Bustle's Rule Breakers Issue Is About Defying Expectations — And What's Possible When You Do

by Kate Ward
Photo credit: Jasper Soloff

If you asked me to name five adjectives that describe myself, “rule-breaking” would hardly top the list. (Those five adjectives would be “friendly,” “driven,” “loyal,” “hungry,” and “really hungry," in case you were curious.) But as I delved into the list of our 29 Rule Breakers of 2018 while preparing for Bustle’s September digital issue, I began to realize I had more in common with them than I thought. In fact, all of the women who make up Bustle Digital Group do.

Prior to my time at Bustle, I associated “rule-breaking” with bad — or, rather, improper — behavior. When I was a child, breaking the rules meant talking out of turn. When I was an insecure and meticulously rule-following teenager, breaking the rules meant intentionally going stag to prom. When I hit adulthood, breaking the rules meant refusing to sit inside society’s lines, no matter how imperfectly they’re drawn — most of us have been judged at one point or another for not being married by 28, not being a size two, not ordering the garden salad in favor of the three-layer cheesy nachos (or for ordering the salad instead of the nachos — no way to win that one). From a young age, women are taught in ways explicit and less overt that it is their job to follow the rules — to be quiet, to attract but not seek the affection of men, and to put others first, or else face the consequences.

These rules mostly serve one purpose: To control women’s choices and lives in a country steeped in sexism and misogyny, and tell them it’s for their own safety.

Some rules we follow for our own wellbeing, of course — it makes sense to slow down at a yellow light and to save for retirement. (Also, invest!) But we are not talking about those rules. We are talking about the powerful, usually unspoken set of social requirements attached to womanhood. These rules mostly serve one purpose: To control women’s choices and lives in a country steeped in sexism and misogyny, and tell them it’s for their own safety. It’s dangerous, we are taught, to be a woman who decides not to have children. To be a woman who enjoys her sexuality. To be a woman who openly challenges those in power. To be a woman who says, “I’m really good at this.” To be a woman who wants money, and lots of it.

Luckily, at Bustle Digital Group, we get to create our own safety. What we have built at Bustle is a company led by women who are dedicated to talking out of turn, refusing to stay silent when convention would normally demand it. Our Editorial team — 97 percent of whom are women — have spent five years speaking up for themselves and marginalized individuals, battling tradition and far too many trolls along the way. In the face of a not insignificant amount of naysaying, the women of Bustle — some of them pictured above — have spent five years listening and magnifying the voices of other women as we join in the often exhausting push for true gender equality. And what has resulted from these efforts is the ultimate victory against a society that still, as a rule, would prefer that women stay silent: a group of women who have worked collectively, collaboratively, and successfully to generate a community 80 million readers strong.

Clothes: Oscar de la Renta. Photo credit: Jasper Soloff

And with Bustle’s Rule Breakers issue, you’ll see that our community is only growing stronger. Along with the rule breakers who roam Bustle Digital Group’s hallways every day, this month, we’re celebrating those who refuse to yield in their quest to make the world better for women and anyone who is marginalized. That starts with our cover star, Janelle Monáe, who is proof that non-conformity is as impactful as it is beautiful, and continues with our list of 29 Rule Breakers from various backgrounds. They include Rachael Denhollander, the former gymnast whose revelations to The Indianapolis Star ultimately brought down Larry Nassar, and Marisa Kwiatkowski, the journalist who first interviewed her about his crimes; Chavonna (Bang) Rhodes, a tattoo artist representing women of color in an industry previously closed to them; Cass Bliss, the activist and educator who has pioneered non-binary conversations around menstruation; Jessica Knoll, the acclaimed novelist who dared to claim publicly that she is in this to sell books, not just to write them; and Dre Thomas, our reader pick, whose organization Smile On Me brings low-income girls the dignity and fun of personal hygiene items that are their very own.

Our Rule Breakers have helped us realize that the most restrictive rules in our lives truly were made to be broken

In this issue, you’ll also find a list of our Rule Breakers’ favorite products, the books that inspire them to continue the fight, and a playlist of the anthems that keep them going. Click on to also read about women who challenge workplace dress codes, how television has defied convention throughout history, the life choice that is still the ultimate rule-breaking move, and an ode to a food group we have all needlessly and egregiously been taught to fear: the sacred carb.

While we still slow down at yellow lights, meet our deadlines, and pay our bills (you know who gets things done in this world), our Rule Breakers have helped us realize that the most restrictive rules in our lives truly were made to be broken. At Bustle Digital Group, we will continue to be tough, voracious, and very, very loud — everything we’re not "supposed" to be. I could not be prouder to call those women my co-workers. I know I’m not supposed to brag, but, hey, turns out I’m a Rule Breaker.

-Kate Ward, Editor-In-Chief, Bustle Digital Group