A Letter From Our Founder: On Two Years, On Heartbreak, On Healing
When we first started #bossbabesATX, I was really young. And fired up.
I remember sitting there at that first meet in 2015, wearing grey skinny pants I had just ripped at the crotch, in disbelief that 200 women had showed up, and I thought: This is proof. This is proof that sexism can be conquered. That equity is something we all want. That community is tangible.
And as we continued to grow, more women came. We threw more events, and we did all we could to accommodate everyone we met. We doused shit in glitter, schemed up bigger events that gave our community a bigger platform, drummed up ways to approach tougher topics, to give more a voice. We went from simply popping up as a networking space to exploring not only creative industry and the arts, but professional and personal development, activism and entrepreneurialism. We went from meets to retreats to talks to meets to markets to pop-up concerts to festivals to meets and back again. We scraped pennies and DIYd shit to the nines, and we didn’t care. We were committed to the cause, committed to creating space.
We’ve had some tangible rough patches. There have been times when we’ve done our best and failed. Like throwing events that didn’t break even or attempting to transform an empty warehouse into the BABES FEST launch within two hours OR the time we booked 60 speakers for our three-hour Community Caucus, because everyone deserved a chance on the mic. We somehow knocked out 12 panels in 2.5 hours. (And surprisingly, despite the stress, we're still doing all of these things again. They're now a part of our regular programming.)
So, obviously, there have been times when I have sincerely considered giving up. Times when I was sure others had given up on us—on this concept of what a creative community that supports and amplifies self-identifying women really looks like. And not just because the work is hard, or because time and resources are scarce, but because the world is hard. We live in a patriarchal system that locks people out of opportunity, and we have a really long way to go in Texas—in the City of Austin—before we become a state that does better by all of its citizens, no matter gender, orientation, race, socioeconomic class, ability. Fighting for that is equally tough, because there is a gray area that comes with being a large community of like-minded folks, with different values, interests, goals. The magnanimity of our many identities can be overwhelming.
It’s on us to continually reiterate the value of what we’re pursuing and what we believe, especially when those things are not valued in the dominant culture. We have to act against the distraction—that human urge to get excited, divert our attention and drop vulnerable causes in the pursuit of something shinier. We have to recognize inequality and call it by name. We have to self-reflect and speak up for ourselves. We must do the work—even when it’s not glamorous or popular. And in that vein, we have to celebrate.
The last two years of #bossbabesATX are proof that these things are possible. That we as a humanity can surprise ourselves. At our events and behind the scenes, we have seen this community rally together. Listening to each other's needs. Sharing information and resources. Discussing thoughts and plans for a better future, then working toward that future. Through shitty elections, through apathy. When we have been faced with heartbreak, as a team, as a community, as a nation, there has been healing. Below, you'll find something I wrote last summer, after the United State of Women Summit, before the 2016 election.
Culture is intangible.
A thread that runs through generations, the backbone of our social understanding, a shifting, weightless, faceless thing. It's the reason memes are funny, it's why the bird is a sign of disrespect and it's the force behind our understanding of commercial value. It's the way we learn to live... Together.
In the United States of America, our culture is both melting pot and viscous intolerance. It's the reason unshaven legs on a woman make some recoil. It's the idea that her clothes justify her rapist. It's being comfortable knowing female entrepreneurs are generating the most jobs, yet receiving the least capital from investors. It's the historically patriarchal influence on work-home balance—the 9-5 framework that makes no room for mothers with families, but praises fathers with babies and wives at home. It's the shoulder shrug at racism, the silencing of both data and stories that speak to disparate access to opportunity for women of color. It's the entitlement to a woman's reproductive system, coupled with the rejection of her story as a mother. It's the fetishization of two women kissing, the amusement at two men making love, the raised eyebrow at bisexuality.
When I think about the last year, I liken #bossbabesATX to a spoon. We have hosted around 5,000 women, providing 300 a town hall platform to speak publicly about their businesses, passions and causes. We've raised money for Austin nonprofits and we've created free programming and services that funnel both resources and information back into the community. We have attempted to stir the pot. Through this journey, we've come to better understand the multiplicity of womanhood. There is no anatomy, no favorite color, no hobby, no career that applies to us all. There is no one story to define us. There is no one struggle to unite us. Yet, we stir. At the United State of Women Summit two weeks ago, 5,000 women—tradeswomen, entrepreneurs, activists, politicians—gathered to discuss what America tastes like. We stuck a stick into her stew, and out came speeches from some of the world's most powerful decision-makers, like President Barack Obama's talk on the pressures and inequalities of a forced gender binary, Michelle Obama's powerful conversation with Oprah on self-value, VP Joe Biden's address on domestic violence and sexual assault. We heard the stories of rape victims, the cry from overworked mothers, the call for transwomen's visibility, the plea for investors to pay mind to women-owned business, the silence on issues surrounding reproductive rights. The speakers' words or lack thereof were a reminder—that although we've come so far, we have a long way to go. And as Austin's own 11-year-old Mikaila of Me + the Bees introduced the President of the United States, we learned that a new generation of girls, entrepreneurs, activists and government is coming.
It's coming soon, and it tastes like 5,000 women in one room discussing politics, development and the state of the Union. It tastes like equal pay for equal work. It tastes like the end of violence against women. It tastes like 50% of C-level positions held by women of all backgrounds, ethnicities and sexualities. It tastes like Mikaila's lemonade. It tastes like Beyonce's lemonade. It tastes like our lemonade. So, we stir. We stir for the mothers expected to be both provider and caregiver. We stir for the grandmothers who were taught to fight for homecoming queen and forget their times tables. We stir for the women who have been silenced, who have been disbelieved, who have been told that that's just what boys do. We stir for her anger. We stir for the sidewalks, for the cessation of default masculine spaces. We stir for a change in culture, for a future that holds its people to equal standards.
I still believe in the stir. I would do the last two years over and over again for the rest of my life.
I did not know how strong women really are until all of this began. I have always been a feminist, but the last two years have burned all my damn bras. I am continually inspired, touched and just fucking enamored with the women who come through our events. Women forgive, give, care, push, drive, hold and fuel our communities. On our backs, on our dime. With an unparalleled vicious tenderness. We survive.
So, thank you. You are amazing, and yes, I realize I am writing this to the Internet. I don't care what kind of day you've had and if we've never met, if you're reading this I am thankful you're alive. You have potential and opportunity, and you are powerful. With every dollar you spend, every person you love, every time that you say HELL NO, WE WON'T GO.
And if you've been pickin' up what #bossbabesATX has been throwin' down, thank you for seeing us through this growth as we center in on our mission, purpose and our strategy. Thank you for supporting your community and self-identifying women in creative industry and the arts. I hope you find moments of victory in your day-to-day.
Assign value to equality and joy.
With love and tacos,
Jane Claire Hervey is a digital marketing consultant, musician and founder of #bossbabesATX and BABES FEST.
Originally from the Rio Grande Valley (956 por vida), Hervey moved to Austin to study at the University of Texas. After earning her Bachelor's of Science in Journalism and pursuing a career in freelance writing, Hervey began searching for resources and a space to ask professional questions. She hosted her first #bossbabesATX meet in 2015, hoping to foster community and connection between self-identified women in Austin, Texas. She now runs the nonprofit and its festival, BABES FEST, while managing operations and marketing at multinational design firm In-House International.