Bri Lee, founder and editor, Hot Chicks with Big Brains

Every woman has a story to tell about her struggle with gender equality and how she feels about herself and her work ...

As the fight for gender equality reaches a critical juncture in recent times, resources promoting fairness and respect for women have become crucially important. Hot Chicks with Big Brains is an interview-based website cataloguing conversations with successful and inspiring women in different roles in Australian workplaces. Founder and chief interviewer, Bri Lee has worked to build Hot Chicks with Big Brains from a small webzine to a fully-fledged publication, the first issue of which is being released this month. Bri, with her team of tireless contributors, has created an indispensible resource for women seeking inspiration and sage wisdom from other women in various fields. Through each of the catalogued interviews, Hot Chicks with Big Brains hopes to empower women to pursue their dreams and goals without the fear of being belittled or pigeonholed in the workplace. Before the magazine launches at the Brisbane Powerhouse on Saturday March 12, we caught up with Bri to talk about how Hot Chicks with Big Brains has grown, what to expect from the publication in the future and Bri’s thoughts on gender equality in Australian society.

Thanks for chatting to me Bri! First of all, I’d love to know how the idea for Hot Chicks with Big Brains came about?
Hello hello, my pleasure! Well, honestly, the series is successful enough now that I can openly admit that a huge reason I first started it was so that remarkable women would agree to talk to me and let me into their homes. I was yearning to hear that these women struggled with the same pressuring and pigeonholing that I did, and I wanted to learn from their experiences and create a shared dialogue. I couldn’t see anywhere else (especially not in Brisbane) that offered that.

What makes someone an ideal candidate to spotlight on HCwBB?
Anyone can be a hot chick with a big brain the moment they decide to. I could spend the rest of my life interviewing a woman a day and not even scrape the surface of Queensland’s female-identifying population. We get people recommending interviewees to us all the time and I love that and encourage that. If all we do is foster girl-crushes and women talking about how awesome other women are, then that’s enough for me. Every woman has a story to tell about her struggle with gender equality and how she feels about herself and her work.

The site was started as a way to challenge the way women are often pigeonholed – what is the biggest obstacle in the way of achieving this goal?
The pervasive separation of gender roles. Women have so much to gain from society’s move toward more gender-fluid identities. Traditional roles trap us. Old ideas of what makes a “woman” and what makes a “man” are gradually being recognised as absurd. Open conversation is a wonderful antidote to that kind of silly behaviour. Until we reach neutral ground, though, I think it’s important to have female-focused platforms for exchanging experiences and ideas.

Your interviews often touch on how the subject found their own individual style and shaped their personal identity – how crucial is it to spotlight the formation of individuality and uniqueness in your interviews?
How crucial? Totally crucial! I love how tongue-in-cheek our name is, but something I’m always nervous about is that people might think we only present one kind of “hot chick” and one kind of “big brain”. Each woman has such an entertaining story of personal development that it would be stupid not to use that content. It also allows the reader to see connections between these women’s experiences that transcend their age, identity, and profession – making our statement against sexism even stronger.

Based on what you’ve discovered through your interviews, what are some of the ways women are shifting the way they are treated and perceived in working and social situations?
Hmmmm I could go on and on about this. A huge one is the girl-gang vibe we see these days. Older women openly mentoring and supporting younger women. I have a legal background too so I see law reform as playing a huge part in the way women work toward equality. Maternity leave, domestic violence protection, unfair dismissal recourse – when women fight for their interests to be reflected in law reform they are truly changing the world.

You’ll be launching the first printed issue of HCwBB at the Brisbane Powerhouse soon, what can people expect from the publication?
SO MUCH! We are especially proud of the diversity on show in Issue #1. I think editors and publications are sometimes nervous to talk about whether they’re hitting the diversity mark or not, but I reckon we gave it a red-hot go. We’ve got a fantastic queer contingent, content from women living with disability, non-binary identifying individuals and a bunch of culturally-diverse writers too. The featured artist for the issue is Leecee Carmichael and she’s an incredible woman from Quandamooka Country, Moreton Bay.

The launch party itself will be a blast as well. We were fortunate enough to receive a grant to make the event a part of Queensland Women’s Week, which means it’s free entry and attendees get some drinks and nibblies, and there’ll be a visual art exhibition on display and a DJ and a live music performance. Seriously, I am so so excited for this party.

What made you want to put forth your content in this format?
I wanted to bring an extra level of legitimacy to the women we profile. I wanted to be able to pay other women to contribute, thereby supporting women in the arts. I wanted to bring all the individual contributors together in a publication and at a party, to make the conceptual connection between their stories a real-life connection. 

What has been the biggest thing you’ve learned from running HCwBB?
Making snap judgments about people, especially women, is learned behaviour. Start with the (wo)man in the mirror. Everyone has a story to tell and it is absolutely, always, no-matter-what vital to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Where do you hope to take HCwBB in the future? What areas are you keen to explore or fields you want to shine a light on?
2016 is huge for us. I’ve quit my ‘proper’ job (in the legal industry) to full-time freelance and to manage the growth of HCwBB. We want to print three issues in 2016 and diversify the content we present online. Ideally our website would be videos and a podcast, while the print issue is where people go for the beautiful, long-form interview content with portrait photography. I have some big profile ideal interviewees I reckon I can nab. Again, it’s still about me tricking women into letting me into their homes!

Who would be your dream interview? What would be the first thing you’d ask them?
Quentin Bryce has always (and will always) be the ultimate hot chick with a big brain. My list of questions for her constantly fluctuates depending on what stage in life I’m at which means I’m terrified that if I interviewed her tomorrow I’d waste the opportunity. Imagine – when I was 16 I would have asked her for boy advice. What if I’m 40 and look back on interviewing her when I was 24 and cringe? The thought is paralysing.

What inspires and motivates you?
Ahhh this changes every day! Mostly it’s just the people around me. And love. And good spaghetti.

Be sure to swing by the Brisbane Powerhouse on Saturday March 12 to grab a copy of issue one of Hot Chicks with Big Brains. The evening will feature DJ sets by Sezzo Snot and Hannah Makk of MKO SUN, and exhibition featuring work from female-identifying artists like Filthyratbag, Leecee Carmichael, Crapuli as well as cheese and nibblies care of Black Pearl Epicure and Espresso Train.


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