While most people talk the "helping other women" talk these days, Kaylen Ralph is someone who actually walks the walk. As one of the founders of the Riveter (along with creative partners Joanna Demkiewicz and Natalie Cheng) Ralph has committed the past few years to carving out a space for women in journalism. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Ralph is also a research assistant for the Sager group, helping to publish a three-part anthology celebrating women in journalism. Ralph also started Bird Dog Creative with Victoria Cambell, a company that specializes in creating captivating visual and social editorial brand content for other businesses. As if that weren't enough, she dedicates her time to helping young girls strive for leadership roles in their communities through her involvement with LOTT, Leaders of Today and Tomorrow.
And as it turns out, her kindness extends to mere internet strangers, too. When we connected over social media a few weeks ago, Ralph was game to let me pick her brain at a local coffee shop (whose overpriced gluten free doughnuts horrified us both) and was at once both warm and whip-smart, compassionate and focused. I couldn't help but feel she was exactly the kind of woman Scotch & The Fox was designed to celebrate: a woman who follows her dreams while helping others do the same.
If you haven't heard of The Riveter by now, it's time to check it out. If you're like me, you often feel like the only spaces for women essayists and journalists are a little surface-level or niche-y; websites that thrive on clickbait and articles like "The 10 Best Things You Have To Do by 35 in 2015." Don't get me wrong, those are fun (I've written some of them) but they can't—and, thanks to Ralph, won't—be the only way women writers and journalists are represented in the digital age. The Riveter is full of engaging journalism that's too multi-faceted and thought-provoking to be summed up in a sell-line. (And too pretty not to get your paws on. Have you SEEN their latest cover??)
When I interview her in her smartly-decorated apartment the week following our coffee meet up, I'm taken by both her hospitality and determination (and her spot-on book collection.) "Do you take sugar?" she asks sweetly, offering me a pour from a French press. (I obviously do.) As I down two delicious cups, I get to ask her about all her kick ass plans for women in magazines--and why being a girl boss is nothing to be ashamed of.
What did you want to be when you grew up?
I knew since I was in 4th grade that I wanted to be a journalist. I actually wrote an entire essay about this which is kind of embarrassing, but I was obsessed with Gilmore Girls. I think I just so identified with her as this nerd who was still really confident and loved to read and didn't really care what anybody thought, so as soon as she knew she was going to be a journalist, I had kind of decided that too. And I had always loved to tell stories; one of my first big Christmas gifts that I can remember was a vintage typewriter.
How did the Riveter come to be? What was your goal in creating it?
The idea for The Riveter started when Joanna and I were juniors in college. We met during journalism class because we had both picked Magazine as our sequence. It was spring of 2012, and we had the idea because that was the year the ASME's (American Society of Magazine Editors) awards took place and not one woman was nominated in any category. It was super discouraging for us to hear, sitting in a classroom full of women and thinking we're all working our asses off, so why is that not reflected in the professional landscape of the career field we're trying to enter? I remember so clearly we went to a bar that night and were so pissed off and inspired. Over the course of that next year we both studied abroad and were getting closer to graduation, which made the reality of that professional landscape not just more discouraging, but scarier. So in the spring of 2013 we said OK, we're just going to do this. We're going to start a magazine that we're going to run and give women the chance to publish longform journalism that could be considered for these kind of awards.
I do think that women's magazines—the glossies, if you will—have been slowly improving. They're still nowhere near representative of the multi-faceted female experience, the female experience both as writers and readers. They're enjoyable and I read them all the time and I always feel like I have to caveat that—I'm not bashing other women's magazines, but there's no female Esquire. I feel most women's magazines have figured out that feminism will make them money, and that doesn't sit well with me...this idea that they should use it as a means to sell magazines. Of course I feel like every magazine should be feminist in nature—every single person, institution, organizations should be—but I feel like it was such a drastic shift in attitude, that you have to question the motive. And it's still packaged in such a way that it's not really necessarily that much different than how it has been the last 50 years.
Who has been your favorite interview?
I'll pick someone from The Newswomen book that we just did. This is the first in a three part series that we're doing with Mike Sager, who is a writer at large for Esquire. He has a boutique publishing house and brought us on as independent researchers to do this three part series all about women in journalism, which is really exciting.
How did that come about?
Flashing back to spring of 2013, when we were about to graduate, it was Mike who was leading this conference all about longform journalism at Missouri where we went to journalism school. He was getting some flack because the last book he published, which was supposed to be all about the next wave of longform journalism, was mostly an anthology of men; it was a really great conference because there was a lot of open honest dialogue about that subject. He basically told the audience afterwards, if you want there to be more longform journalism by women in the world, then you have to make the spaces where it can be published. And he said he'd help us. So he kind of put his money where his mouth is and is doing this amazing three-part series; this one came out in September. In this book, I would definitely say Edna Buchanan was my favorite interview, because she was basically the OG of crime reporting. She wrote for a few different newspapers in Miami in the 60s and 70s when there was a bunch of gangster and drug activity, and she had the police beat down there. She was a super interesting lady. I think our interview went over 2 hours. Now she writes true crime novels. Her story ended up being one of the ones I enjoyed the most.
If you could describe yourself in 5 words or less, which words would you choose?
Unapologetic girl boss with [an] attitude.*
*with a passion for making other women the girl boss in their own life.
How have you grown as a woman over the past 5 years?
I have become a lot more comfortable with things not being perfect, and enjoying experiences that... even if it becomes abundantly clear x, y, or z isn't going to happen on my time frame...still finding the joy in that. Without sounding like a Pinterest quote. If you're doing things just to get them done, I think you're often missing the bigger picture. I've become a lot happier having accepted that. Bringing it back to the Riveter, a lot of things that have happened for us, I wouldn't have even imagined. They're amazing. I wouldn't have imagined them on my original time frame of what the Riveter was going to be and when. So I'm trying to find the joy in taking our time and seeing what happens.
You're throwing your dream dinner party. 6 people dead or alive can come. Who's on the list?
Nora Ephron, my Nana Janet, Lauren Groff, Jessica Williams, Goldie Taylor, and Shonda Rhimes.
What's your drink of choice and why?
Honestly, a classic G & T.
if you could give your 15-year old self one piece of advice what would it be?
Be nicer to your mom. I'm super close to my family but at 15... I was not my best self. And learning to drive and thinking i knew how to do everything the best. Love you mom!
What's your favorite thing about Minneapolis?
I love how collaborative everyone in the city is. Ever since I moved here there have been so many people who have been willing to extend a hand or a venue or spirits or really anything. Whatever I've asked for in this city, someone has been more than willing to help with.