I attended the Girlboss Rally and my feelings surprised me

Sarah worried the GirlBoss Rally might feel superficial. What she didn't account for was a huge mental breakthrough and a whole lotta feelings.
The 2019 GirlBoss Rally at UCLA (image: @girlbossrally)

A few weeks ago, I got on a plane and headed to Los Angeles to attend the Girlboss Rally. Girlboss, for those unfamiliar, is a media and lifestyle company centered around women’s empowerment. I generally admire what the company does, but I couldn’t help but be skeptical as I made the journey. Would it be a sea of young women striving to be shallow Instagram influencers? Would the message of girl power feel superficial and annoying?

“I’m not too cool for this”

I took my seat in the auditorium for the morning session on day one and immediately felt my skepticism melt away — I fucking love being around other women who want to learn and support each other, and there were 2,000 of us. I was not too cool for this. In fact, I was in tears within 15 minutes when poet Rupi Kaur took the stage and read a line about mothers trying to cross borders (like the Texas border and others also in crisis all over the world) so their children wouldn’t have to suffer. It was an addition to “Broken English,” her ode to immigrant parents and the sacrifices they make to build something better for their families.  

Then Sallie Krawcheck, the founder of Ellevest, a digital investment and planning platform for women, stormed the stage full of intoxicating anger and energy about women and money. Did you know that the wealth gap between men and women is much larger than the pay gap? That the average single woman’s net worth is three times smaller than the average single man’s? My favorite line was, “I have yet to find anything bad that happens when women have more money.”

“You’re not doing it for you. You’re doing it for all of us.”

The first day ended with the most impactful speaker I’ve heard in a long time: psychologist Dr. Lauren Hazzouri. I tragically missed the beginning of her speech (because let’s be honest I was outside snacking) but arrived in time to hear her say about women, “We’re not crazy, we’re just really good listeners.” She went on to explain — women’s negative thoughts are largely fueled by the social norms we are taught from a very young age about how we should look, act and live (basically be thin and demure, and get married and have kids as soon as you can). She asked all of us in the audience to identify our inner critic and tell it to shut up because this shit matters — succumbing to what you think is expected of you will kill your spirit. But it was her message of solidarity and being a role model that instilled a newfound urgency in me: “You’re not fighting your negative thoughts for you. You’re doing it for all of us.” Basically, by living how you want to and being kind to yourself, you’re showing every other woman and girl that they can, too.

As a lifelong feminist, I didn’t expect a major personal empowerment breakthrough to happen at a damn conference (because they so often feel impersonal), but holy shit did it. I’ve always thought my negative self-talk came from my own perfectionism. I didn’t see how clearly it was fueled by bullshit societal norms that dictate how women are supposed to live their lives. Though on good days I have loads of self-love and confidence, I have struggled for as long as I can remember with a shitty looped track in my head playing some variation of “You’re doing it wrong.” Whether it’s my body, my relationships or whether that last thing I said made me look stupid, there’s always something to nitpick. And here she was galvanizing me to fight that, hard.

I had never heard someone use negative self-talk as a battle cry for women to band together and overcome the useless crap that holds us back. The need for us to individually fight the shitty, patriarchal norms inside our heads that keep us dieting, altering how we look, apologizing and taking up less space in order to show other women that they don’t need to do those things either. This touched me to my core and for the rest of the night, if I felt myself being hard on myself I thought, “No! This is for all of us!”

Surprise! More tears 

My head was swimming on day two when a group of women walked on stage — The Syncopated Ladies. This all-women’s tap group proceeded to absolutely tear up the floor, and I watched them use their bodies to generate as much power, noise and movement as possible. I shed a tear over the amount of time and energy I and other women spend analyzing our bodies as these women demonstrated what it is to ooze confidence and strength and feel joy doing it for 2,000 people.

A world without shame

A woman I had just met offered to take a picture of me because women are amazing (shout out to @bossbabesatx for my amazing shirt)

As the rally ended, I was sad to leave, to burst the bubble of power and confidence that felt so tangible while I was there. Over the two days we were together, the way I carried myself and saw other women carry themselves was incredible.

It’s hard to put into words, but the way women have been taught to discount themselves and take up as little space as possible is like a physical presence in many of our lives. Certainly mine. 

Next time you’re in a mixed company, pay attention: How many of the women have crossed their legs or arms to make themselves small? How often do you hear women apologize for innocuous things like standing where someone else wants to stand or asking for something (“Sorry, could you pass me the bread?”)? I’m not saying men don’t ever do these things, but I think the mindset of apologetic inferiority is less ingrained and all-consuming.

But I heard very little apologizing at the rally. I didn’t hear a single woman make a disparaging comment about her body or mention her romantic relationship other than how it fit into her story and ambition. When I asked a woman I had just met how her day was going she said, unashamed, “Great! I just bought my first vibrator from a vendor outside.” It felt like utopia.

The most important thing I walked away with was the power and lightness of abandoning shame — having no shame about your ambition, your body, money or taking up space. I had planned to be a networking maniac, trying to plug The Juggle at every opportunity. But I ended up spending the weekend having in-depth conversations that moved me and felt anything but transactional. 

“I see you, warrior”

Just when you thought I was done crying…

The day after the conference, I took a walk on Venice Beach. Trying to keep my internal fire of power burning, every time I saw a woman I thought, “I see you, warrior.” It made me feel kinship and love.

As I walked down the beach, a woman about my mom’s age approached me, coming in the opposite direction. I gave her a big smile which she returned. When our paths crossed she said, “Isn’t this the best way to walk?” to which I replied, “Yes, I live in Texas, so this is a particular treat.” Our toes in the Pacific together, she told me she lived in Colorado and was visiting her daughter, then we each went on our ways. I almost burst into tears over our tiny, lovely connection.

(For something fun, check out our Instagram stories for Sarah’s review of all the swag she got at the rally — @thejuggle_.)

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