“You are smart. You are strong. You are independent.” So greets visitors of the homepage of #bossbabesATX, a collective that seeks to provide creative women with space to “discuss business, the creative industry and their individual passions.”
“We believe the world is missing out on 50 percent of what life has to offer, since most [women] of different backgrounds, sexualities and races are marginally excluded from business development, industrialization, politics,” explained #bossbabesATX co-founder Jane Hervey. With Ashlee Pryor and Leslie Lazano, she is working to fill that void. “We are fighting to change that narrative through community-building, while simultaneously healing the negative effects of gender bias.”
#bossbabesATX stemmed from a class assignment in 2014. Hervey, then a University of Texas at Austin undergraduate, interviewed women in creative industries and festival culture and found consistencies in their testimonies. “We had similar concerns—anxiety about our growing careers, lack of resources, feeling overwhelmed by sexist practices,” she explained. After completing the project, Hervey invited the interviewees to discuss their issues as well as potential solutions over coffee.
“I anticipated the 20 women I interviewed would show,” she told Ms. “I never expected that 250 women would come out—but they did.” Utilizing momentum from the first gathering, Hervey, Lazano and Pryor officially established their empire in May 2015. Now they host monthly town halls with vendors and DJs, workshops, showcases and more to support established as well as up-and-coming creatives in the community.
The Babes ultimately seek to provide a meeting place free from competition or judgment where like-minded women can converse about projects, ideas or life. Intern June Chee told me about a time when a former male employer advised that she refrain from reaching out to female coworkers because they were “competition.” Within #bossbabesATX, she feels no animosity. “These women provide such a warm space,” shared Chee. “They make you feel like you’re going to succeed in whatever you do.”
The Babes are always alert when it comes to sexism—an undertaking shared with other individuals, institutions and agencies around Austin. Linda Millstone, with UT’s Compliance Services—which handles issues pertaining harassment—has seen many changes over the decades. While a student at the University of Delaware, she recalled to Ms. that “there were no sororities, and higher GPA/SAT scores were required of women for admission than men.” What she sees in the Babes is the next step forward. “[It’s] the way it’s always worked,” she said of the organization. “You get people together of like minds and they move forward, and support each other.”
Despite the fact that Austin is praised as the blue, oasis amid the Texas red, sea, further evidence discerns that #bossbabesATX’s mission is critical, right here at home. Last March Austin’s City Council became predominantly female. Men in the body told the Huffington Post that “more women in leadership would pose unique challenges—enough to require a training session on how to deal with women.” One speaker, considered to be an expert because his local city commission was all-female, advised that “women don’t want to deal with numbers,” “women are taking over, Hilary Clinton will only encourage this” and “women act on emotions,” reported the Austin American-Statesman.
And though the Babes primarily battle sexism, they inadvertently take on another social injustice: racism. The leadership team itself provides the organization with a multicultural starting point—Hervey is of Germanic descent, Lazano is Chicana, Pryor is Afro-Mexicana and Murray is black while Brooks is biracial. “One of the negatives of Austin is the lack of diversity,” confessed Murray, a native of Houston. #bossbabesATX helped her to adjust to Austin after she relocated. “It’s created a space where I feel comfortable, whereas I didn’t feel comfortable in my daily life [previously]. We [five] have the same overarching ideas of what feminism should be [and agree] it doesn’t have a specific look, age or color. You can just be yourself.”
Due to the organization’s rapid growth, the three co-founders decided to bring new members on board and in 2015 hired Jasmine Brooks as the editorial and non-profits coordinator. Lauren Murray joined in 2016 as the official blogger. Though the organization doesn’t offer formal membership, more than 6,000 women have attended their events. “It’s the strongest rising tide I’ve ever known,” said Hervey.
The Babes receive financial support through community funding—event earnings, fundraisers and sponsorships cover employee compensation as well as venue fees. In other words, those who benefit from the work #boxxbabesATX does are keeping it around. “They’re great,” said Kayla Rakes, a member of HIVE—a more recently established, hands-on art community in Austin for women and non-binary folks.“They are full of good ideas and totally open to collaboration. People approach them all the time.” Rakes attributes some of HIVE’s initial success to the Babes for allowing them to speak during an event.
Additional #bossbabesATX partners and sponsors include Planned Parenthood, THINX, We Are Happy Period, Got A Girl Crush and Deeds Not Words—all of which serve women in some form or fashion. Others who’ve yet to partner still respect the collaborative efforts made by the Babes to generate creative spaces for women. “It’s a great way to network and meet other women who are doing creative things, creative projects,” said Monxi Garza, CEO of SUAVShoes.
However, not everyone has responded positively to their unapologetic promotion of feminism—described by Hervey as “gender equity, plain and simple.”
Rio Hondo High School (RH) requested Hervey be the commencement speaker for the 2016 graduating class. Thrilled to speak at her alma mater, Hervey accepted. Within the following weeks, however, she was “ghosted” when all school communications with her ceased. Eventually, Rio Hondo informed her that she was no longer a “fit representation” of her alma mater. Rio Hondo High School was contacted by Ms. but has yet to respond.
Hervey shrugged off the insult. She also made plans to take Babes Fest—”a traveling celebration and series of events featuring comedy, music, film and art”—to Rio Hondo next year and “wreak havoc.” (Babes Fest has already debuted at SXSW and throughout Texas, California and New York.)
Yes, the Babes openly say “vagina” and sell merchandise with the words “babe as fuck”—but they are who they are.
Whether you’re a woman who prefers heels, combat boots, moccasins, tennis shoes, disco platforms or being barefoot, it doesn’t matter. In other words, #bossbabesATX is the perfect fit. “If you believe that all genders, despite race, culture, background deserve equal rights then you are a feminist; no matter what you think about the world,” stated Hervey. “We will not question if you are ‘woman’ enough to be in this group. We will not question if you are ‘boss’ enough to be in this group. You are welcome here.”