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.