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November 8, 2017 

Welcome to CLIPPED issue #2 coming at you one week later than planned. One of us got a new magazine job and had a birthday (#scorpioseason). The other one also got a new job and booked a last-minute solo trip to Europe. And now we’re here.

Before that whirlwind, we interviewed outgoing Jezebel deputy editor Kate Dries about feminist blogs, women’s magazines and the pull and interplay between the two.

Kate was also kind enough to let us read her undergrad thesis paper on Cosmo, Ms. and second-wave feminism, for which she dug up old microfilms of magazines at the Chicago Library. Noteworthy: her alma mater stopped archiving Cosmo in the ‘30s once it started leaning toward women rather than general interest.

In the '70s, as Helen Gurley Brown was leading Cosmo and invigorating a new generation of women who loved sex and living single (at the same time), Gloria Steinem was founding Ms., conceived as a feminist publication that covered politics and highlighted gender disparities. In short, there was beef.

In some ways, that tension mirrors Anna Holmes' founding in 2007 of Jezebel after working at magazinesincluding Glamour and InStyle.

Kate has now worked at the site for over four years, occasionally covering women's magazines at an outlet that's been a critical voice for feminist issues and often the first place to call out barf bags like Terry Richardson.

Our edited and condensed talk with Kate (plus, other Clipped goods) is below.

Kate Dries (left) at Jezebel's 10th anniversary party
Q&A with Jezebel's Kate Dries

Danielle: When reading your piece on the new Cosmo, it was my understanding that Cosmo had to become more openly political, more feminist because it’s where the rest of the media landscape was heading; Jezebel and other blogs had proved it could work with advertisers.

Kate: Yeah, totally. It’s been covered pretty heavily, and obviously this is the publication that I work at right now. I’m biased. But I think it’s pretty universally acknowledged that after the success of Jezebel and other blogs like Jezebel, traditional women’s media [evolved]. It took a while. I think it’s still happening, and I would argue that a lot of them have not really caught up — probably mostly due to advertiser influence that they have that we do not — but knew that they had to do something different. Their readers were too aware of the kind of content that they were getting and [also] aware of alternatives.

It’s not specific to Cosmo or women’s media. You see that constantly — where publications are sprouting and changing and evolving and pushing and pulling on each other.

Natalie: What do you think is the role of Jezebel as a publication now versus the role of mainstream but feminist women’s magazines?

KD: I’ll say to me, the value of having these sites that are in the GMG platform with us — so like Deadspin or Gizmodo or something — is that they all come from this Gawker Media brand which is speaking truth to power and knowing you’re going to piss people off along the way. That is a huge part of the Jezebel DNA that I hope will never go away because it’s not as if we don’t have advertisers. It’s not as if there aren’t people at the company worrying about that, but we don’t we have communication with those people.

DF: On that note, what do you see as Jezebel’s role in covering women’s magazines?

KD: We probably used to do it more, especially in the early days when the site was literally set up as a like, “we are the antithesis of women’s magazines.” We are now situated much more in just the environment of media as a whole. I always say that when I think about Jezebel, I think of it as a website, that if other publications who are not women’s sites were more cognizant of their readers, they would look more like us. Because they would be more considerate of respecting and being interested and taking seriously the topics that 50 percent of their readership cares about.

DF: Your thesis quotes Naomi Wolf saying that magazines have the ability to spread ideas further than feminist journals because those journals are marketed to women who already identify as feminists. Many magazines readers now do identify as feminist. I was curious about your thoughts on that quote nowadays. 

KD: When Wolf was reflecting on that, the market was a little more skewed. I think what you are seeing now is there’s much more interplay, or even like before she wrote that, with Cosmo and Ms.

ND: Shifting toward your thesis, a lot of the tension was between between Cosmo and Ms. Cosmo recognized the women’s lib movement in the ‘70s, and Gurley Brown said the movement was “wonderful!” but she backed away from alienating men and criticized some members of the movement as “hostile” or “nutty.”

We’re thinking about what’s going on right now in the media and entertainment industries, with all of these explosive stories of sexual harassment and the Google Doc Activism as Ann Friedman called the “Shitty Media Men” list. And Leah Finnegan wrote a piece about how men might actually for the first time fear women. We were thinking about this progress we’ve seen in almost 50 years — what do you think about today’s feminists publicly challenging and scaring men?

KD: I think there are probably a couple of things going on there. Helen Gurley Brown, by the time she was editing Cosmo — I don’t want to says she was old, but she wasn’t like some magazine editors now who are in their early 20s. She grew up in a time that had different values, and she loved men. She loved talking about loving men. That was a huge part of her identity, and so to be anti-men would have just not worked for her. She didn’t understand that concept. Obviously there were women her age who did.
But I think there is still some tension like that now. I wouldn’t say that just because we see some pieces online in which women are embracing this down-with-men attitude, I would argue in many cases rightfully so, that there aren’t tons of women in this country and around the world who are like, “No, I love men.”
The election is a perfect example. You have all these women who voted for a man who doesn’t respect or like them. And so, I would say that tension is still very much alive.

Helen Gurley Brown, editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan (1965-1997)

ND: The conversation on what women’s publications should even cover still seems to go on. There was a clash [during the ‘70s] over whether it was better to give women examples of how to make themselves better, as Gurley Brown did, or to cover disparities in areas like leadership, as Ms. was more inclined to. As we see more media designed for female audiences, do you think editors can achieve both of those goals? Or what would you strive for, in a utopian world?

KD: I guess I would prioritize the latter, which may be obvious. I would prioritize talking about power, talking about why it matters, talking about who has it — often straight white men, as we all know. I do think there is a value in talking about women in a way that does not relate to men. What do women like? What do they want? What are the conversations that they have that are unrelated to men? That’s something that women’s magazines always did.

There are a lot of publications that, whether they’re aware of it or not, their default is not women, or anyone who might exist on a less than binary gender spectrum. Their default is a straight white man. I think a lot of them don’t even know they’re doing it, but when I think about the content that I like to consume, it is more aware of who its audience could be and that its audience could be kind of anyone.

ND: Much of the mission for Ms. was to cut down on lifestyle content, on fashion or beauty or celebrity. That contents still exist on women’s websites today, just in different packaging. Do you think it’s just giving readers what they want?

KD: I don’t think any of that stuff is bad. I consider myself an omnivore with food, and I consider myself an omnivore with media. I’m personally interested in everything. Not everyone is. I assume the default is people are complex and like different stuff, and some of that is high brow. And some of that is low brow. There are smart ways to do things and, and there are not smart ways to do things, and there are stupid ways to do things.

ND: And when covering sex, we wanted to ask about the sexual honesty in Cosmo in Ms. We figured alright, this conversation about sexual honesty was happening in both these publications in the 1970’s. Today, Cosmo just posted a guide on how women can run for office. For lack of a better question, why do you think America is so puritanical?

KD: I mean it’s fighting against hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of years of women’s subjugation. You can’t overthrow that in a short period of time. If you’re being pessimistic, some people would say you can never overthrow that. There are certain conversations that I expect us to be having until we’re not having any conversations anymore. And that’s one of them. When you’re talking about groups we consider minorities, they’ve been oppressed in one way or another. I’m not a scholar, so I could be wrong, but there aren’t a lot of mass stories of change for groups coming out from under that and having everything be hunky dorey after that. Sex is a huge part of our lives both in keeping the population going [laughs], and in what we enjoy and what we like to do. And so that and food are going to be things people fight about the most.

ND&DF: [in unison] Very true.

DF: We are seeing a big uptick in food coverage lately.

KD: Yeah, because everyone’s like mmm, pleasure, that sounds good.

DF: Especially in 2017. We were curious if you have any predictions on what might be next for women’s media. On any sort of motivations or platforms…

KD: I think you’re going to see a continued swing toward redefining what is a woman, essentially, which has been happening across all media, some more than others. So an understanding that sexuality exists on a spectrum, and that gender exists on a spectrum, too. You’re going to see a lot of publications — specifically women’s publications — because they were presented as an alternative to other publications that catered toward me, try to grapple with that with their readership, and like “Who are we speaking to? Who are women?” And some people are going to move into that faster than others.

DF: That was something that came up in our first issue of the newsletter. We were focusing on JANE, and one of the complaints was that although they claimed to be feminist, they were constantly thinking their reader was just a straight woman.

KD: Right, right, exactly. And that’s something that’s long been an issue and I doubt will go away anytime soon.

Ms. Magazine, spring 1972
in other (magazine) news:
  • Working Woman's Magazine cartoon in the New Yorker. The headlines spoke to us. (Thanks Anna Weldon for sending!)
  • The new Joan Didion documentary, “The Center Will Not Hold,” mentions her first post-college job working at Vogue, where she wrote "Self-respect: its source, its power.” Didion says an editor assigned her the piece because the headline already appeared on a mockup front page, but they had not yet asked anyone to write it.
  • If you haven’t already heard, Koa Beck, former executive editor of Vogue.com, is Jezebel's new editor-in-chief. Also, this tweet.
related reads
  • Helen Gurley Brown Only Wants to Help (Esquire, 1970)
  • Why We Keep Trying to Figure Out Self-Described 'Mouseburger' and Feminist Helen Gurley Brown (Jezebel, 2016)
  • The New Cosmopolitan & the Slow Climb Out of Lipstick-and-Lasagna Land (Jezebel, 2014)
  • Hot Spring Trend: Hiring a Feminist Blogger at Your Women's Magazine (The Atlantic, 2014)

Thanks for reading, and hit us up! We want to know your memories with women's magazines, including what you loved and hated. And if you’ve never read a women’s mag, welcome. Send notes and scans: clippedmagazines@gmail.com.

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Copyright © 2017 CLIPPED, All rights reserved.
Written by
Natalie Daher and Danielle Fox. Designed by Martina Ibanez-Baldor.
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