dusti Arab and Amy Walsh, are ignoring my actual practices to accuse me – knowingly and falsely – of copying their work.
I believe that they know there is no copyright infringement (because they publicly admit it in their own words!) and that they’re therefore deliberately defaming me to advance their personal agenda.
A Quick Tour of Copyright
I have a newsletter I send each week that I named “Sunday Love Letter”.
I’ve been calling that and sending that for almost two years.
Now, I’m seeing other people calling their newsletters love letters and even Sunday Love Letters.
Am I upset? Do I feel like they’re copying me or infringing on my copyright or brand?
No. It doesn’t bother me at all.
Here’s why: because it’s not stealing and it’s not copyright infringement.
I don’t own the concept of love letter. It’s a common short phrase. It’s an idea and an idea is not copyrightable.
Ideas, themes, metaphors, short phrases, even book titles are not copyrightable.
So when someone starts using the phrase Sunday Love Letter, it doesn’t take anything away from me and it’s not actually stealing my thing. I have no cause to be upset.
However, if someone got on my newsletter list, copied-and-pasted one of my emails and then sent it to their list as though they authored it, that would be copyright infringement.
That’s copying the execution of idea. That’s not permissible.
But it’s not possible to copyright an idea itself.
Let’s use a hypothetical example. Let’s say a coach offered a free call where you could get to know her and figure out if her services are right for you.
Let’s say she called that thing ‘an online coffee’.
If someone else then, put up a registration page that said, “Let’s have an online coffee,” and the first person then said, “You’re stealing my idea,” they would be wrong.
“Online coffee” an idea and a short, common phrase that is not protected by copyright.
(I am willing to bet that there are dozens of coaches and online entrepreneurs who say something like that on their website. Something like “Let’s have a virtual coffee.” “Let’s grab a virtual tea.” “Let’s have a virtual cuppa.”)
An idea, a word, a metaphor or a short common phrase – like the idea of a love letter or an online coffee – can’t belong to any one person. It it is not protected by copyright.
And because it is common property, it therefore can’t be stolen, and no one can accuse anyone of stealing their online coffee.
Or their cake.
I have a product I call Little Birds + Layer Cakes.
Little Birds + Layer Cakes is a metaphor for my social media strategy and plan. I’ve specifically taught little birds and layers to mastermind clients and consulting clients since early 2017; I developed it and used it in in my own business (including teaching it to people who work with me on my projects) in 2016. I have many session recordings and workshop recordings and FB group posts to prove this. The posts below, for example, are referring to my little birds and layer cakes strategy and were published in February 2017:
(These are screen captures of recording and discussions about Little Birds + Layer Cakes dated Feb 2017; I blacked out some lines to protect the privacy of my clients)
Some of my clients hire a contractor I work with, Toi Smith, to implement this social media plan for them. I taught this strategy to her when we started working together in August 2016.
On October 7, 2017 (and a since then) I taught Little Birds + Layer Cakes as a three hour workshop plus a 52 page toolkit. Participants take the class to learn how to develop and implement their own social media strategy.
An online business manage Dusti Arab, has a service called Funnel Cake Fixin which she offers a done-for-you suite of services – she’ll write your copy; she’ll make you a wordpress website; she’ll write your emails.
Let’s compare: Mine is a product/workshop that teaches you how to DIY your own social media posts. It’s specifically about Facebook and Instagram.
Dusti’s is a done-for-you service for anything an entrepreneur might need to do online. Copywriting, emails, website design: you hire her, and she does it for you.
She appears to have started offering her Funnel Cake Fix contracting service for any and all online marketing tasks in or around May 2017 — AFTER I was teaching my social media strategy for Instagram and Facebook alone called Little Birds + Layer Cakes.
- The first mention I can find on her websites (thinkcharm.com; thereinvention.co; dustiarab.com) for Funnel Cake Fix is dated May 6 2017
- The first I can find on her Facebook page is dated May 12, 2017
Since I was teaching my My “Little Birds + Layer Cakes” metaphor and strategy far before that and have date-stamped recordings and posts to prove it, it appears to me that my LBLC significantly pre-existed Dusti Arab’s Funnel Cake Fix.
In any case, they are not the same offering. Mine is a DIY course on social media; hers is a done-for-you service for anything you might need to have done, online.
More importantly: the only overlap in our offerings is the metaphor of cake in our titles.
Cake, as a metaphor and a common word we all use, is not something either of us can own nor is it protected by copyright. Neither of us can own the word cake or even the metaphor of cake. (If we could, bakeries would be in trouble.)
After I announced that I was teaching a Little Birds + Layer Cakes workshop, Dusti Arab posted to Facebook saying that someone visible stole her copy.
I saw the post and had no idea she was talking about me.
Subsequent comments by her and other people started referencing the word cake made me realize she was taking issue with Little Birds + Layer Cakes.
Here, in her post, she acknowledges that she can’t own a metaphor: “I don’t by any means have ownership of the words “Fix and Cake”…”
So it seems she’s not only referring to my Little Birds + Layer Cakes workshop but also to another workshop I teach called Feminist Fix for Your About Page.
I am not aware that Dusti Arab teaches any classes at all nor does she, in my estimation, make any attempt to market from afeints feminist perspective so there’s no overlap in this work.
The only overlap — and it’s a stretch — is that taken together, the titles of two of the several classes I teach contain the words “fix” and “cake”; and Dusti Arab offers her digital marketing services-for hire in a package called Funnel Cake Fix.
But Dusti Arab does not own and could not own either word or own using them as a metaphor. There are dozens, possibly hundreds, of programs,services, and companies in the marketing field (and beyond) that use the words fix and cake in their names.
So if she can’t own the metaphor – which she acknowledges publicly in her own post – then she’s wrong when she accuses me of stealing it. No one can own it so no one can steal it.
She’s also not acknowledging that it appears that my Little Birds + Layer Cakes significantly pre-existed her Funnel Cake Fix.
This means that even if there was a copyright infringement (which there wasn’t) it wouldn’t have been on my part, because my thing came first.
I reached out to Dusti Arab in a private message in the spirit of relationship. I asked her to have a conversation with me about this so we could sort it out and correct her comments.
After not getting anywhere in that context, I emailed Dusti Arab a few times about this. I explained to her that neither of us can own the word cake – which of course she knew and said so in her own words on her own post.
I asked her to publicly write a retraction and she agreed by email on September 28 2017 to do so.
She did not, however, follow through on her promise.
She has apparently continued to falsely accuse me even though
- She is aware and admits in her own words that there’s no basis for her accusation, and
- She had personally promised to write and publish a retraction
I did not infringe on her copyright…
…but she is libelling and defaming me.
And it’s causing damage to my business.
This week I received several requests for cancellation of contracts or refunds from clients who said they’d heard I infringe on copyright.
On Friday, I then received two refund requests from people who participated in Little Birds + Layer Cakes on Oct 7. They wrote this:
“I paid to attend a workshop under the assumption that you were…presenting your own work, as opposed to the work of Dusti Arab…”
“It has recently come to light that the lion’s share of the social media strategy proposed by the Little Birds and Layer Cakes workshop is borrowed from work developed by Dusti Arab….”
These two specific requests for refunds are based on reading, hearing and believing Dusti Arab’s knowingly inaccurate claims against me.
One more time: neither of us can own the word cake, which she admits, so there is no copyright infringement.
Dusti Arab’s accusations are inaccurate and wrong and causing me material harm. I’ve had people email me and tell me Dusti Arab has told them during sales calls that I stole my workshop from her — a workshop that significantly pre-existed her service for an unrelated service! And because I was getting refund requests with wording and rationale the wording sounded very similar to each other, I wondered if perhaps it was an organized attempt to get my payment processor account frozen. I had to reach out to existing clients with monthly payment plans and ask to move them to another payment method. These demonstrably untrue claims are libel and her actions are causing material damage to my reputation and business. It has to stop.
Amy Walsh of The Tactical Bureau of Imagination is also misunderstanding copyright and making inaccurate accusations against me.
Amy Walsh recently posted a blog post accusing me of copying three things from her:
- the phrase ‘culture makers’ and
- the way each of us thinks about image-making on social media
- module 6 of my Feminist Marketing School program
1. Let’s talk about culture making.
Like love letters, or virtual coffee, or cake, the phrase ‘culture maker’ is an idea that can’t be copyrighted – a point Amy Walsh acknowledges repeatedly in her blog post. No one can own this phrase.
“The idea that we are all culture makers is not an idea that is branded or trademarked by anyone – it is collectively held perspective…”
“…I don’t OWN this idea, so why am I feeling competitive?”
I agree. If no one can own it, and no one can copyright it, then I can’t possibly steal it.
Accusing me of theft, as she does eight times (using various synonyms) in her blog post, is therefore flat out untrue.
Furthermore, she didn’t previously appear to have a problem with me using the phrase “culture maker”.
- I premiered my new website in December 2016 with the words “We Are The Culture Makers”.
- On December 27 2016 in a FB comment, Amy Walsh congratulated me on my new website and copy
- Then, three days later on December 30, she reached out to me in a private FB message and said she wanted to hire me to work on her copy for her website. Given the timing and her enthusiastic FB feedback, it seems reasonable to infer that she was doing that because she really liked my new copy and message (“We Are TheCulture Makers”).
- One month later, in January 2017 — again, after I launched that culture maker message and she congratulated me for it — she followed through and hired me to work with her one-on-one on her message and copy.
- On January 25, 2017, in the intake form for our new work together, I asked this question: what are some examples of copy/websites you admire? She answered, “yours”.
If she truly objected to my message and thought I was appropriating it or copying her – which I wasn’t because as she acknowledges in her own wordsculture making is an idea that cannot be copyrighted — it seems unlikely she’d want to hire me to develop her new message after
- she saw mine
- congratulated me on mine and
- referred to mine as example of what she was hiring me to help her create for herself.
Then in April 2017, I changed the name of my free FB group from “How to Sell to Women Without Selling Them Out”to “We Are The Culture Makers”.
I did that specifically because some people in the group were using the original title as ammunition to misgender, erase, or exclude gender non-conforming people and trans women in the group. I wanted to make my position clear on that (trans women are women and this is not up for debate; gender non-conforming people are welcome in this group) and intervene to model a different culture within the group. I removed some members; I I changed the posted guidelines; and I specifically asked people to stop using gendered greetings in their posts (no more “Hey Ladies!for example); and I changed the group name to be a gender neutral “We Are TheCulture Makers”.
After that name change, Amy and I met several times in May and June 2017.
- She never indicated to me she had any issues with the name change.
- Our relationship was enthusiastic and mutually supportive
- She was an active member of the FB group and was promoting her programs and services and recruiting clients in my group.
- All summer I continued to publicly recommend her and privately refer my clients to her.
- There was no indication that she felt negatively about me using the phrase culture making – a phrase that she repeatedly acknowledges does not belong to her or to any one person.
Again: there’s no copyright infringement because culture making is an idea and no one can own it.
Amy Walsh knows this, acknowledges this in her own public words, and still makes public, knowingly inaccurate statements to the contrary.
Once again, I did not infringe on her copyright (of which there was none) but she is libeling and defaming me.
2. Let’s talk about the entire topic of imagery in our marketing and culture making
The second issue Amy Walsh presents seems to me to be a question about who is allowed ‘own’ the space around social media imagery and cultural norms.
But just as no one can own an idea, no one can own an entire field of inquiry.
If Amy Walsh owned image-making or the discussion of image-making, a lot of theorists, art critics, designers and artists would be out of business.
This is not something that can be infringed upon so there’s no basis to make accusations against me.
In addition: although I do sincerely admire Amy’s work and her intellect, I was doing my own work critiquing imagery and messages of The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand and offering alternative marketing tactics (which is kind of adjacent to her services making photography and images) long before I knew who she was or had any contact with her work in any way.
On June 22, 2016, two months after I started my FB group, and after I’d been publishing on The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand for six months, Amy Walsh sent me a private message on Facebook introducing herself to me. She said she was “a recent new member to [my] AMAZING group” and that in my group I had commented on the photos of herself she had posted there. She asked if we could be accountability buddies. I was enthusiastic. I suggested we meet via Zoom and get to now each other but she dipped out of the conversation for a few days and it didn’t happen. When she came back to the message thread, she said she was in a period of reflection and confusion about what her work and business was actually about.
I was super clear, on the other hand, what my work is about: deconstructing The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand and raising awareness about its negative impact on our culture and how we can resist it in our lives and our work.
Then on August 2, 2016, I published FB a snippet from the book I’m writing. In that FB post, I broke down the pseudo-feminist and classist imagery of The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand. Amy immediately private-messaged me saying how excited she was about that post and how we should collaborate, along with her friend who is a feminist photographer, on a 5-day workshop for people who want to get past the kind of imagery I decried in my post and instead make feminist imagery for their brand. Again, I was enthusiastic. At the time, there weren’t a lot of people I was aware of who were deviating from the FLEB marketing norm in this way, and it felt great to be finding fellow travellers.
But as my publishing and social media history proves, I wrote many essays and social posts on this topic and even coined a name for named the phenomena (The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand) long before I knew of Amy Walsh or had any contact with her work.
And in fact she joined my group and introduced herself to me BECAUSE of my PRE-EXISTING WORK deconstructing images and branding in online spaces from a feminist perspective.
To then suggest that this is her territory or that I’m co-opting her work is not supported by my publishing and social media history. I had a pre-existing body of work in this arena before I knew Amy Walsh existed. She joined my FB group; sought to make my acquaintance; offered repeatedly to collaborate with me; and later hired me because of that pre-existing work.
3. Module 6 of Feminist Marketing School
A quick tour on intellectual property and plagiarism.
When you do NOT quote or reference someone else’s work that influenced yours, that’s plagiarism.
When you DO quote or cite other people’s work, you’re NOT plagiarizing.
I did something rare in sales pages and online marketing: I repeatedly referenced and cited Amy Walsh in Module 6 of Feminist Marketing School – so by definition, I’m not plagiarizing her.
Here’s one of the things I wrote in my sales page about Amy Walsh:
Caveat: I’m not a graphic designer or visual artist, so we won’t be making any images in our class or group work together (but I can refer you to extraordinary teacher and coach who does this when you need more support*)
*You MUST check out Amy Walsh’s Bureau of Tactical Imagination — she is a sculptor and former adjunct art profesor who has coaching packages, social-media-making workshops, masterminds, and an EXTRAORDINARY photo shoot package available and when it comes to The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand and culture-making, SHE GETS IT).
My words are not the words of a person trying to steal another person’s work.
Instead, I was specifically drawing attention to her as an exceptionally qualified and talented person to work with when you wanted to go deeper into culture-making imagery.
I did this because it’s important to me that we document our influences and share credit. No ideas develop in isolation and we certainly can’t build them out or execute them, alone. Citation, sharing credit, and boosting the profiles of others is something I teach in my workshops about writing online copy and have repeated to 1:1 clients.
Citing someone and referring potential clients to them is the opposite of appropriating their work.
And again, this is my arena too: I was working on The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand and proposing alternate marketing strategies before I knew she existed.
The next issue Amy Walsh raises in her blog post with respect to this module and us working together I interpret to be this question: was I obligated to stop analyzing or strategizing on imagery and culture making because she hired me?
I helped her develop her marketing copy. The problem she was trying to solve, as I saw it, was that every business needs imagery and visual assets to develop a visual language and presence that distinguishes them in the marketplace.
(This is also the problem that many other brand professionals address.)
Her clients, like mine, also want to make sure they don’t create marketing visuals that reinforce oppression.
This is also an issue that I raise consciousness about and that I am known for raising consciousness about. was raising consciousness about this long before I knew Amy Walsh or worked with Amy Walsh.
I have a a pre-existing body of essays, blog posts, FB status updates and newsletters to prove it.
And it’s not just Amy Walsh and I who are raising consciousness about this topic. This is something that feminists and the culture-making community as a whole is concentrating on and trying to do differently.
No one owns this issue but we can all take responsibility for it. That’s what I’ve been asking us to do for almost two years: let’s each of us take personal responsibility for this problem and change it.
So yes, I helped her co-create marketing copy that addresses this problem.
And yes, my work also references that challenge – and it did so long before I worked with Amy Walsh or even knew her. I invented the concept of The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand months before I knew she existed.
Let’s also remember that at the beginning of our fee-for-service engagement, in my intake form, she indicated that she wanted a message like mine.
I helped her do that.
There was no expectation nor any contractual agreement between us saying that I would stop using my message or stop talking about the business and culture-making challenge of imagery because I was working with her.
I often work with other marketing consultants and copywriters, for example, and none of them expects that after our engagement I will no longer discuss or offer marketing services or copywriting.
It was predictable, given that imagery and visual assets are important in any marketing plan, that my work and Feminist Marketing School would also address imagery.
On June 6 2017, Amy Walsh and I had a meeting that was recorded and that she knew was recorded (and I sent her a copy afterwards). I described to her my new program, Feminist Marketing School, and she said it was “brilliant”.
She also said, “Sooooo, Kelly…do you need someone to speak on images in Feminist Marketing School?”
I said I did.
She said “I’m in.”
I want to repeat that: Amy Walsh asked me to contribute to my program on the topic of imagery and I agreed.
So in addition to my personal, highly visible practice of always boosting the signals of other professionals and quoting them and referencing them – which meant of course I was going to cite her in my annotations because she does great work in this area – I also had reason to believe she wanted to participate in the module. I wrote the module description with that in mind.
Also in June:
- Amy Walsh remained a member of my free FB group and promoted herself there.
- Amy Walsh hired Toi Smith as on online business manager.
- She indicated to Toi Smith that she wanted to hire her because Toi Smith works with me (since August 2016) and because I recommended her.
- Amy Walsh wasn’t leaning away from me, my message, the way I do my work or the people I do it with; she was actively leaning in.
I finished writing the sales page for FMS and published it in July 2017.
Here’s what I didn’t do: I didn’t get a contract in place with Amy Walsh confirming our conversation and her desire to collaborate and contribute to the eventual delivery of this one module. I relied on the strength and intimacy and collaborative nature of our ongoing relationship. That was a mistake. I should have put a contract in place outlining the terms of her contribution rather than assuming that just because she’d asked to contribute that she actually would.
In the sales page, I did something very unusual and something I’ve never seen any online entrepreneur do: I annotated it.
As I wrote in the beginning of this piece, traditional copywriting tactics teach us never to link out or drive traffic off your page. Traditional launch marketing insists that you present yourself as an independent expert who knows something no one else does.
But I disagree with those tactics and their outcome (they manufacture authority) so I annotated and cited several people who were doing parallel work or had influenced my thinking, including Amy Walsh.
And one more time: I had no reason to think she’d object or feel offended, because she’d specifically asked to be included in the delivery of this module.
Then on July 14, 2017 Amy Walsh emailed me and asked me to change my imagery module in Feminist Marketing School by July 21.
She said she was open for a phone convo, email or chats.
I was shocked. She had asked to be included in this module and it was obvious, since I was citing her, that I was giving her credit rather than taking anything from her.
I emailed her back the same day. I wrote this:
Yes let’s talk about this. I hear what you’re saying and I need to process. I do feel that I can talk about imagery through the lens of FLEB and I was writing about this for a long time; but I do not want to damage our relationship nor replicate your services. This matters to me and you matter to me. I’m going to review the module and sit with your feedback. Can we chat next week?
We went back and forth a few times that day and I offered her several times to meet to talk.
- I didn’t hear back from her for a few days, so on July 17 I emailed her again asking if she had time to talk.
- On July 18 she wrote back saying she needed more time.
- Two hours later she wrote an email saying she was not willing to talk about it and insisted that I take down module 6 by Friday July 21.
At that point, I realized our relationship wasn’t what I thought it was and I wasn’t going to be able to resolve this on my own. I hired a lawyer. I gave the lawyer material from Amy and material from me to review.
The lawyer reviewed it all and gave me the opinion that there was no infringement or breach here and that Amy Walsh was misinterpreting the law and the situation.
The lawyer asked me if I wanted them to send a legal letter to Amy Walsh.
I said no. The relationship with Amy was important to me and I still wanted to fix it.
Even though there was no legal infringement, and even though the lawyer advised me it wasn’t necessary, I decided to rewrite the module (but not take it down) to accommodate Amy Walsh. I removed all references to her.
I did not believe I was wrong; the legal opinion I sought said there was no cause here; but I still wanted to preserve our relationship and not divide our mutual community.
I reached out by email to Amy on July 21. Here’s what I wrote:
I respect you. I respect your work. I value our relationship, professionally and personally, and I’m hoping we can restore it.
I’ve rewritten the June module description to tightly focus on interpreting imagery through the lens of The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand.
We are members of the same communities and peer groups, so I want to assure you I’m holding the events of the last week in the strictest of confidence. I will not be disparaging or defaming you, and I’m hoping you’ll also extend that courtesy to me.
If you’re interested, I would like for us to have a facilitated conversation in the hopes of hearing from you, fully, and mending our relationship.
I’m willing to coordinate and pay for the services of a professional mediator to facilitate our conversation.
Please let me know your thoughts and what you’d like to do.
She wrote back half an our later and assured me she had “an absolute personal commitment not to spread any negativity about you or your work” and that she “would also like to move forward and see what restoration would mean.”
She also wrote “Thank you for offering this. I really appreciate your intention here. I’ll be back in touch in early August.”
I never heard from her, directly or personally, again.
Which is ironic, since she’s accused me of cutting contact with her.
Amy Walsh claims in her blog post that I ‘ghosted her’ in June but that is not true. At that time, I was indeed going through something awful, personally, and I had previously communicated that to her as a member of my MasterMind cohort. I told everyone in my MasterMind groups what was going on, and as a result, Toi Smith, my business coordinator, was taking the lead on communicating with clients and rescheduling appointments. She also contracted to work with Amy Walsh and was in close contact with her coordinating our mutual calendars during that time. Amy Walsh was therefore in contact with my “team” during this time and that is not an unusual practice.Many of the coaches and service providers I hire and even my doctor communicates with me through their team members.
After Amy Walsh cut contact with me, she did, however, remain a member of my FB group where she continued to promote her programs and services and recruit clients.
I resolved not to take it personally or hold a grudge and although we were no longer in contact, I continued to tell people that she was an exceptional thinker and professional and recommended her services. As recently as three weeks ago I praised her to one of my clients.
I think it’s obvious that the impact I’ve had on her business has been a positive one. I have championed her publicly and privately across time. Even last week, in her own group, Amy Walsh wrote that many people find her because of me and my group.
Then she wrote an accusatory blog post about me.
She broke the explicit personal commitment she’d made in writing not to speak negatively about me or defame me and in fact escalated her defamation.
It’s had a destructive impact on my business, reputation and professional relationships.
And it’s based on inaccuracies that Amy Walsh is speaking and writing.
- It’s inaccurate because I could not infringe on the idea of culture-making because it doesn’t belong to either of us
- It’s inaccurate because I could not infringe on the entire topic of social media imagery and culture making because it doesn’t belong to either of us
- It’s inaccurate because in analyzing the topic of imagery and culture making in module 6, I was not taking her work but continuing my work of more than a year and half on The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand. It is unreasonable for her to expect that I would no longer strategize about imagery or talk about the challenge feminist entrepreneurs and culture makers face when it comes to imagery because we had worked together. There is nothing in any fee-for-service arrangement that says I must stop the trajectory and evolution of my pre-existing business and analysis after working with a client. I am a feminist marketing consultant and images are a part of marketing and it’s normal and predictable that I would continue to analyze this space.
In addition, the outcome of that module and our association was not that she’d lose reputation or business; instead it was likely that she has gained and would continue to gain more clients.
I boosted and referenced and promoted her privately and publicly at every opportunity even after the July events and in return she is libeling and defaming me.
This is causing material damage to my reputation and my business.
Other people have begun repeating the false allegations of Amy Walsh and the result is increasingly erratic individual and mob behavior. Some of what’s being directed at me looks a lot like extortion and harassment.
Amy Walsh has to stop making false accusations against me. It is causing material harm to me and I believe it will eventually cause damage to some of the people repeating her false claims, too.
Hijacking the Real Issue
On October 6, there was a thread in my FB group.
- At first, group members were asking why a particular person, OB, was allowed to say contemptuous and racist things in our group.
- It quickly became clear, however, that OB was NOT a group member and the comments people were referring to were NOT taking place in our group. They were taking place on someone else’s page.
- That person (R), however, was a group member, so other group members started asking her why she was allowing this to happen on her page.
- Many women of colour started commenting and explaining to R, a white woman, that by not intervening properly on her own page she was perpetuating racism.
- The person I pay to moderate the group part-time (Toi Smith) was also part of this conversation and commented 13 times correcting R and in support of the women of colour who were commenting.
- Later that day, when I was finished working, I checked my notifications and went to read the thread. I saw that R was not understanding or processing the education being offered to her and told her to step away from the thread until she had integrated everything that had been explained to her. At that point, she hadn’t violated any guidelines but she was draining the resources, frustrating and trying the patience of everyone trying to correct her (including our paid group moderator).
- That was Friday. I got up Saturday morning at 2am to work (I was teaching a live workshop at 9am – Little Birds + Layer Cakes, in fact) and saw more notifications from that thread. One member showed screenshots that R had taken the words of the WOC in the group and used them on her page without their consent. This meant she had violated group guidelines, so at 2:46am I removed her from the group and at 3:03am I posted to the group explaining that I had done so and why.
After I closed that thread, over the weekend, several group members posted wanting to know how I would prevent such threads from happening in the future and asking for immediate answers and solutions. I said this was important and that we would work on this, but that I was over-capacity in the immediate moment and we would have to return to this. It was a weekend during which I was teaching, solo-parenting, and dealing with a family challenge. In the thick of it, I also didn’t have immediate answers or solutions. It seemed to me that most FB conversations I was in and most groups I was in were exactly like this, with multiple threads and members and comments simultaneously going on at all hours and across time, so I didn’t instantly know how to change that. It was clear to me that this was serious, structural issue and something that required careful reflection, research, community brainstorming and planning.
Then women of colour who had commented in or witnessed the thread then presented to me that if they are commenting in the group to improve and educate white women, then that dynamic is the continuation of white supremacy.
The dots connected and I was levelled.
It wasn’t simply the automatic nature of FB group or FB discussions; this was structural and needed to be addressed in a comprehensive and root-level way.
For my part, I realized that me hosting a FB group in which we use the FB tools and structure the way FB intended them to be used resulted in hurt and harm to women of colour. The wide-scope mission of my group + the structure of thousands of open threads + 24/7 commenting + membership composition in our FB group were perpetuating the very thing I opposed.
And that was my responsibility. Up until that point, I had not fully grasped the whole context or figured out how to re-engineer the experience within the group.
I took full responsibility. I owned my mistake and failure to see the larger context. I wrote public apologies on my blog and sent several emails to my entire list.
I stopped everything I possibly could to work on this. I cancelled a scheduled workshop. I postponed a speaker series I was working on. I archived the group until we could define those practices.
I reached out privately, by email, to the WOC and others impacted by that thread and this dynamic and offered to have a professional mediator hold these conversations. I wanted to make amends and hear what they needed from me in order to do that.
It was presented to me that I needed to engage in a restorative justice process of truth, reconciliation and reparations.
I took that seriously.
I started researching restorative justice community processes to find ways to hear about the hurt that was caused and make amends. I started looking for restorative justice facilitators who could facilitate a community meeting in which we could process the events and the overall dynamic, heal wounds, I could make amends, and collectively define new practices so that we could do it differently in the FB group and as a community.
While all of this critically important work happening, two white women (Amy Walsh and Dusti Arab) appear to be using the real issue we should be working on – that women of colour were educating white woman and suffering because of it – to advance their own agendas.
Indeed, Amy Walsh says that in her blog post. She writes:
“a handful of us began strategizing about an intervention and a calling out. And just as we were about to do that…”
I interpret this admission from her to mean the pattern in the FB group that WOC are asking me and our community to address is not actually Amy Walsh’s primary concern.
In fact it provides a convenient opportunity for her and others to defame me…
…even though Amy Walsh and Dusti Arab know, and have admitted in their own words, that there was no copyright infringement.
Dusti Arab: “I don’t by any means have ownership of the words “Fix and Cake”…
Amy Walsh: “I don’t OWN this idea…”
So stop accusing me of stealing something that doesn’t belong to anyone and let’s work on the real problem.
These False Allegations are a Distraction.
The dynamic in the thread in my FB group (and our culture) and what women of colour experienced is the real issue that needs attention and to be changed.
But Amy Walsh admits in her blog post that she’s using this issue as an opportunity to advance false allegations against me – something she also admits she was previously planning with other people.
By advancing these false allegations and their personal agenda in this way, Dusti Arab and Amy Walsh are hijacking attention and work away the real issue that women of colour have asked me and the culture-making community to grapple with.
And it’s based on false allegations and what looks like the spreading of rumours and deliberate misinformation.
So when they’re publishing repeated take-downs on social media and blog posts about me, they’re advancing a harmful agenda that damages me and our communities. What they’re doing isn’t about repair or change-making or about accountability; instead it looks and feels like pure malice and destruction and that is the actual outcome. The misinformation being spread is causing damage to me and to what I previously took to be our shared project of feminist, culture making and change making.
The only sense I can make of their actions is that perhaps they witnessed me power-building and building a body of work and it triggered a reaction in them and so they instigated and contributed to a backlash. This research byTyler G. Okimoto andVictoria L Brescoll about power seeking and backlash against women, by women — which I found because the author Rebecca Solnit mentioned it in a post on FB — helped me contextualize what happened and start to take it less personally, even though I deeply grieve this experience and the loss of connections, community and relationship it caused.
Amy Walsh of The Tactical Bureau of Imagination and Dusti Arab are making accusations that are not grounded in fact. There’s no copyright infringement. They know this. They’ve admitted this in their own words. Nobody owns the idea of cake. Or images. Or culture making.
They belong to all of us.
Originally published Oct 22, 2017
Updated March 18, 2018
Updated May 24, 2018