Can a triannually published, New York Times-minted literary magazine that boasts five male editors out of six publish a smart, well-written critique of the snarky, irreverent Internet watering holes many women frequent?
N+1 tried. And they came damn close, with the exception of two missteps:
- Complete and utter failure to mention Persephone Magazine, ergo: sample size at least one ladyblog short.
- Elitism painted in broad, Rothko-style strokes. And, as someone who frequently pisses and moans about having to drive an hour to get to any good shopping or see a non-community-theatre play, I KNOW elitism from mere smugness/entitlement/excellent taste in clothing.
In “So Many Feelings” (kudos for not just titling it “Squeeeeeee!1!”), Molly Fischer voices disappointment with the identity evolution of four of the internet’s most popular and infamous women’s blogs ““ Jezebel, The Hairpin, xojane and Rookie.
I have no axe to grind with Fischer’s assessment that Rookie is a slightly creepy place where grown women go to reminisce about a very narrow (and I would add WHITE) version of teen girlhood. Think DeGrassi, Daria, Courtney Love circa Hole and a whole buttload of “The Virgin Suicides” ““ the Sofia Coppola movie, not the book DUH.
And I just don’t care one single Fig Newton about xojane.com. I visited it for the first time after reading “So Many Feelings” and it reminded me of Elizabeth Wurtzel’s “Bitch,” which gave me “Am I pretty enough to be successful??” ulcers.
What interests me is Fischer’s take on Jezebel and the Hairpin, both of which I read regularly, one of which I love and one of which I used to love. While I relate to her not-quite-verbalized frustration that these two blogs aren’t the meccas of feminist thought a certain vocal subset of their readers expected, I also feel like her entire argument is falsely predicated on the notion that all female spaces must be dedicated to the active advancement of Women (capital W because we’re a monolith) at all times.
I know many of you are ex-Jezzies or, perhaps, like me, you continue to lurk on the fringes and catch TweetBeat or ogle Toddlers & Tiaras clips. It’s a far cry from my fall 2008 days, when I first discovered Jez and made a point of reading and commenting on EVERY article.
Those were heady times–I had just graduated from college and felt both lonely and over-stimulated by my newly claimed independence. Jez became my internet home, a haven where I got schooled by a smorgasbord of intelligent women commenters about everything from female bodily autonomy to the exclusion of African-American feminists to the best brand of tampons (sorry O.B. cult, I still vote Tampax Pearl. Unscented, of course).
But, like many of you, I felt disenfranchised by the way the site treated its community, the way it reported sensitive news (HELLO privacy-destroying pictures of a journalist raped in Syria that were just posted yesterday!) and the way Jez began to obviously court page-views with controversy-baiting articles. Baseless attack on Jon Stewart, anyone?
Fischer locates the nexus of Jezebel’s success and its downfall in the Thinking and Drinking scandal of July 2008 ““ Salon recap here for those who want to tumble down a rabbit hole of bizarre slut-shaming and rape-apologizing. She posits that, in reaction to that asshattery, Jez grew “nice” and adopted an unofficial policy of only covering topics that couldn’t possibly offend anyone.
Jez HAS melted into soggy-tissue-paper wimpiness. But I think Fischer is exaggerating the role of Thinking and Drinking and its perpetrators, the brash, gross, often politically incorrect bloggers who made a name for Jezebel.
Let’s break from Jez for a moment to consider the Hairpin ““Fischer insinuates that an early writer with a political bent was somehow forced out for not being quirky enough? The theory is very thinly sketched.
My take on the Hairpin: sometimes it’s a mite too precious, but the content is otherwise refreshing, funny and unique. And I don’t particularly remember it ever being any other way–I feel confident, despite never having met Edith Zimmerman in my life, that she had a clear vision for the blog and she achieved it. Early 20th century celebrity gossip and cleaning advice for all!
What exactly Fischer dislikes about Jez and the Hairpin is never clearly stated. But the main complaints I could elucidate are that ladyblogs hold womanhood at an uncomfortable arm’s length (hence girly-girl euphemisms like “lady” popping up all over your ladyscreens) and that writing and commenting for the sites has become a shallow “slumber party” of a popularity contest, with little to no serious critical writing.
I must admit, the use of “lady” initially rankled when I started reading women’s blogs. However, it’s fairly obviously being used as a tongue-in-cheek way to rebut the notion of women as fragile, as other, as programmed by evolution to form their own spaces so as not to sully or otherwise degrade the territory of men.
Does the joke get a little too self-referential at times? Sure, maybe. Does anyone who spends more than 5 seconds on a ladyblog truly believe that we ACTUALLY all lie on fainting couches and clutch smelling salts and wring delicate strands of Tiffany’s pearls?
The second critique, that Jez and the Hairpin sold out the “sisterhood” for some kind of intangible, lesser bond Fischer calls “BFF-ship” irritates me because it’s just so, “I couldn’t ever do any work that isn’t personally fulfilling and everybody but me is totally wasting their potential on bullshit.” Thaaaanks, but your late teens called and they want their naivetÃ© back.
It’s not fair to criticize Jez or the Hairpin for courting a wider audience. Both were founded as sister sites to obviously commercial ventures. They don’t publish easily digestible content solely for the reward of being internet famous, they do it for the MONEY. Shocking, right?
Not to be all “It’s the man, man,” but had Nick Denton, Gawker emperor, been able to squeeze hard cash money from Jez’s early, mostly awesome incarnation, Tracie Egan would still be blogging under the moniker “Slut Machine.”
Instead, he decided to make Jez over into a mainstream blog. In the interests of streamlining everything, Jez articles got shorter and shorter (good luck finding anything over 300 words there), the once-integral comments section shrunk and became more tightly monitored, and the ratio of fluff to legitimate criticism skyrocketed.
The Stepford wife-ification of Jezebel initially angered me, but I realize now those were just growing pains prompting me to find other blog communities more suited to my age and taste for political and feminist theory. I’m firmly of the opinion that the BEST peddlers of such fine wares are the privately owned blogs (Shakesville, for one) that operate mostly free of censorship, where the writers are personally invested in and knowledgeable about their niche topics.
Jezebel and the Hairpin aren’t necessarily competing with these smaller blogs, but complementing them. Both are still more woman-friendly than 90% of what’s currently on the internet. And Jez in particular can provide the perfect springboard for women who are just starting to become interested in feminism or for the lady who wants to visit a female-oriented space without being concerned about it providing the sum total of her news and cultural analysis.
My greatest beef with “So Many Feelings” is that it discredits that lady and her desire to veg out in front of highly truncated bits of celebrity gossip. The essay basically stomps all over the value of women exchanging beauty tips, developing a commenter lingo, sharing DIY ideas or basically doing anything that doesn’t involve close-reading Andrea Dworkin.
Whether Fischer intends to or not, she plays directly into the hands of one of the biggest “feminist” fallacies–that we must, at all times, be actively disproving the notion that our gender is superficial. That we can’t develop any talents related to traditionally patriarchal means of oppression, i.e., no liquid eyeliner or crocheting for you.
At the end of the day, feminism is important, but only as a means to an end, which is freedom and equality for all women, no matter who they are or what they like to read or how they like to waste time on the internet.
You don’t read many long-form critical essays about how men spend way too much time on Deadspin gushing about cars. It’ll be a great day for women when the same is true for us and the feminist community stops biting its own tail with these meta-critical posts.
P.S. Molly Fischer, you’re welcome to come hang out at Persephone anytime! Seriously, I mean it.