How "Women's Media" Has Changed & What I Love About It

It's easy to focus on the flaws in women's media and what still hasn't changed in my decades being intimately involved with it. Here I want to talk about what's so great about it and how far it's come.

Mar 1, 2012 at 12:00pm | Leave a comment

Let me begin by noting that I don't think of this as "women's media" and that I think it is so funny to be in the grocery store or airport and still see a sign above the magazine racks saying "Women's Interests." Huh? What might those be, generalizingly speaking? OK, more on that later.

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It's healthy to critique as a path toward improvement, sure. However, what we give our attention to magnifies and it is therefore even more valuable, in my old wisdom, to focus on what's great. I could say that it is easier to be negative than positive, but I'm not sure it is actually easier, just habitual; positivity and gratitude are like muscles that you have to exercise constantly. It is common to look at what's wrong rather than what's right (I see people do this all the time when they look in the mirror), which is why I do that trick of hanging my head back over the side of my bed (get your minds out of MY gutter! it's MINE!) to see how nice the world around me actually is.

On that upbeat note: there is often focus on the flaws in media directed at women and what still hasn't changed in my decades of being intimately involved with it.  Here I want to talk about what's so great about it and how far it's come.

-- When I started as an intern at McCall's magazine while still in college, ALL of the editor-in-chiefs (including mine) of the largest women's magazines were men. Now: most all of them are women and, in general, gender schmender (or at least we are evolving in that direction, imo).

 --Blogging (Hi Mena!! I love you, honey!) has brought attention and a platform to writers and causes that not so many years ago would have been struggling to get one.

-- There are sites I will be so happy for my 9-year-old daughter to read probably sooner than I'd think: my pal Tavi Gevinson's rookiemag.com, for the best example.

-- And sites she may be able to write for probably sooner than I'd think (though who knows if she will have any interest in that -- I keep pushing her to be a musician but then all my damn musician friends tell her not to behind my back -- damn you guys!): most especially Zooey Deschanel (who I met at a party in Jimmy Fallon's hotel room at Chateau Marmont when they were filming "Almost Famous" and which encounter I'm sure she doesn't remember -- hi and biggest congratulations on everything, Zooey!), Sophia Rossi (who I only got to meet recently and we were clearly meant to be) and Molly McAleer's (meet soon?) site HelloGiggles, which is giving so many young women a positive place for their unique voices.

--Well, Jezebel, of course, which took it all to a whole other level with their no-airbrushing credo and continual pushing of feminism and good-times. When Jane magazine folded, I was so happy they were around. 

 --What we now refer to as "old media" has evolved in such Beautiful Ways. Glamour magazine is brilliantly incorporating "new media" into its pages and its mission, while preserving what is special about print. I love how energetic Cindi Leive, the E-I-C there, is about continually pushing for excellence and newness rather than settling (and without burning out, which has happened to me -- I must ask her for tips on this).

--Marie Claire, too, has helped over the years in expanding the concept of images of women that are "acceptable" to showcase, both in story-lines and imagery.

--My first-ever internship (pre-McCall's) was under an assistant(?) named Robbie Myers at Rolling Stone magazine. Well, we all know where she is now (ELLE!) and is so smart and sharp and is still kind and still teaching me stuff, just like back then. I also love that she has Joe Zee there alongside her when I see her at Fashion Shows now, because Joe and I became like two instant peas (now I am craving instant potatoes -- what is wrong with my brain?) in a pod hanging out during London Fashion Week many years ago and then Paris the same and, anyway, his smile and wit bring me right back to those days. 

 --Back to that Internet thing, it's easier than ever to find out what's going on with "women's issues." Like reproductive rights, for example! Feministing.com, let's say!

- Oh, sex! And masturbation! A certain staffer of mine [I want to make this a link to said staffer ] [no way, Jane! ] [so THIS is where you draw the line?? ] learned how to masturbate b/c British Cosmo explicitly taught her how. Helen Gurley Brown (hi sweetie!)  had a huge role in this, of course. And we can now talk about really dirty stuff on the internet that wouldn't go into mainstream women's print for various financial reasons. I feel like iVillage is like the McCall's magazine of the Internet in many ways and yet they feature sex positions. Woo-hoo!

--It is just embarrassing to even talk about everything Anna Wintour has done with the Vogue "brand," because it is just astonishingly impressive and goes without saying. It is really hard to keep something of that quality growing and changing across media and across demographic categories and she has done that. She has also nicely had me over to dinner at her house a few times, one of which being the night that I started eating meat again after THIRTEEN LONG vegetarian years. I mean, what would you do if you were at an intimate dinner with Jann and Oscar and four other huge names in your industry and Anna's chef served you veal? Okay, well maybe you would stand up for those little caged cows (is that what veal is? I can't remember), but I ate it and it was good. She is one of the warmest, most gracious hosts I have ever encountered. And that definitely qualified as a name-droppy trip down memory lane with virtually no tie-in to the topic at hand, but if you want to know more about Anna Wintour, ask me and I'll tell you and maybe that's the pay-off?

--Oh wait, one more old story that is loosely tied to "women's media": My mom subscribed to Ms. Magazine when I was about 7 and I remember sitting on the floor of her friend Bev's house (Bev also subscribed) and reading the Free Stories For Free Children and how much that magazine and what it meant to my mom meant to me. Then about 20 years later, I got to work alongside Gloria Steinem and her team (Ms. was on one side of the hall and Sassy was in littler offices on the other and I hoped hoped hoped that was fitting). I am still thrilled that she knew who we were and what we were doing. I was thrilled to be able to talk to her or any of her editors for five minutes in the bathroom. I watched some of what she and Pat Carbine went through to keep that magazine alive and I admire it so much (especially as at Sassy, the wonderful Christina Kelly and I had more the attitude of: Let's make this that magazine that was so great for a period in time and isn't around anymore, but boy was it great -- it is more work to stay in the game, I think).

ETA: Thank  you, dear reader, for reminding me to include fan-f-ing-tastic queer "women's media" superstars, like my old friend (that's a stretch, but we do go back) Ellen DeGeneres and sites like AfterEllen. If I kept things, I would dig up an old photo of me and before-Ellen together to obnoxiously show you. Also, she called me at home once after I wrote her a note thanking her for coming out and I Flipped. Of course.

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And now I am faced with the downside of this medium I have currently chosen (and which I LOVE for so many reasons): I feel like this could be a book. Or a thesis. And I want it to be all that. And I want to research it and think about it and that is not what this medium is about for me at the moment, when I feel like I have just started to draft this and have run out of time. Plus, someone just showed me a post in another "women's" site that made me cry because of its insensitivity and lack of research into the situation of someone I know. Yes, I'm a crier. So I am taking a break now and asking other writers, readers, people to weigh in here about what they like about "women's" magazines and blogs and things these days.

This is just the beginning.