The New York Review of Magazines

I Am Woman, Hear Me Blog

By Susie Poppick

Last May, Slate’s newly launched women’s blog DoubleX published an article titled “The Trouble with Jezebel: How the Gawker Site Is Hurting Women,” criticizing Gawker’s spin-off-blog-for-girls for being — essentially — anti-feminist. The blogosphere exploded.

Jezebel responded with posts titled “Who You Calling a Bad Feminist?” and “Faux Outrage over Slutty Feminists Is F-cking Hurting America.” The blog Feministe posted: “Actually, attacking women is hurting women.” Turner Broadcasting’s countered that Jezebel actually overdoes it with “knee jerk cries of misogyny and sexism.” And Ann Friedman of the ad-supported laid into DoubleX directly in a piece titled “The Trouble with Double X,” published on The American Prospect’s website.

Some, such as women’s lifestyle website, denounced the controversy itself, while others, like Rebecca Traister at’s feminist blog Broadsheet, rejoiced. “I could not be more pleased that there is an argument between multiple female writers of multiple ages and experiences and multiple platforms all arguing about what feminism means,” Traister wrote. “This is what it means.”

This eruption of debate, which unfolded over just three days, reveals how the web has democratized feminist media. Any woman with a computer and an Internet connection can start a blog and call herself a feminist, leading to not only a proliferation of more obscure blogs and personal websites, but also a rich ecosystem of more mainstream feminist blogs and e-magazines, including Jezebel, Feministe and others named above. This complex online landscape has not only increased dialogue and disagreements about the meaning of feminism but has also influenced the very topics covered by the sites. Though they post on some more serious, traditional feminist issues, the sites increasingly reflect Internet-age values, with more stories on click-enticing pop-cultural events and personalities than, say, sexism in the workplace. It is telling, for example, that the blogs and e-magazines above have had more to say about Tiger Woods’ affairs than about how healthcare may affect women.

Writers and editors at these sites argue that the “Internetizing” of feminist dialogue is a positive development in the movement; it allows feminists to have more inclusive debates and apply their lens to topics that more readers may find interesting or relevant to their lives. But old-guard feminists worry that those of the Internet generation are spending too much time attacking each other and discussing celebrities, and not enough time defending women’s rights. The reality is somewhere in between.

Founded 38 years ago on the eve of Roe v. Wade, Ms. Magazine is considered by many to be the grandmother of feminist publications. The magazine, which was the brainchild of a team of editors that included Gloria Steinem, has traditionally focused on political issues affecting women. Current Ms. Magazine senior editor Michele Kort said she disapproves of the trend among many online publications of criticizing other feminist organizations, because it takes the focus off of protecting feminist political causes threatened by conservatives. “We say, ‘Take your fight to the right,’” Kort said.

Letty Cottin Pogrebin, one of Ms. Magazine’s co-founders, said feminists today take for granted the rights their mothers earned. “Today’s generation thinks it has the luxury of focusing on Lindsay Lohan’s drinking problem and so-and-so’s belly-button ring,” she said. “I have so little patience for that discourse while women’s reproductive rights are being threatened by right-wing backlash.”

And while some online feminist publications, such as, devote more space than other blogs to political discussion, Pogrebin said virtual words do not amount to change: “Exchanging outrage on the Internet gives the illusion of activism. I want to ask, ‘Why aren’t you out on the streets?’”

But feminist bloggers said their online commentary, whether about politics or fashion, is more than just virtual chatter. Dodai Stewart, Jezebel writer and deputy editor, said she feels that turning her feminist focus on pop culture is “both fun and important,” that gender norms about how women should dress or act often have insidious cultural — if not political — repercussions.

“I’d rather be writing about Teen Vogue than abortion,” Stewart said. “An era is often defined by pop culture and media, and products so aggressively marketed toward young women can have a real effect.” Just the act of discussion can cause change in people’s perception of what are and aren’t acceptable messages for young girls, Stewart believes.

With eight-figure monthly page views and the category headings “Sex,” “Celebrity” and “Fashion,” Jezebel might be the best example of a feminist site that uses pop culture to draw readers. But even Ms. Magazine has felt the pull of the digital world and its fascination with the hyper-current. The new Ms. Magazine blog, launched this past March, includes a post on the iPhone application Tiger Text, which allows cheating spouses to delete sent and received texts from their cell phones, an analysis of how the characters on ABC’s Lost conform to stereotypical gender roles, and a piece that questions Lady Gaga’s status as a feminist icon: Is she or isn’t she?

Kort is more optimistic than Pogrebin that the pop-culture topics covered by the Ms. Magazine blog will serve a higher purpose than pure entertainment. She said she hopes it will be able to court younger generations using more light-hearted posts as a gateway to more serious writing. “Maybe they’ll be drawn by the cultural commentary but stay for the other things,” she said.

There is a reason that such commentary is so attractive to readers. Given the speed of blogging, feminists can dissect mutable pop culture trends as they happen in real time, complete with YouTube links. Were the Super Bowl ads this year especially sexist? Feministing seemed to think so. Was Mo’Nique’s Oscar win a step forward or backward for black women? The Ms. Magazine blog had “mixed feelings,” since her character in Precious was so stereotypical and negative.

It is difficult to calculate exactly how many feminist e-magazines and blogs exist on the Internet, but in addition to the few dozen best-known websites, there are hundreds — and likely thousands — of personal or regional feminist sites; Bust Magazine’s website alone lists links to more than 150 feminist blogs, and blog directories like list hundreds more.

Despite the satisfaction of reading hyper-current feminist analysis, readers have showed some loyalty to (and patience for) the few dozen feminist print periodicals sold nationally. Though leaner and less frequently issued than it has been in past years, the now quarterly print edition of Ms. Magazine lives on with a circulation of 110,000, subsisting on a blend of grant money, donations, newsstand sales and subscriptions. Seventeen-year-old Bust Magazine has more than 100,000 readers and 14-year-old Bitch — which managed to get readers to donate $75,000 last year so it could stay afloat — is a survivor, with a circulation about half that of Bust’s.

Still, the allure of the online is potent. Blogs can be launched on a whim, with little or no overhead, and may therefore begin with a looser premise than would be financially feasible for a print publication. When Slate first launched its DoubleX blog, intending to give its female writers a space of their own to discuss topics especially interesting to female readers, the writing team wasn’t sure what to write about, said co-founder Hanna Rosin. The staff wondered, “Do we write about our kids?” she said. But then Hillary Clinton announced for president and suddenly everyone had an opinion. “Each woman’s lens became central,” Rosin said.

Even the sparring between feminist blogs is not to be dismissed, some feminists said, because it helps keep everyone in check. Despite the backlash “The Trouble with Jezebel” generated, “It wasn’t intended to be the voice of DoubleX against Jezebel,” said Rosin. While the piece, written by Linda Hirshman, criticized Jezebel for not taking feminism seriously enough, similar charges have been leveled against DoubleX. Rosin was once called out by a conservative blogger for being superficial when she commented that Nobel Prize-winner Herta Müller and Project Runway contestant Louise Black look alike.

Still, compared with Ms. Magazine and feministing, DoubleX is less concerned with political change and more focused on cultural analysis, Rosin said. “We take this post-feminist world and try to figure it out. We take what women wear and ask what it means … We take everything issue-by-issue.”

The very term “post-feminist” is objectionable to Kort at Ms. Magazine. “Just as we aren’t in a postracial America, neither are we in a postfeminist America,” she said.

Some perspective on such disagreements was offered by professor Ellen Dubois of the University of California, Los Angeles, an expert in the history of American feminism. “The discourse is exciting,” she said. “Feminism has an important historical tradition of having contradictions built into it. For example, it promotes equality and is meant to represent women, but by some accounts makes the category of ‘women’ meaningless.”

The feminist analysis popularized by Ms. Magazine has spread, not only to the online world, Dubois said, but also to magazines that were once more traditional, like Mademoiselle and Ladies’ Home Journal. “Feminist perspectives have spread into the mainstream,” she said, as women have showed they are no longer content with just “thin fare.” Still, this change does not mean that it’s time to give up fighting for women’s rights. “Like any standard of social justice, there is a constantly receding horizon with feminism; each generation has new aspects to discover.”

While online feminists may sometimes be too politically complacent, as Pogrebin suggested, their new brand of digital activism adds serious feminist counterpoints to important debates shaping our cultural identity. Jezebel’s feminist critiques of the fashion industry may seem trivial today, for example, but they actually are part of a much older philosophical tradition dating back to the days of Amelia Bloomer. Though her mid-19th-century biweekly, The Lily, was primarily a vehicle for promoting protofeminist ideas about women’s education and rights, Bloomer still found space to criticize the unyielding skirts of the Victorian era in favor of her comfortable namesake trousers.

As the Internet expands the pool of participants in and topics available for feminist scrutiny, it is becoming clear that not only the personal, but also the pop cultural, is political.

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