Jezebel Grew Up: The Website Used Upstart Humor to Teach Feminism to a Generation. Now It's a Media "Influencer."

By Malone, Clare | The American Prospect, November-December 2013 | Go to article overview

Jezebel Grew Up: The Website Used Upstart Humor to Teach Feminism to a Generation. Now It's a Media "Influencer."


Malone, Clare, The American Prospect


THE BOOK OF JEZEBEL: AN ILLUSTRATED ENCYCLOPEDIA OF LADY THINGS

EDITED BY ANNA HOLMES

Grand Central Publishing

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The website Jezebel was born in 2007 out of the idea that the urban (or at least urbane) American woman was a ripe demographic, yearning to read about pop culture, fashion, and sex in a more skeptical way than the package provided by the traditional glossy women's magazine. "In media, men are not a coherent sect," Internet entrepreneur and Machiavellian overlord of Gawker Media Nick Denton told The New York Times in 2010. "You go into a magazine store and see rows upon rows of women's magazines. [With women], there's a much clearer collective."

The mother ship blog of Denton's empire, Gawker, had made its name in the aughts by obsessively covering the then-Manhattan-centric media scene, turning its cool kids into Internet celebrities, their lives and movements chronicled, snarked at, and used as signifiers for Gotham's ills and triumphs. Gawker Media expanded to include a consortium of blogs focused on everything from sports (Deadspin) to gadgets (Gizmodo). By 2010, Jezebel, with its puckish Internet prose on modern womanhood, was Denton's highest generator of page views and a touchstone for the way feminism is practiced and relayed in the Internet-driven 21st century.

Denton hired Anna Holmes, an alum of Entertainment Weekly, InStyle, Glamour, and Star, and tasked her and a team of six with perfecting the alchemy of a highbrow, humorous evisceration of lowbrow indulgences like celebrity culture, held together by a pragmatic, women-are-too-smart-for-this sensibility. Enemy No. 1 was the set of glossies Jezebel saw as not only pandering to but conditioning women for advertising profit. After examining the mirror for jiggling triceps, aubergine under-eyes, and gelatinous back fat, where else could a woman turn in her hour of need to answer the question: How then shall we live?

Holmes recalled her animus toward magazines like Vogue as critical: "These outlets did not seem to realize (or accept) ... that there was a vibrant, powerful, and, most importantly, diverse population of women who did not want to be spoken down or marketed to, and whose interests included, but extended far beyond, the superficial traumas of split ends and celebrity breakups. In my most ambitious moments, I saw the site as a battle of the Annas: Holmes vs. Wintour."

THE SITE, WHILE FEMINIST, wasn't the Germaine Greer "cunt"-reclaiming type of space. Rather, it channeled the annoyances women had about the culture's treatment of them into farcical running set pieces. "Cover Lies," a recurring feature, annotated the front-page promises of magazines, "translating" headlines like "Shiny, Bouncy Hair: Easy, Speedy At-Home Blowout" to "Blow Money Blow-drying: Expensive Tools That'll Save You No Time." The site's posts had the casual tone of a recap between friends after a crazy night out or a Gchat about a stupid thing they'd overheard. "I felt both liberated and obligated to 'overshare,'" Moe Tkacik, one of the original Jezebel bloggers, has written of her time at the site. "[I copped] to all manner of offenses I would have elided in earlier jobs: unprotected sex, a history of eating disorders, a newfound dependence on attention-deficit-disorder drugs, belief in God, etc."

The realm of feminism had hitherto been dominated by academics, radical writers to be admired, and women dressed like Stevie Nicks who talked about their inner goddess. Jezebel's voice was that of a wry daughter inclined to make fun. The site's trademark debunking of digitally altered celebrity photos seeped into the popular culture, so that when in February of this year actress Jennifer Lawrence admitted upon the release of her Dior advertising campaign, "Of course it's Photoshop--people don't look like that," it was hard not to think of Jezebel's yeoman's work in exposing the common practice.

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