Rachel Siegel was once a substitute teacher in New York “living paycheck to paycheck”, as she puts it. Now she’s a self-described millionaire and content creator who goes by the name Crypto Finally. “This all happened over years of me sitting at my computer in my pajamas,” she says. “I just spent a lot of time learning and I think anyone could achieve it.”
According to a 2021 study brokerage eToro Ltd, women account for just 15 percent of Bitcoin traders, but more of them are getting into the game. Even Reese Witherspoon is on board – at the beginning of September, the Morning Show actress announced she’d got into Ethereum, tweeting: “Let’s do this #cryptotwitter.”
Lea Thompson, also known as Girl Gone Crypto online, fell down the crypto “rabbit hole” in 2011 after watching a friend mine currencies. “I got to experience that really big 2017 bull run,” she says, referring to when the cryptocurrency shot up to 21 times the price from the start of the year. “And that was just so exciting to see – the Bitcoin I had bought went up to $20,000.” The Seattle investor had never seen a return that big: “I felt hooked.”
But investing in crypto is a high-risk, high-stakes endeavour. For every story of success, there are also people losing their savings and homes. Many of the exceptions who do strike it rich are known for expensive cars, holidays and huge mansions – selling a dream of extreme wealth, alongside bragging about their incredible portfolios and offering tips on their YouTube channels and social media. These figures, however, tend to be men.
LA-based Wendy O says she’s already acquired her first million, but adds that she knew she’d made it when she realised she could afford to be a stay-at-home mum and never worry about money again. That point came in 2018, when the former HIV/AIDS healthcare worker started paying for groceries and bills from the money she made from trading.
“I grew up very, very poor and lost my dad when I was 11,” she says. “My mum and my two sisters and I shared a one bedroom in a relative’s house until I was like 18, but now I take care of my family.”
Wendy first invested in 2017, when her daughter was just a year old. She initially planned to trade stocks but didn’t have the $25,000 needed to open a brokerage account, so opted for cryptocurrency instead. By the end of that year, she had bought around $1,000 worth of Bitcoin – now worth roughly more than three times as much.
In the UK, Sara Trojanowska (AKA AltCoin Sara) believes there are key differences between how men and women invest. The 28-year-old says that while stereotypes online suggest that men are “bullish” and are rewarded for taking risks, she thinks the opposite is true. “I think women are better investors. They take their time, analyse the markets and aren’t led by ego.”
She says that she invested “like a man” in 2017 after watching her partner get into crypto, and splashed out without knowing enough about the market. It proved to be a learning curve. Now, Sara says she’s “financially free” – her next goal is to become a multi-millionaire by 30 and she claims to be on track to hit it.
But for all the joys of financial elevation, women in crypto are often the butt of jokes. Online crypto culture (namely the funny memes) are the “the cherry on the cake” of the industry, as Sara says, but the sexism that goes alongside it is hard to miss.
Rachel Siegel knows this all too well. In September 2020, she minted a tame selfie of herself in a robe as an NFT. CoinDesk, a cryptocurrency news site, headlined the story “Thirst Traps Explode on NFT Platforms, With Predictably Controversial Results” and ran it with a picture of her in a bikini from her personal social media. Some days later, she sighs, she tweeted something “inane” about Ethereum and was told “shut up slut” in one of the first comments.
Wendy O struggles with the same thing. “I've had men call me stupid, since the day I started posting content, all the time.” It’s a choice female influencers and investors have to make to participate in crypto culture: Do you join in with the sexism that positions women as morons or sexual objects, or do you call it out and attract even more abuse?
“I didn't ‘play like one of the guys’ for a very, very long time,” Rachel says. “But I've developed a thicker skin now and I’ve started hitting back. I've been more accepted because of it.”
For now, being a visibly successful woman in crypto is a double-edged sword, but the joke will ultimately be on their detractors. Women like Wendy and Rachel aren’t buying Lambos or Bugattis with their Bitcoin, but they’ve acquired a level of financial freedom unthinkable to many. Arguably, the real flex is never needing to check your bank account.
Correction: This story originally said that Wendy O was based in Puerto Rico. She is based in LA. We regret the error.