When I began my masters’ research, I wanted to learn more about how popular feminist blogs, such as Jezebel, are influencing the ways readers think about and understand contemporary feminist politics, written through popular culture news and gossip. Although my thesis project looked at more feminist blogs, for this blog post, I want to focus on Jezebel as a way to think about the value of popular journalism or “tabloidization”. Jezebel was particularly interesting site for me to take a closer look at because it seems as though many feminists seem to either love or hate the blog.
Jezebel is a subsite of Gawker Media, a popular online media company that hosts a number of for-profit blogs that focus on opinion and celebrity. Jezebel’s focus, as their tagline states, is “celebrity, sex, fashion for women without airbrushing” that founding editor Anna Holmes claimed it to be also “unapologetically feminist”. Jezebel’s readership sees over 10 million monthly readers worldwide, and over 700,000 Facebook likes.
So what’s the problem, then? Many have critiqued Jezebel because the focus is full of superficial concerns to feminist politics (i.e. celebrity culture and gossip) including dedicating many posts to the cutest animal videos on the Internet. Moreover, feminists writers have called out on Jezebel for this “clickbait” (the main purpose of which is to draw audiences to their website typically through highly emotional and purposefully provocative headlines) because it is a subsidiary of the profit-driven Gawker Media. Clearly, profits, celebrity gossip and cute animals do not make up for serious feminist concerns.
With so many critiques, what is it that women readers gain from the site that keep them coming back? Can feminist news be light-hearted and gossipy? I don’t have any definitive answers to these questions at the moment, but I want to share some of the stories that the young women I interviewed shared with me regarding their everyday experiences with some of the sites.
For example, the fluffiness and superficiality was sometimes just how these young women wanted to read up on their current events. The readers I interviewed were critical of the content of Jezebel as they all acknowledged that Jezebel’s writing wasn’t at the height of journalism. However, it’s the writer’s’ light-hearted, fun tone, their “sassiness” that kept these readers on board and informed. A handful of the readers I spoke with told me that feminist news is usually quite depressing and blogs like Jezebel break up the darkness a bit. At the same time, the banalities may be helpful in drawing in new audiences who might otherwise not be attracted to the otherwise “more serious” feminist critiques of popular culture.
For some of the young women I interviewed, Jezebel features and articles provided them with the language to articulate their concerns broadly about women’s and girl’s issues, such as slut-shaming for instance. One reader told me that it was through Jezebel’s commentary of the public shock of Miley Cyrus and Robin Thicke’s Video Music Awards performance that helped her identify what it meant to slutshame other women. She added that this article in particular became an “aha moment” for her when she realized that she didn’t want to be slutshamed and no longer wants to slutshame other women the ways in which Miley was slutshamed, and and Robin Thicke wasn’t held responsible for his participation in the highly-sexualized performance with a younger pop star.
Although it seems that this is useful for Gawker because more readers are attracted to their site and therefore, advertising revenues may increase, those who are new to feminist politics may not feel so threatened by more serious feminist news. In fact, all of the women I interviewed explained how these blogs were their first entry point into feminism because they were under the impression that feminists could only be the stereotype of the angry, man-hating lesbian. Feminism is of course multifaceted, diverse and a little bit different for everyone. In that sense, feminist media should be just as diverse for diverse readers.
There are many entry points into feminism. For myself and many others, it seems as if popular culture commentary and weekly cute cat videos work to broaden our awareness of feminist contemporary issues as well as be a source of introduction of feminism (a ‘Feminism 101,’ perhaps) to many young people. Not to take the critiques of sites like Jezebel lightly, but I hope that others can see their potentials by expanding how we think feminist news and commentary should look like and embrace that others find different entry points.