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This Blog is Ending… But Social Media is Just Heating Up!

It is only after thoroughly analyzing the part that any conclusions about Jezebel can be drawn. It is clear that Nick Denton’s vision for Gawker media run’s through Jezebel’s core.  It is a magazine that knows its audience, and knows how to attract them. It does this through selective content, which parallels and aggregates other popular forms. It is part celebrity blog, part fashion blog, part feminist blog, and draws upon the appealing and crucial elements of all of them.  It also draws upon a rich history of women’s media, which blossomed creatively in an era of oppression. Jezebel is a new form of women’s media; in a new media for a savvier, and more well educated audience then some other forms of women’s media. This helps account for its differences, but acknowledges its similarities.  Jezebel defines itself by its critical voice, an inheritance from its older brother, Gawker.com. Even though Jezebel is “for women,” it has many similarities to Gawker. Throughout the blog, examples from Gawker that made pieces of Jezebel more salient, such as the idea of timeliness and Gawker’s transparency about its use of videos to draw attention.  Jezebel is framed by the taboo-ness of its name, which projects the type of image they want to craft.

While the issue of Jezebel’s feminism is inconclusive, it is undeniable the feminist strains it has. This is especially evident in its coverage of both personal stories and political/social narratives. However, it draws a closer comparison to other forms of digital media with its fashion and celebrity coverage. The cute videos are an Internet staple, and as the science shows, are guaranteed to draw interest.

Jezebel is the snarky girl in the friend group who eggs others on from the back corner.  She knows when to calm down enough to be liked, and occasionally causes a stir. After all Jezebel has been the part of national news and critiques, such as with the Redbook corner. But for the most part she just cleverly spars, talking over the television so that her commentary becomes a part of what the reader/watcher sees.

Armchair Analysts: Jezebel and Inaction

After breaking down the pieces of Jezebel, it is still hard to draw full conclusions about how it is a women’s blog.  One of the unclear pieces is if Jezebel fits inside the category of a feminist blog.   There are many undeniable parallels in goals and content. However, where Jezebel falls short is it full commitment to political activism. In her piece analyzing Feministing, Moswel discusses the activism built into the site. (2008) However, in Jezebel, the topics are too varied to really stir activism, but err more on the side of social critique. Jezebel writers are the armchair anthropologists of the digital age, sitting on chairs and jotting down notes on what they observe and hypothesize.  To truly be feminist, Jezebel would need to push beyond just observance to ask readers how they are going to take action against what has been elucidated by the writers of Jezebel.  In a similar way, Jezebel tries so hard to critique the magazine industry in their manifesto. Yet, with Nick Denton’s goals of creating the pixilated Conde Nast, they cannot help but fall into many of the same patterns.  The rhetoric penned by inaugural editor Anna North has cooled. In an interview with Madame Nior, popular current (and newer) writer Dodai Stewart reacts strangely, and almost in a coached fashion to this very question about magazine disapproval.

“Jezebel is not anti-magazine, we are anti-cover lies, anti-unrealistic Photoshop and anti-exclusionary content — whether it be targeting only white people, only thin people or only rich people. Personally, I love print…. But many mainstream ladymags are disappointing.”

But for as much of a fight that Jezebel puts against mainstream magazines, its content falls into many of the same patterns. There is the celebrity gossip, the analysis of who wore what, splashed with human-interest pieces. What sets Jezebel apart is its acidic tongue, but even that seems to fall short of really piercing celebrity culture.  Of course, Jezebel has made it clear that they do not deal in cruelty, Holmes pointing out in interviews that they never mention weight. (Johnson 2007) Really, in these areas they are treading into worn territory. Perhaps this is because their manifesto and begging was so focused on the fashion piece, that they forgot to really establish their goals for the rest, and fell fumbling into patterns of puppies and dresses.

However, this so far may be selling Jezebel short. One area they excel in is their attention to women’s issue. They have exhaustive coverage of LGBT issues, sexual health, reproductive rights and more. However, none of this coverage comes with the real impetuous towards change, only the passive resignation.

Sources:

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;

Stodghill, Alexis. “Black Beauty With Buzz- Dodai Stewart, Editor at Jezebel.com.” Madame Noire. Moguldom Media Group, 18 Oct. 2011. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <http://madamenoire.com/78847/black-beauty-with-buzz-dodai-stewart-editor-at-jezebel-com/&gt;.

Expanding “Sex” to “Sexuality” and Women’s Issues

Instead of direct retellings of sex stories, many of the posts in the “sex” category on Jezebel detail issues of women’s health and equality, especially how it relates to sex. This creates a segment of the blog that is more sexual/political, aimed at advocacy and change.  Stories like this one, both a story of a women’s encounter with rapist and a cautionary tale about digital privacy bridge the gap between the more explicitly sexual and the political. There are also segments about the ongoing debates about  abortion (Pill Baby Pill) and abortion (Roe v. World)

With their coverage of women’s issues, Jezebel is engaging in the power of blogs for potential political and social change. For Jezebel, different political issues, especially those related to women are monitored. There is detailed coverage of recent issues of abortion and birth control. Recently, Jezebel posted about the “Top  Scariest Places to Have Ladyparts In America,” which detailed the different anti-female laws around the country.

This links with the recent trend within the Feminist community of blogging about women’s issues with the intention of raising awareness and making change.  While Jezebel may not be explicitly feminist, it does cover issues that fall under concerns of third wave feminists (Mowles 2008: 31). Third wave feminism, like Jezebel is not a cohesive unit, but a compilation of parts around a set of ideologies (Mowles 2008: 31). One of the first blogs to blend feminism and attention to women’s health issues was Feministing.  Founded by Jessica Valenti in 2004, Feminsiting promised, “to be a platform for us [young women] to comment, analyze, and influence” (Mowles 2008: 33)

Mowles’s analysis of Feminsiting and the potential impact of Feminist blog describe many of the same characteristics present in Jezebel.  Feministing was created in 2004, three years earlier then Jezebel, in the height of George Bush’s “War on Women” (Mowles 2008: 32).  For both sites, there is a definite focus on women’s issues. However, “the content of the [blogs ranges] from media analysis, to political commentary, to frustrated rants about pop culture. Posts address diverse topics in an engaging and witty way” (Mowles 2008: 38).

Part of the sexual/political focus of the women’s issues on blogs is the intersection of different forms of oppression (Mowles: 2008 36) On Jezebel, African American writer Dodai Stewart often discusses the specific issues facing women of color.  In an interview with Madame Nior, a  “black women’s lifestyle magazine” Stewart explicated on the role of her gender and race in her writing. Stewart explains she “could never write from the vantage point of “black people are like this.” I try to write with honesty, from my personal perspective, which is as a woman of color” (Stodghill 2011). With the recent show Girls, which has been hailed as speaking for the generation much of Jezebel’s readership falls into, Jezebel writers has critiqued the absence of minorities in the show which purports to capture a universal experience (Stewart 2012).

Of course, through all of this coverage, these women’s issues, ranging from pregnancy to the difficulties of finding love in the modern era are all treated with the signature Jezebel snark.  Jezebel has expanded the meaning of sex in the tagline to mean “sexuality” and has focused on many issues that push it further into the realm of feminism.

Source:

Mowles, Jessica M. “Framing Issues, Fomenting Change, ‘‘Feministing’’: A Contemporary Feminist Blog in the Landscape of Online Political Activism.” International Reports on Socio-informatics 5.1 (2008): 29-50. Print.

Ryan, Erin. “The Ten Scariest Places to Have Ladyparts in America.” Jezebel. 18 Apr. 2012. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <http://jezebel.com/5887627/the-ten-scariest-places-in-america-to-have-ladyparts&gt;.

Stewart, Dodai. “Why We Need to Keep Talking About the White Girls on Girls.”Jezebel. 19 Apr. 2012. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <http://jezebel.com/5903382/why-we-need-to-keep-talking-about-the-white-girls-on-girls&gt;.

Stodghill, Alexis. “Black Beauty With Buzz- Dodai Stewart, Editor at Jezebel.com.” Madame Noire. Moguldom Media Group, 18 Oct. 2011. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <http://madamenoire.com/78847/black-beauty-with-buzz-dodai-stewart-editor-at-jezebel-com/&gt;.

Behind the name Jezebel

The word “feminist” is not the only loaded word to be associated with the website. The site’s name itself is a word with an extensive history and meaning, which has been co-opted by the site to be used as a form of self-identification.  The negative meaning of the word “Jezebel” stems back to biblical times, to the story of  Queen Jezebel present in the New Testament, and “throughout the ages Jezebel’s very name has carried sexual connotations, become a term of serious become linked with prostitution and become a term of derision and abuse.” (Gaines 1999:xv) Jezebel has been characterized as both a maleficent and martyred character in the way that many strong female biblical characters have been (Gaines 1999 16-18).

According to Biblical stories, Jezebel was the beautiful young Phonecian wife of King Ahab, ruler of the Israelis (Gaines 1999 xiii). The Israelites did not approve of her polytheistic beliefs or luxurious lifestyle, and when the country was said to devolve into sin, Jezebel was used as a scapegoat and was killed and left to be eaten by wild dogs. (Gaines 1999 xiii) Jezebel clashed with societal standards, as “ feminine influence was equated with evil, for Jezebel’s wickedness undermined patriarchal authority to enforce societies’ rules.” (Gaines 1999 xv)This story has lead to the characterization of a Jezebel as an overly sexualized women: prurient and beautiful, drawing men astray.

Today “Jezebel is firmly ensconced in popular culture,” portrayed in various forms of media from the name of a deadly weapon developed in WWII to a style of push up bra, accompanied by salacious advertising. (Gaines 1999 xvi) It can be seen in plays, poems and stories from throughout the ages, and with an overwhelmingly negative context (Gaines 1999).  It has been a logical transition to extend the word to newer media platforms such as blogging.

However, by calling their website “Jezebel,” Gawker Media  is clearly doing something that has become culturally common in recent years: co-opting the use a word used to shame a community, controlling its social power. To reduce the social power of a damning insult, the community that it hurts the most will often adopt it and alter the use to a more positive form of social identity (Celious 2002 88). A word with similar connotation the Jezebel that is a common part of lexicon is bitch, a word which some view has been co-opted by females as a form of strength and power (Celious 2002 90). Many posts on Jezebel use the word bitch, in quotes from other women or even in the titles of stories. In her article, Celious argues that the use of “bitch”  in this fashion is empowering because

“one, the act of naming or defining oneself is empowering; secondly, access to these representations and what these women represent make them empowering; and third, the perceived group identity of the consumer and the [creator] makes it possible for the definition of “bitch” to be viewed as benign and even empowering when used by individuals perceived to be members of the “same group.”

In a context like Jezebel, where the product is catered to a specific group. (For just how narrow, check out this post) the understanding could be positive, using Celious’s definition. Conversly, there are many who view the use of insulting words like Jezebel and Bitch, even by women, as further hurtful and a sign that the negative views have been internalized.  As Celious points out in her article, some believe that sex and power are so intertwined in society that in “ such a cultural setting, it is impossible to use the same tools, like one’s sexuality, which is used to oppress one’s self, to empower one’s self in a way that is not debilitating.” (Celious 2002 91) In Jezebel, editor Anna North also wrote a post about the same subject, entitled “Has The Word ‘Bitch’ Lost its Bite?”  In it, North discusses the different uses of the word bitch, not drawing any conclusions. (2009) She also recounts the first time that she was called a bitch.  Instead of being insulting, North found it empowering, implying that she was a women with conviction and intelligence. ( 2009)

It is important to unpack the meaning behind the title of Jezebel to fully understand the angel of the content. The use of co-opting a negative word pairs with the edginess of the content, and frames the information the blog shares.

Sources:

Celious, Aaron. “How ‘Bitch’ Became a Good Thing- or At Least Not that Bad” University of Michigan Perspectives 8.2 (2002): 90-96. Web. 11 April 2012 <http://www.rcgd.isr.umich.edu/prba/perspectives/fall2002/celious.pdf>

Gaines, Janet Howe. Music in the Old Bones: Jezebel through the Ages. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1999. Print.

North, Anna. “Has The Word “Bitch€”Lost Its Bite?” Jezebel. Jezebel, 17 Dec. 2009. Web. 11 Apr. 2012. <http://jezebel.com/5428773/has-the-word-bitch-lost-its-bite>.

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.