America needs feminist magazines more than ever

In the late 1990s, learning something obscure was tedious. You would have to go to the right bookstore or know that nervous older person who could point you to a particular record, book or zine. These pre-Internet objects were community builders; If you met someone who heard about the specific thing you’re into, you’ve made a very cool friend. That was female dog Magazine. I can’t remember when I first read it, but it was ubiquitous in the world I lived in — riot grrrls, punks and hardcore kids, women’s studies majors, the LGBTQ community, activists. female dog wasn’t just a release – it was a mark of identity.

Although he occupies a niche in the media world, female dog was very influential. A self-proclaimed “feminist answer to pop culture,” she published media criticism and cultural commentary on issues such as fat politics, non-binary identity, black feminism, and masculinity, using the confrontational style of in-your-face politics often synonymous with the ’90s-era third-wave feminism. It would continue to publish some of feminism’s most seminal writings, including voices like Tamara Winfrey-Harris, Joshunda Sanders, and Katherine Cross. Celebrity interviews included underground It Girls like Margaret Cho and Janeane Garofalo. Like I sat in a women’s studies class and criticized zines like female dog Because it wasn’t diverse enough, it dropped an interview with Bell Hooks.

female dog recently announced that it will cease publication in June. To fully understand this message, one must understand just how much she’s managed to persevere — and how her ethos has resonated with mainstream media in obvious and subtle ways. The history of female dog is in part the story of how feminist publications have influenced reporting on gender issues on a large scale. But it’s also the story of the struggles to keep independent media afloat, especially in the face of a feminist backlash. Its development reflects the entanglements within feminism over the last few decades and within the feminist press. And its ending begs the question of what constitutes feminist media today, even as the ongoing threat to women’s rights underscores how much we still need this space.

female dog Launched in 1996, its name is a revival of a term used to offend women who live outside the expectations of reserved femininity. “If speaking my mind makes me a bitch, I’m proud of it,” one of the co-founders, Lisa Jervis, explained of the name. (Another co-founder, Andi Zeisler, has defended the title against a wag of a finger; the magazine’s original attempt to be included was rejected because the name was found offensive.) It entered at the height of zine culture and followed suit feminist publications such as Bust Magazine (still in circulation) and Naughty (merged with teenager magazine in 1996, which in turn effectively closed in 2009). It also predates and influenced the feminist blogs and outlets of the early 2000s to early 2010s, such as Feministe, Racialicious, Feministing (where I was Editor-in-Chief from 2009 to 2012) and later Jezebelthe feminist crunk collective, The Hairpin, The Friskyand Rookie Magazine, among many others. Along with a number of gender-centric industries like salon‘s Broadsheet, slate‘s DoubleX and Vice‘s Overall, these sites created an ecosystem that has sometimes been called the “heyday” of feminist media.

Many of these feminist media outlets have since disbanded; female dog managed to survive them. But his era saw the rise of publications with an explicit mission to make space for feminist voices and analysis — and, more importantly, to highlight mainstream outlets that were still around slut shaming Women for sexual assault or proclaiming the death of feminism. female dog and his colleagues also let young women explore their lives outside of the glossy magazines, which were driven by corporate advertising and thus often reflected the very issues feminists were critical of—food culture, the beauty industry, the wedding industry, and luxury fashion. Feminist media said there was another way.

A lot has changed since then. Feminism has always been messy, its ranks riddled with debate about what the heart of the struggle is really about: for some, it’s squarely about gender equality. For others, it’s a larger endeavor that takes into account the many facets of our experiences: race, class, sexuality, sexual identity. These tensions continue to play out today, with some women eschewing the label “feminist” and instead turning to a broader range of social and political issues. This broader approach can sometimes be read as a kind of “post-feminism”, a rejection of politics that focuses solely on gender advancement – ​​and in the media context, reporting that seems to focus on the expense of gender and inclusion material conditions, that shape the lives of women. Yet much of this criticism is not directed at feminist indie media—which tended to be consciously collaborative in its approach—but at what is perceived as mainstream feminism that is pro-corporate and quick to spawn a simple empowerment slogan.

The media industry has also changed. Sexual assault, allegations of workplace harassment, the struggles of working mothers—all issues that have long concerned feminists—are all treated responsibly and with serious resources by well-funded journalistic establishments that also employ columnists who provide compelling analysis from the feminist perspective. Fair or not, such reporting tends to be viewed not as marginal but as central to societal interest by a generally interested public. (It is no coincidence that many of us who have worked in feminist media have gone to these larger publications. I went to Teen VogueJill Filipovic writes for CNN and Dodai Stewart is an contributing editor The New York Timesjust to name a few.)

Over the years, the feminist message has also been co-opted and sometimes diluted by these same women’s magazines female dog and criticized his colleagues. Marie Claire, ell, Cosmopolitan– such glosses, with their focus on lifestyle and fashion, were not explicitly feminist, but have long published informed journalism on issues affecting women’s lives. Her increasing coverage of social justice issues, including body inclusivity and trans rights, simultaneously served as an implicit acknowledgment that such stories and perspectives had gone mainstream and were reaching audiences ready to be conquered.

Social media has also had an outsized impact, allowing people to express their opinions via Twitter threads or Instagram stories without needing the infrastructure of a magazine. These outpourings have replaced the Stream of Consciousness blog posts that defined early digital culture. Internet activism, like feminism itself, can sometimes feel like a popularity contest in which power struggles and performative superiority are the key strategies, as opposed to serious and fervent debate. At best, however, the participation of historically marginalized voices on the internet replicates the position of criticism from the fringes represented by independent feminist media.

So what does feminist media even today? At the height of the blog era, it meant cultural commentary and media critique—much like some of what appears on Substack these days—where virtually anyone could make observations about social ills, politics, and culture. This form of opinion journalism was valuable and created a space for writers and bloggers to think, research, connect, argue and, yes, sometimes, romp. Many feminist publications stood between journalism and advocacy. As others have argued, the shrinking of these spaces is due in large part to the success of this advocacy. You are now more likely to see feminist writing in many different places in the media – perhaps about a particular author or argument. But this more common vision of feminist media lacks specific spaces female dog gave us: a belief in being part of a community with a common purpose, clear models for writing persuasively about feminist politics, and the unwavering reporting that a mission-oriented publication can offer.

Some outlets still do this work explicitly. Jezebel still exists, although perhaps less culturally influential than it used to be; bust is also still there, although it leans heavily on the lifestyle. car straddle and Salty Newsletter are aimed at women, transgender and non-binary people. and female dog It lasted so long because, to its credit, it struggled to reach a new generation of readers. But the ecosystem is smaller than it used to be. There’s a hole where female dog and others have been at a time when there is an increasing need for sustained attention to women’s rights. The cuts in the rights of vulnerable communities—communities that feminist publications have long reported on—continue: sweeping attacks on reproductive rights, the state-by-state war on transgender youth, mothers being pushed out of the workforce, women becoming increasingly still endure the brunt of the nursing work. In the 25 years since female dog was introduced, in many respects the conditions for women have worsened, not improved.

1988, the soon-to-be publisher of Naughty magazine tells The New York Times that she would show that feminism is a viable enterprise. “Feminism is not the property of the women’s movement … I will prove that you can run a business with feminist principles and make money,” she famously concluded. Naughty effectively closed eight years later. A few weeks ago when people shared the role female dog played in her feminist upbringing, many lamented its end as the end of an era, while others felt that era was long gone. I’m not sure if it’s gone or just changing. Missionary media have difficulties; Employees are typically overworked and underpaid who are expected to do whatever it takes for the “cause”. But the purpose of an independent feminist press, if we can figure out how to sustain it, is different from that of mainstream journalism; The focused, sometimes seemingly niche work it does is a necessary adjunct to traditional reporting and commentary writing, and a scrutiny in a sea of ​​media monopolies. In this context, folding venerable publications is a monumental loss. The reason we still need them is often the reason we lose them. America needs feminist magazines more than ever

Jessica MacLeish

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