With the blockchain industry expanding at lightning speed, businesses are actively, and sometimes desperately, looking for talent. There just isn’t enough. Enter women — literally around 50% of the global population that has, so far, been heavily underrepresented in crypto. It’s not surprising that most of the developers in crypto are men. However, as the industry grows, more women will be needed.
And, so, women have begun slowly and steadily entering the crypto space and the world of nonfungible tokens (NFTs). While only an estimated 5% of women own NFTs, and 5-15% are creators or founders of collections, the impact of female-led NFT projects is profound. These female-led NFTs are different from the masses of artistic projects. They focus on social activism and empowerment of women around the world. This trend has the potential to create new models and use cases for and create new socially-beneficial asset classes.
Down with the barriers: Time, money, location and class
Initial funding is a huge setback for many women who are typically weighed down by barriers like the gender pay gap. It is difficult for women to have the same amount of money as men, and so they are less flexible in their pay. It is also believed that they are hesitant about investing in their own ideas and entrepreneurial ventures. This risk-averse behavior does not necessarily come from a particular gender. It is due to the gender pay gap, and the larger household responsibilities of women. A recent survey indicates that following the post-COVID “Great Resignation,” women are finding it harder to return to work, with childcare and home responsibilities bearing down as the chief reason. It’s not surprising that women are less likely to be able to start their own businesses today, despite being less paid overall and struggling to return work.
NFTs allow art and other onchain-compatible business ideas into the digital space. This creates a low-cost solution to startups and allows more women to get involved. Blockchain’s decentralized, digital nature solves the important time/space inequalities that women often face when their other duties prevent them from working.
By operating beyond physical spaces, NFT startups also break through class: Imagine a painter from a small town able to sell her work in the same space — for example on Open Sea — as “pedigree artists” born and raised among big names in New York or London galleries. The emerging digital marketplaces offer enormous potential to lower entry barriers and level the playing field for underrepresented groups.
Anonymity is king queen
Similar to how NFTs business bypasses class and space, it can also completely circumvent the need to present your gender thanks to the anonymous nature of blockchain technology. Traditionally, art created by women sells for around 50% less than that of male artists. NFT creators don’t have to disclose their identities or genders. This allows women to work in an environment that is free from the prejudices, stigmas and other obstacles faced by people working in traditional industries. NFTs allow us to be more than our gender, and we can choose to leave it behind or join it ourselves. This is a privilege that women in traditional industries have never had.
Social activism female-led in NFT art
While the technology behind NFTs can itself present women with better economic opportunity, even discussing the feats of NFT projects is redundant unless we begin with how we can make the space actually accessible to women. We must start with the basics, such as ensuring that women and girls live in safe, healthy, and free places, and then allowing them to access basic and technical education so they can participate in decentralized finance (DeFi). In this sense, projects like World of Women, which supports causes like She’s the First and Too Young to Wed, Boss Beauties “providing mentorship programs and scholarships to young women and students around the world” and Girlies donating part of its revenue to the Malala Fund sponsor the right kind of activism that would empower girls to be able to engage the power of nonfungible tokens and blockchain.
Women are the first to put emphasis on social change and not just token utility or economic value. This could be a sign that women’s current historical and societal contexts are not ideal. It also suggests that their experience is driving them to invent, adding social value and cutting-edge technology. What does that mean for girl power?
We even incorporated mental health initiatives
A subsequent trip down NFT lane also uncovered mental health as a topic addressed by women-led NFT collections — the prime example being Alpha Girl Club, whose roadmap features a mental wellness team and mental health space.
Web3 could create a 3D experience on the internet. We can be immersed in a meta-space and interact with it through our avatars. The Alpha Girls Club has created tokens that are tied to safe spaces for women and a mental health initiative. This might prove a powerful and useful resource as we develop the paradigm for a new type of internet, especially in a male-dominated NFT industry in which there are still recent reports of harassment of female Bored Ape Yacht Club members or projects that objectify females avatars like the highly sexualized Solana Sluts series.
Representation: Shaping the female image with NFTs
Female-led NFT collections also often present a drive toward diversity and representation. All the collections mentioned above, along with others like The Flower Girls, Women and Weapons and many more, are all algorithmically-generated images that show a myriad of skin tones, styles ranging from feminine to more androgynous and cultural elements, to name a few. This suggests that women may finally be able to shape the narrative about how it feels to be a woman today in the permissionless blockchain space. It is not surprising that this mention of diversity in women’s NFT programs is made, since the female narrative has always been intertwined with racial equality movements and LGBTQ+ movements.
Thank you, next: Algorithmically-generated collections
That said, while empowering female representation through art is greatly served by algorithmically generated collections as an easy means of mixing all sorts of traits to female images, they can also be a little reductive in that they only generate the classic approximately 10 thousand algorithm-generated NFTs. This is not a problem in and of itself, but NFTs have the potential to do much more for women and the society as a whole. An algorithm or collection is not required; all you need is something to tokenize and then sell on open auctions. And, even if algorithms are still involved, there are already technologies capable of offering much more complex algorithms that go beyond simply mixing various trait combinations — it’d be intriguing to see how female creators could apply this and move past randomized images of women. Despite all this, it is easy to forget that we are still trading JPEGs that have been pixelized or algorithmically generated. It’s crucial to consider how future NFT projects and the majority of these will grow their reach.
We need to talk about the men in the picture
Fair warning: This next part is a bit of a downer, but it must be addressed. There are many NFT collections that have female founders on OpenSea. These include: World of Women and Weapons; Rebel Society; Girlies; The Flower Girls. The amount is actually surprising in the best way, given that women are offered corporate-level positions more rarely than men.
But, there is one rather disturbing trend in the majority of these collections: While the main founders and artists were women, there was often a male co-founder — most often providing the technical mastery for minting the NFTs. These were usually husbands, and in some cases even fathers. These men, fathers, and friends are to be commended for helping women succeed. This “HeForShe” teamwork is exactly what is required to create the missing but crucial equal opportunity in all spheres. This is fine on an individual basis. However, it suggests that women are not able to make their own NFT decisions.
It’s a bleak prospect to witness how behind every successful woman in the NFT space is a man who provided a “technical boost.” It is entirely likely that women lack critical exposure to blockchain technology and coding specialties which are typically more popular among men. This is a pretty bad situation for half of the world’s population. To create an inclusive and sustainable NFT ecosystem, women will be able to use it without additional support, we must look at attracting more women to the sector.
One part of the solution is to show women more successful women in tech and NFTs. This is already happening. Vellum LA collaborated with Artsy to host an Artists Who Code exhibit that features NFT art by women and nonbinary artists. It promotes female role models and encourages nonbinary ones. A second important initiative is to continue to build on this exposure. This includes focusing on the recruitment and retention of women and other underrepresented groups within the NFT and tech industries. CryptoChicks, for instance, has openly admitted to doing so in their hiring policy.
Some needed solutions
Undeniably women’s history and modern context have clearly pushed us towards implementing various forms of activism and social value into our NFT collections. The NFT paradigm is being transformed from an idle art form to one that can be used as a social tool by women. NFTs are allowing us to thrive, albeit in anonymity, decentralization, and permissionless nature.
But we need to be careful. NFTs, Metaverse, and the internet are not available to women who don’t live in developed countries. Many of these women face life-threatening challenges every day. This is why we need to prioritize projects that provide basic freedoms and rights for women and girls, and then shift our focus to education and role models within tech. Once these basic needs are met, we can realize the full potential of women in tech. We are seeing activism expand in tandem with other NFT applications. This ecosystem of female-led NFTs can work together to create a better future for women around the world.
This article does not contain investment advice or recommendations. Each investment and trade involves risk. Readers should do their own research before making any decisions.
The views, thoughts and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views and opinions of Cointelegraph.
Teodora Atanasova is a blockchain advocate with experience in crypto-related legal and investor relations. Atanasova graduated from the Vienna University of Economics and Business, where she also received a degree in international law. Right out of university, Atanasova joined the Nexo team at the company’s inception, taking part in business development and investment strategies during its 2018 private token sale. While she has held a variety of roles at Nexo, Atanasova has mainly devoted herself to building and generating new partnerships for the company.