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Feminist-ish?: Is Jezebel a Feminist Blog?

While Jezebel self identifies as a “women’s blog” it does not explicitly define itself as feminist.  However, looking over the content it can be seen that Jezebel can be classified as a feminist blog. Part of the issue of defining what a feminist blog is lies in the different ideas of defining feminism itself. (Wazny 2010: 1) There are many working definitions of a feminist, and some people who may follow feminist ideologies who shy away from the word due to negative associations. (Wazny 2010:2) Feminism has a long and varied history and is often divided into different waves.  (Wazny 2010 1-2) There is heavy debate whether modern digital movements count as a new wave of feminism, or whether the idea of the ebb and flow of waves is even an accurate depiction of the movement. (Baumgartner 2011)  An article for the University of Iowa Academic Journal “B Sides” breaks down the argument whether Jezebel can be considered a feminist blog. According the author, several factors define a “feminist site,” such as a discussion of women’s issues and a mission statement that discusses furthering the ideals of feminism. (Wazny 2010:1-5) There are some feminist websites, such as Feministing.com and Feminist.com, which are more explicit about their contents feminist nature. (Wazny 2010)  However, as the article points out it can be gleaned from the user comments following a controversial episode where two of the editors made distasteful comments on a talk show that the users view Jezebel as a feminist icon. (Wazny 2010 10-18) Jessica Valenti, who is a noted feminist claimed that the site was feminist because “when you use feminism as a justification for writing controversial pieces and when you call yourself a feminist to a tremendous audience, you are representing feminism whether you like it or not” (Wazny 2010: 13)The blog does file certain stories under the category of “feminism.” A quick glance at the stories reveals that many of the stories that Jezebel considers to be “feminist” deal with issues of women’s health or rights issues, such as birth control, abortion, and married women changing their name.  However, there are related stories that are not filed under “feminism” and there are not new postings every day.

Opinions of bloggers from explicit feminist sites are mixed on whether Jezebel is among their peers. Regardless of the view of the content, all of the articles acknowledge that many to be feminist view Jezebel.  In her article on “The Pursuit of Harpyness” blogger  Pilgrim Soul uses the metaphor that Jezebel is a “gateway drug” to feminism, not quiet traditionally feminist but enough to pique interests. (2009) The article agrees that Jezebel has some feminist content, but is more important in its ability to attract young women to feminist ideas.  (Pilgrim Soul 2009) Amy McCarthy, from Feminist Choices argues that while Jezebel may have feminist goals, it is actually an “anti-feminist” piece, engaging in slut shaming and mocking those with alternative sexual habits. (McCarthy 2011) The title of McCarthy’s article, “Self-Righteousness, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Celebrity Gossip: Why Jezebel Is Ultimately Bad For The Feminist Movement” is enough to share her opinions of Jezebel as a feminist entity. (2011) McCarthy discusses that much of the content on Jezebel originates from other feminist blogs and urges that  “young feminists …come to the realization that shaming and self-righteousness that is all over that blog, and move on to greener, more feminist pastures. (2011)

Works Cited:

Baumgardner, Jennifer. “Is There a Fourth Wave of Feminism? Does It Matter?”Feminist.com. Seal Press, 2011. Web. 23 Mar. 2012.  <http://www.feminist.com/resources/artspeech/genwom/baumgardner2011.html&gt;

McCarthy, Amy. “Self-Righteousness, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Celebrity Gossip: Why Jezebel Is Ultimately Bad For The Feminist Movement.” Feminists for Choice. Feminist for Choice, 8 Sept. 2011. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://feministsforchoice.com/self-righteousness-gwyneth-paltrow-and-celebrity-gossip-why-jezebel-is-ultimately-bad-for-the-feminist-movement.htm&gt;.

Pilgram Soul. “In (Partial) Defense of Jezebel.” The Pursuit of Harpyness. The Pursuit of Harpyness, 12 May 2009. Web. 23 Mar. 2012. <http://www.harpyness.com/2009/05/12/in-partial-defense-of-jezebel/&gt;

Wazny, Katelyn M. “Feminist Communities Online: What it means to be a Jezebel.” B Sides 8 (2010): 1- 23.

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Jezebel’s Manifesto

The creation of Jezebel was intended to provide, according to Holmes, “an antidote to superficiality and irrelevance of women’s media properties” (Mascia 2010). Jezebel expressed  these goals in the article “ The Five Great Lies of Women’s Magazines,” labeled as Jezebel Manifesto.  The article outlines the goals of Jezebel by deconstructing the  different flaws of women’s media (Holmes 2007).  The beginning outlines the main goals of the publication.

 “To put it simply, Jezebel is a blog for women that will attempt to take all the essentially meaningless but sweet stuff directed our way and give it a little more meaning, while taking more the serious stuff and making it more fun, or more personal, or at the very least the subject of our highly sophisticated brand of sex joke” (Holmes 2007).

The post then breaks down each of the “lies.” The first of these is “The Cover Lie” which discusses how women’s magazines set up unrealistic expectations from before they are even opened (Holmes 2007).The women on the cover fail to show a diversity of races and are often Photo shopped to non-human perfection (Holmes 2007.  The cover lists outrageous promises for “tasty tidbits” which are predictable, but draw people in on the hope they are not (Holmes 2007).

The second lie is “ The Celebrity-Profile Lie” which criticizes the narrow focus on the minutiae of the lives of celebrities (Holmes 2007). Additionally, magazines bestow celebrity like descriptions and standards to normal people, and “focus on only the most photogenic cancer survivors/assault victims/environmental activists” (Holmes 2007). In this environment, even those people who want to be every day heroes must live and act as celebrities, and are subject to the same scrutiny (Holmes 2007).

The third lie is  “The Must-Have Lie,” where editors push products that they have been given for free, promoting bias and forcing the perpetuation of the image that certain styles and expensive items are necessary (Holmes 2007).

The fourth lie is “The Affirmation Crap Lie,” where magazines cause women to second-guess themselves by showing them constant criteria to compare themselves (Holmes 2007). Women are analyzed on the smallest details of their lives, from the color of their lipstick to their ability to cuddle (Holmes 2007). This creates a need for affirmation, which magazines happily supply with ways to continue to check on how adequate a woman is mixed with lessons about loving themselves and how all women are goddesses (Holmes 2007).

The last lie is “The Big Meta Lie” where people try to justify addiction to and the content of women’s magazines (Holmes 2007). People attempt to deny the effects of these medias on their self-esteem and world views (Holmes 2007).

Jezebel hopes it is “planting a little seed, so that maybe people will think about this stuff a little more critically” (Johnson 2007). However, various criticisms have questioned the changed trajectory of Jezebel, and if it truly qualifies as a blog with feminist ideas.  The next few posts will break down Jezebel as a product for women, by analyzing if it is feminist, and the content and driving factors behind the four major categories. (For what those categories are check out this post)

Sources:
Holmes, Anna. “The Five Great Lies Of Women’s Magazines.” Jezebel. 1 Nov. 2007. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. <http://jezebel.com/262130/the-five-great-lies-of-womens-magazines&gt;.
Johnson, Steve. “Jezebel: A Few words with the editor [Chicago Edition].” The Chicago Tribune.25 July 2007: Web. <22 Mar. 2012 < http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2007-07-25/features/0707230542_1_jezebel-gawker-media-celebrity&gt;
Mascia, Jennifer. “A Web Site That’s Not Afraid to Pick a Fight.” NYTimes.com. New York Times, 12 July 2010. Web. 23 Mar. 2012. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B0CEEDB103BF931A25754C0A9669D8B63&gt;.

Jezebel’s Intended Audience and Viewpoint

The truth revealing, no holds barred attitude was part of Jezebel even before the first words were written (Johnson 2007).  As expressed in its tagline, Jezebel strives to tell “the news without airbrushing.” The phrase was offered up by Anna Holmes, who would become the founding editorin chief of Jezebel, during her job  interview for the with Gawker media (Johnson 2007). While over 70% of Gawker.com readership was female, Gawker media decided to create a “straight women’s blog”(PR Week). They hired Anna Holmes, whose resume includes work at Entertainment Weekly, Glamour, and InStyle. (PR Week) Holmes experience with women’s fashion magazines had fostered a frustration with much of the media created for women and formed ideas that would become core to the site. (PR Week).  In an interview with the New York Times, Holmes explains that she “felt disillusion by magazines to a certain degree, because they perpetuated this insecurity factory and present solutions to the insecurities they just created (Mascia 2010).

Jezebel’s target audience is young, urban, educated, liberal females. Advertising Age praises Jezebel as uniquely successful in ability to “[appeal] as creatively and non-patronizingly to women in their 20’s and early 30’s” (Dobrow 2008). In an interview with PR Week from 2007, Holmes expressed the target range of the audiences as women from 18-40, “who take things more seriously than the magazines that are geared to them would have you believe.” (2007) According to Gawker media’s demographics page, 82% of the readership is between 18-34. (Demographics) Holmes makes it clear that Jezebel is intended for a more clever, critical audience. In fact, 81% of Jezebel’s readership has a college education or higher, and over a third (37%) have post graduate degrees. Additionally, it can be assumed that Jezebel appeals to higher income women,  as over 70% of readers are employed (Demographics). The targeting has clearly worked, as the Jezebel readership is 95% female (Demographics). The website also has a link to a live updated chart on the demographics of viewers. The chart indicates that the popularity of visiting the site rises in the afternoon, stabilizing around 3 PM and declining after 8 (Chartbeat). The chart also indicates where in the country users are, and how many people are on each page (Chartbeat).

It is clear that when they set out to make a women’s blog, Gawker media succeeded. However, this date does not display what Jezebel explicitly meant by its idea of a “women’s blog,”  This was stated in the Manifesto, and continued to be reaffirmed by the content they publish.

Works Cited:

Chartbeat. “Jezebel.com.” Chartbeat. Web. 19 June 2009 < http://chartbeat.com/dashboard2/?url=jezebel.com&k=2b3d990a244b3531b681932ac5c8ce33 >.

“Demographics.” Gawker Media. Gawker Media. Web. 23 Mar. 2012. <http://advertising.gawker.com/demographics/&gt;.

Dobrow, Larry. “Lets Hear It for Women Who Suffer No Fools.” Ad Age Media Works. 13 March 2008. Web.  20 March 2012 < http://adage.com/article/mediaworks/hear-women-suffer-fools/125671/>

 Johnson, Steve. “Jezebel: A Few words with the editor [Chicago Edition].” The Chicago Tribune.25 July 2007: Web. <22 Mar. 2012 < http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2007-07-25/features/0707230542_1_jezebel-gawker-media-celebrity&gt;

Mascia, Jennifer. “A Web Site That’s Not Afraid to Pick a Fight.” NYTimes.com. New York Times, 12 July 2010. Web. 23 Mar. 2012. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B0CEEDB103BF931A25754C0A9669D8B63&gt;.

PR Week. “Journalist Q&A – Anna Holmes, Jezebel.” PR Week. 4 June 2007: 12. Print.

Snarky, Much?

What unites all of the different sites is the self-described “wickedly delicious” prose, which both draws in and repels readers and critics. (Who Are We)  Jezebel itself is noted for its sharp prose and makes no attempts to soften its information.  The New York Timeshas described Jezebel as “certainly cutting, and frequently incendiary”. (Mascia 2010) In an interview with New York Magazine, one of Jezebel earlier writers Moe Tkacik explained the writing style and general attitude toward the more neutral style of other media.  “Quite frankly, fuck discretion…. discretion is why women’s magazine editors persist in treating their fellow humans like total shit; and when you’ve spent a career trying to catch others in their own indiscretions, discretion just feels a little dishonest and superior.”  (Grigoriadis 2007) This candor may have Tkacik’s downfall, after she was let go following a controversial interview (Wayzn 2010) )This attitude to uncensored ideas and prose creates the “snark” that Jezebel prides itself on.   The blog does not pander, but according to current editor-in-chief Jessica Coen Jezebel’s “readers are not condescended to, but leveled with.”(Mascia 2010) Jezebel seems to frame its website not just as a source of news but as one of the few sources of unfiltered truth.  For others, this sharp tone can be seen intentionally trying to cause controversy. (Gould 2010)  Indeed, Jezebel “suffers no fools” and “packs no punches” but “is frank and unapologetic about sex, drug use and other topics.” (Dobrow 2008) Instead of calculated criticalness, some view that Jezebel’s tone is established “by writers who are pushing readers to feel what the writers claim is righteously indignant rage but which is actually just petty jealousy, cleverly marketed as feminism.” (Gould 2010)  As a result the tone can be read as  “less sisterhood-is-powerful than middle-school clique in-fight”. (Gould 2010)  (More about Jezebel critiques and controversies in a later post)

The site further specifies the tone with detailed guidelines for commentators on the site.  The guidelines emphasize that Jezebel is reaching a tone that is sharp, but still expects commentators to be respectful. A commentator can earn “starred” status by offering comments that are repeatedly promoted by other readers and approved of by the editors or one of the group of readers who serve as moderators.  (Coen 2010)  The guidelines reflect the controversial nature of some of the content  and the cruelty that comes occasional with digital anonymity. This is not in a traditional sense of being nice to others, but cautioning people to back up any critiques they have, and not to get involved with so-called “shitstorms” on the site that surround controversial issues. (Coen 2010) Jezebel does not hesitate to deactivate the profiles of commenter’s that have offended them or have become overly engaged in controversial postings, which the site has been critiqued for. (Wazny 2010:14-15) This also creates a hierarchy of commentators and insures a consistency of tone. (Wazny 2010)

Works Cited:

Coen, Jessica. “Commenting On Jezebel: Rules Of The Road.” Jezebel. Jezebel.com, 27 Aug. 2010. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. <http://jezebel.com/5621055/a-friendly-note-on-commenting&gt;.

Dobrow, Larry. “Lets Hear It for Women Who Suffer No Fools.” Ad Age Media Works. 13 March 2008. Web.  20 March 2012 < http://adage.com/article/mediaworks/hear-women-suffer-fools/125671/>

Gould, Emily. “How Feminist Blogs like Jezebel Gin up Page Views by Exploiting Women’s Worst Tendencies.” DoubleXX. Slate Magazine, 6 July 2010. Web. 15 Mar. 2012. <http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2010/07/outrage_world.html&gt;.

Grigoriadis, Vanessa. “Gawker and the Rage of the Creative Underclass.” New York News & Features. New York Magazine, 14 Oct. 2007. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. <http://nymag.com/news/features/39319/&gt;.

Mascia, Jennifer. “A Web Site That’s Not Afraid to Pick a Fight.” NYTimes.com. New York Times, 12 July 2010. Web. 23 Mar. 2012. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B0CEEDB103BF931A25754C0A9669D8B63&gt;.

Wazny, Katelyn M. “Feminist Communities Online: What it means to be a Jezebel.” B Sides 8 (2010): 1- 23.

“Who We Are.” Gawker Media. Gawker Media. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. <http://advertising.gawker.com/gawkermedia/&gt;.

“Celebrity, Sex, Fashion [and cute puppies]. Without Airbrushing.”

The role of advertisers plays an important role in the format of Jezebel’s page. The organization of Jezebel  reveals important information about the content categories. Denton’s goals to emulate traditional media was  reinforced with a redesign of the front page of Jezebel,and the other Gawker Media holdings to look more like the front page of a magazine or tabloid (Denton 2010). In an article published on Gawker’s life advice/organization blog Lifehacker, Denton explained how the different changes are a result of media convergence, blurring the lines between digital communications and traditional media (2010). The format allows the editors to differentiate, and highlight certain articles or categories as more important or popular (Denton 2010). In fact, much of the redesign was based on the intrinsically linked process of drawing viewers and advertisers (Denton 2010). This reflects further Jezebel as a profitable media enterprise, which could have an unknown effect on the content present and could effect how the material may be edited to cater to drawing in the most advertisers. However, this cannot be proven without thorough content analysis at the scale this blog cannot complete.

Specifically for Jezebel, each article is tagged with a different label, which indicates the content of the article.  Underneath the highlighted article on the main page there are headlines for other articles divided by some of the more popular labels. Along the side of the page is a traditional blog view, which shows the label and article title. Some of the labels are features such as “Dirt Bag” and “Rag Trade” which are published regularly, while others are adjusted to more current issues such as “Pill Baby Pill” which covers issues with the current debate about birth control.

The blog defines itself as describing “Celebrity, Sex and Fashion for women.”  These three categories loosely divide most of the content on Jezebel. The “celebrity” indicates content that focuses on gossip and celebrity news, including a feature called “Dirt Bag” which lists celebrity gossip, and “Snap Judgment” which shows pictures of celebrities, and asks commentators their opinions.   One common celebrity article is “midweek madness,” which analyzes the celebrity tabloid magazine covers for the week, playfully mocking the focus on celebrity pregnancy (Mascia 2010). The “sex” content focuses on issues related to women, including women’s health news, personal relationship and motherhood anecdotes, accomplishments by women in news and similar content. The “fashion” category harkens back to Jezebel’s proclaimed roots as an alternate to traditional women’s magazines, (Holmes 2007) and takes up a smaller portion then the other two categories.  There are segments such as “Rag Trade,” which outline news about designers and the fashion world, snf “Photoshop of Horrors”, which shows egregious use of Photoshop in advertising, as well as reviews of fashion shows (Mascia 2010). However, as a member of Gawker empire, the payment of the writers is driven by page views (Grigoriadis 2007). This leads to a de facto fourth category, composed of labels such as “squee” and “aww” which, as their titles suggest include videos of cute children, adorable animals and other videos which are going viral from websites like YouTube and Vimeo. These videos  are what Denton describes as “palette cleansers” – softer pieces to dilute the snark that may driver advertisers away. (Denton 2010) All of this content is compiled to form what Jezebel views as what women want to hear about.

Works Cited:

Denton, Nick. “Why Gawker Is Moving beyond the Blog.” Lifehacker. Gawker Media, 30 Nov. 2010. Web. 21 Mar. 2012. <http://lifehacker.com/5701749/why-gawker-is-moving-beyond-the-blog&gt;.

Grigoriadis, Vanessa. “Gawker and the Rage of the Creative Underclass.” New York News & Features. New York Magazine, 14 Oct. 2007. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. <http://nymag.com/news/features/39319/&gt;.

Mascia, Jennifer. “A Web Site That’s Not Afraid to Pick a Fight.” NYTimes.com. New York Times, 12 July 2010. Web. 23 Mar. 2012. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B0CEEDB103BF931A25754C0A9669D8B63&gt;.

McCarthy, Amy. “Self-Righteousness, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Celebrity Gossip: Why Jezebel Is Ultimately Bad For The Feminist Movement.” Feminists for Choice. Feminist for Choice, 8 Sept. 2011. Web. 20 Mar. 2012. <http://feministsforchoice.com/self-righteousness-gwyneth-paltrow-and-celebrity-gossip-why-jezebel-is-ultimately-bad-for-the-feminist-movement.htm&gt;.

Jezebel: Just one piece of Gawker Media

Before breaking down the significance of Jezebel, it would be helpful to explain the history and set-up of the site. Jezebel was founded in May 2007 as a purely female directed blog associated with Gawker.com, the popular online news/culture blog.  (PR Week) The website has 2.1 million monthly readers(Jezebel demographics).   Gawker Media was established in 2002 by Nick Denton and currently publishes eight different blogs that each target niche audiences. (Who We Are) The blogs range from Deadspin, which focuses on sports, to i09, which focuses on technology (Who We Are). The different blogs will often link to each other’s content, or have their content featured on the more general main site, Gawker.com. While Gawker at its root is meant to express the experience and ideas of a young New Yorker, the wide range of sites shows broader appeal(Grigoriadis 2007). A glance at the Gawker.com home page reveals that the stories expand far beyond the interest and experience of a New Yorker but still with the biting edge the city is known for.

Dent likes to view Gawker publications not just as a string of blogs but an empire of magazines like Condé Naste (Grigoriadis 2007). Additionally, many of the writers are journalist with credits from mainstream news outlets and formal media training (Grigoriadis 2007).  In fact, “Gawker is often credited with legitimizing blogging as journalism” and instead of more lowbrow blog posts, the items on the page are described as articles, which has a more professional connotation(Manjoo 2010).

This growth of Gawker media can be viewed as a result of the “professionalization of blogging.”  While blogging was once a more independent medium, professionals from the media are increasingly staffing it, or bloggers are becoming part of other media projects (Carlson 2009). An article in Atlantic Magazine discusses these phenomena, citing a discussion among bloggers where “almost everyone weighing in agreed that blogging has become more corporate, more ossified and increasingly indistinguishable from the mainstream media”(Carlson 2009). With the increasing popularity of blogging it has become a profitable industry, and is therefore increasingly subject to market disciplines” (Carlson 2009).  However, due to its occasionally risqué and controversial material, Jezebel is considered “a risky self for mainstream marketers” (Dobrow 2008).

The websites all feature visible advertisements, the first of which was an Absolut Vodka ad in 2003 (Timetoast).  All of the Gawker Media holdings are vastly popular, and together reached over 250 million page views in June 2008(Timetoast).  In February 2012, Jezebel received 11,274,170 page views (Jezebel Stats). Page views are displayed for the website as a whole, and individually by reach contributor (Jezebel Stats). There is also a detailed report for all of the Gawker media holdings, which breaks down the holdings by demographics. All of the statistics indicate that Jezebel, and Gawker in general have a large number of viewers, cementing their importance in the digital media landscape.

Works Cited:

Carlson, Benjamin. “The Rise of the Professional Blogger.” The Atlantic. The Atlantic Monthly, Nov. 2009. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. <http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/09/the-rise-of-the-professional-blogger/7696/&gt;.

Chartbeat. “Jezebel.com.” Chartbeat. Web. 19 June 2009 < http://chartbeat.com/dashboard2/? url=jezebel.com&k=2b3d990a244b3531b681932ac5c8ce33 >.

 “Demographics.” Gawker Media. Gawker Media. Web. 23 Mar. 2012. <http://advertising.gawker.com/demographics/&gt;.

Dobrow, Larry. “Lets Hear It for Women Who Suffer No Fools.” Ad Age Media Works. 13 March 2008. Web.  20 March 2012 < http://adage.com/article/mediaworks/hear-women-suffer-fools/125671/>

Grigoriadis, Vanessa. “Gawker and the Rage of the Creative Underclass.” New York News & Features. New York Magazine, 14 Oct. 2007. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. <http://nymag.com/news/features/39319/&gt;.

 “Jezebel.” Gawker Media Advertising. Gawker Media. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. <http://advertising.gawker.com/jezebel/&gt;.

“Jezebel Stats.” Jezebel: Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing. Feb. 2012. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. <http://jezebel.com/stats/?unique=true&gt;.

Johnson, Steve. “Jezebel: A Few words with the editor [Chicago Edition].” The Chicago Tribune.25 July 2007: Web. <22 Mar. 2012 < http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2007-07-25/features/0707230542_1_jezebel-gawker-media-celebrity&gt;

Manjoo, Farhad. “Blogs and Web Magazines Are Looking More and More Alike. What’s the Difference?” Slate Magazine. Slate Magazine, 15 Oct. 2010. Web. 23 Mar. 2012. <http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2010/10/this_is_not_a_blog_post.html&gt;.

PR Week. “Journalist Q&A – Anna Holmes, Jezebel.” PR Week. 4 June 2007: 12. Print.

Timetoast. “Annotated History of Gawker Media” Gawker Media” Timetoast., n.d. Web 20 March 2012. < http://www.timetoast.com/timelines/2561>

Wazny, Katelyn M. “Feminist Communities Online: What it means to be a Jezebel.” B Sides 8 (2010): 1- 23.

” Who We Are.” Gawker Media. Gawker Media. Web. 22 Mar. 2012. <http://advertising.gawker.com/gawkermedia/&gt;.