Last night, a good friend shared an essay on Facebook called “Why Jezebel Has the Wrong Approach to Feminism, Period” by Kyria Abrahams. Like most women my age, I have a love-hate relationship with the Gawker site that promises “Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing.” Leaving aside the appalling grammar of that tagline, nothing in the “unapologetically feminist*” site founded by Anna Holmes in 2007 actually screams “feminist.” The f-word itself doesn’t even appear anywhere in the site’s branding. It crops up occasionally in headlines or the body of an article, but nothing about the site is overtly out and proud about feminism.
That word. Abrahams wonders “what feminism is in the year 2014.” It means the same thing it’s always meant. I’ll take a page from Yoncé’s book and quote Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. “Feminist: a person who believes in the social, political, economic equality of the sexes.”
Abrahams accuses Jezebel of “ruin[ing feminism],” which is ridiculous. No person or editorial entity can “ruin” a belief system or ideology—just ask Richard Dawkins. Abrahams’ argument appears to be that the ignorance of others is making her ignorant, and that she simply can’t bear to call herself a feminist when the “tightass, humorless cunts” at Jezebel insist on doing their jobs; namely, manufacturing outrage to drive pageviews.
That’s Abrahams’ primary point, once you wade through her meandering arguments, the bizarre inclusion of a Jezebel article parody that segues into a video for a Nick Cave song, and an anecdote about an “unapologetic rocking feminist with balls of steel” friend** who was apparently bullied by Gawker*** about her suicide attempt. “Ladies?” She exhorts. “Ladies. They need you to be mad so they can make money.” Yes, Kyria, haven’t you heard? Capitalism won—David Simon said so, and thus it must be true.
I don’t harbor any illusions about what Jezebel is. For me, they ceased to be a publication of merit once Tracey Egan went on maternity leave and they stopped running “Fine Lines.” I never relied on Jezebel to educate me about feminism—I came to my understanding of feminism through sites like Pandagon, Shakesville, Feministing, Feministe, and I Blame the Patriarchy. When those communities failed to sufficiently address my growing awareness of intersectionality between sexism, racism, classism, ableism, homophobia, and transphobia, I moved on to sites like Black Girl Dangerous, Colorlines, ThinkProgress, and The Atlantic.****
I look to Jezebel as a source of frothy, nominally gender-aware pop-culture filler. As their popularity has grown, they take more stabs at “serious” journalism, but the aforementioned angry-making link-bait Abrahams correctly accuses them of cranking out to make money puts the lie to their pretensions. Sure, they strike gold every once in a while—I don’t particularly care for Lindy West since I prefer to reserve ALL CAPS for Gchat sessions with my friends, but she absolutely deserves recognition for her tireless (and otherwise thankless) work in exposing the rotten core of misogyny behind the majority of standup comedy’s rape jokes. But more often than not, their “hard-hitting” pieces are as uninspired as this limp “expose” of Lisa Frank and her sparkly, crumbling business empire.*****
But for other women, Jezebel serves as an important gateway to awakening the feminist thought process. Magazines like Bust, Bitch, and Ms. (the great-grandma of popular feminist journalism), haven’t really made the jump into the digital age. They sacrifice potential pageviews (and, not to be too cynical, but revenue as well) in order to maintain the subscription base for their print magazines and online subscriptions. As a result, I personally couldn’t tell you the last time anyone linked to one of their articles or even mentioned picking up a copy at the local feminist bookstore. And so Jezebel sits at the top of the feminist journalist heap by default because there are no other unequivocally “mainstream” voices willing to even whisper the “f-word.”
There’s too much pressure on Jezebel to be all things to all women. Want a roundup of trashy magazines you’re too embarrassed to actually read? They’ve got it. Want to keep up with the horrifying domestic rape case du jour? They’ve got it. Want to find out whether you should eat at McDonald’s or the Olive Garden tonight? Yep, they’ve got that, too. As their position in the Gawker pantheon grows, there’s less room to have a real (if light-hearted) discussion of feminist theory and tactics for effecting systemic change. Other sites exist, naturally, some created in direct response to Jezebel’s failings (what’s up, Persephone?), but without the bandwidth and ad-generated revenue of Gawker, what hope can they have of succeeding if all anyone does is whine about Jezebel without providing viable alternative publications to patronize or actions to be taken other than clicking “like” on Facebook?
Speaking of whiners, let’s take a look at the charges Abrahams flings at other women. She posits that feminists cannot also be feminine, implying that all that is feminine is weak, yielding, and repulsive—not of a piece of her vision of feminists as “badass chicks.” In criticizing Jezebel for alienating her from their POV, she seeks to do the same to anyone who dares to be a different flavor of woman than she is. Again, feminism is about equality—one’s performance of gendered behavior shouldn’t impact his or her worthiness in the fight for true equality of the sexes.
She refers to the Jezebel staff as “cunts” (always a great way to get people to take your engagement with feminism seriously), shortly before complaining that they’ve accused a man who acted suspiciously of rape, called out racist white teenagers for using the word “nigger,” and made a case against Martin Freeman for suggesting that a hobbit should date rape an elf if she doesn’t want to do the Middle Earth mambo with him. Part of social change is (and has always been) people with a platform identifying and exposing inexcusable behavior. If the rape accusations against Bethanny Frankel’s boyfriend aren’t true, they’ll be deemed libel and removed from the site. Racist teenagers need someone to tell them to stop being racist, because god knows the families and communities who inculcate their racism aren’t going to. And it’s important for the public to see the way even popular celebrities contribute to pervasive rape culture.
Inexplicably, she also asks “Jezebel writers, what do you do for the world? Do you offer positive things? Do you write, draw, sing, run, dance?” Of course they write—that’s the entire topic of Abrahams’ essay. And why are drawing, singing, running, and dancing fundamentally positive actions? Surely there are nobler pursuits for women, especially those who aren’t artistically or athletically inclined—lawyering or sciencing or doctoring, for example. Solipsistic pursuit of a vaguely “positive” hobby doesn’t strike me as more effectively feminist than writing for a blog that has an incredibly large readership.
Abraham’s cruelest slight comes at the expense of women who don’t live in major urban centers. “Unfortunately, we Mary Tyler Moore****** city gals present a real conundrum for the writers Jezebel, since we are mostly living out uneventful and drama-free lives as non-raped women who buy birth control and have jobs and get abortions as we please. There aren’t enough actual stories in metro area to warrant running a frivolous, highly trafficked blog that pulls in ad revenue from outraged feminists. And so, they manufacture them.”
This statement is an insult to everyone with critical thinking skills who can’t, for whatever reason, join Abraham in the rarified air she inhabits. Most city-dwelling readers of a site like Jezebel have no idea how life in the Midwest or American South works, or if they do, they’ve been sufficiently scarred by their upbringing that they can’t even explain it to others via the relative anonymity of the internet. It’s hard to grow up in those regions if you have critical thinking skills, and getting out can be really perilous. For women (and men) who can’t afford to leave for more enlightened zip codes, or for those who live in poverty in urban centers without access to personal safety, birth control, or abortion, a blog like Jezebel can be a lifeline, a reminder that they aren’t crazy to want more, to want respect and equality, to expect empathy and compassion from others. To suggest that a website has no value simply because your privileged demographic has no use for it is more specious an argument than anything Jezebel has ever posted.
Abrahams ends her post by accusing the women who work for Jezebel of being sociopaths (because she’s probably their staff psychiatrist and can definitely fling such a diagnosis with authority), by reminding us that Jezebel’s most egregious offense is being the number two destination for people who want to know what a cronut is (I still don’t understand what they are), and finally, egregiously including some awful “poem” that looks like it was written by a men’s rights activist for an Angelfire site in 1995.
The poem is the most problematic aspect of the piece. I can understand feeling like a publication is failing you and other women, and why that frustration might cause a person to just spew out a blog post that’s poorly executed. But why on earth would a person undermine any coherent point she sought to make by including non-sequiturs about the writers and editors of Jezebel being racist and advocating for the rape of conservative men in a piece readers are supposed to take seriously?
Kyria Abrahams strikes me as a bit of a Riot Grrrl without a cause. Blogs are easy to write—see? I’m doing it right now! A cat could walk over a keyboard, hit publish, and wind up creating Freakazoid. Educating others through one’s writing is admirable, especially if the end result is disagreement—disagreement is the breeding ground for social change. But we need more than just an instruction manual—we need leaders. We need real-world engagement. We need more than ad-driven click-bait, and I’m just not sure that a click-bait response to Jezebel’s click-bait brand of feminism moves us toward that goal at all if it’s riddled with so many attacks against women (one of Jezebel’s cardinal sins, according to Abrahams).
So sure, don’t read Jezebel. Don’t share their links. But do show compassion to your fellow men and women. Volunteer to mentor a kid, feed the homeless, or clean up litter in your neighborhood. Educate yourself about feminism, womanism, and all the other -isms on non-Jezebel blogs. Read books about women’s struggle for equality. Be active politically—vote, start petitions, correspond with your legislative representatives. And if you’re going to post a cranky, malicious critique, please—cite your sources.
*This quote is included by Abrahams in the original piece without citation, so I’ll provide it here.
***Quote provided, but without an identity, link to the defaming Gawker article in question, or any other contextual details, this anecdote has all the rhetorical punch of an infant feebly thrusting its limbs into space.
****If you’re reading this and you don’t know who Ta-Nehisi Coates is, stop reading this immediately and Google him. He’s much better than this nonsense you’re reading right now.
*****Sorry, Tracey, I wanted to like it.
******Nitpicky, but Marlo Thomas in “That Girl” and in real life is probably a more apt comparison.