Does the world still need a Sassy girl?

Jane Pratt revolutionized women's mags in the '90s. Can xoJane win back her one-time fans -- and their daughters?

Topics: Media Criticism, Feminism,

Does the world still need a Sassy girl?Jane Pratt, whose new site, xoJane, recently launched.

In the world of women whose names are also their empires, there’s Martha. There’s Oprah. And then there’s Jane. Jane Pratt, beloved icon of the “My So-Called Life” generation as the founding editor of Sassy magazine, never quite achieved the mainstream stardom of those other multitentacled media queens. Yet like them, she’s one of a tiny group of entrepreneurs who changed the industry by turning her distinctive persona into an aspirational brand. But can the girl whose candid, eminently girly style was groundbreaking two decades ago survive in a world where intimate chatter is as ubiquitous as a status update — and too often just as easy to ignore? Omigod you guys, Pratt’s back!

Launching Monday with the defiantly cute name xoJane, Pratt and SayMedia’s latest venture bears all the hallmarks of the Sassy media entertainment complex. The site was going to be known as janepratt.com until just a few days ago, when someone made the executive decision to go for a friendlier, more everygirl moniker. SayMedia must have been listening when the likes of Jezebel founding editor Anna Holmes opined that “There’s a significant portion of the younger generation who doesn’t know who [Pratt] is.”

Yet while Pratt’s name may not be immediately recognizable, her influence is everywhere, in the lively, unapologetically feminism-powered prose of Jezebel and a slew of imitators. What made Sassy, and later, its grown-up sequel, the inevitably named Jane, unique in their days was their intimate, conversational tone. Sassy and Jane didn’t dole out authoritative tips on how to make a guy like you or why that skirt makes you look fat. They didn’t sound like magazines whose contents were entirely dreamed up by Vassar girls bunkered in the Conde Nast building with no idea of what real girls were wearing and listening to and talking about on the street right below. They spoke to females in the voice of friends. They were infectiously enthusiastic and unabashedly snarky. They said that stuff sucked, right on the coverlines. It was goddamn revolutionary.



It’s an image that xoJane wants to continue, with its manifesto that “This is not the place to find out how to please your husband, mom, kids or boss,” and self-aware pieces like “What the publicists are sending” and a regular feature called “I’ll try anything once.” Monday’s crop of features has a forgivably first launch day feel, with content-boosting stories datelined all the way back to last fall. Fortunately, stuff like April’s “Are My Fish Oil Supplements Making Me Smell Like F*%@ing Fish?!” is pretty evergreen. And the presence of a “duh” in a typical feature suggests anything Pratt-related continues to not be Vogue.

The challenge Pratt has set for herself is formidable: how to be true to all those now older Sassy girls, still wearing their ringer tees and listening to Sonic Youth, while capturing the interests of their daughters as well. Back in November, it looked like Pratt was going back to her roots with another teen venture, a notion that gained instant heat when the current darling of fashion blogging, 16-year-old Tavi Gevinson, announced that she was joining Pratt.  That endeavor has in recent months morphed into what Gevinson recently referred to as “a branch under the JanePratt.com umbrella for teenaged people” though Gevinson gets name-checked plenty on xoJane. “Didn’t Tavi write about bringing this back already?” muses one story by Emily McCombs, bylined just “Emily.”

Is it possible to create something new that can rhapsodize about “my favorite lipstick” and speak to a generation of women who now “obsessively monitor my husband’s lube bottle”? Can Pratt, the mother of a growing little girl herself, be — as Everclear said back in the — ’90s — everything to everyone?

The generational divide isn’t what it used to be, in part because women like Pratt made it OK to be spirited and unfussy and rock ‘n’ roll long past prom night. At her best, she succeeded by taking teenage girls seriously, and growing older lightly. And when asked to describe the quintessential xoJane girl recently, Pratt unhesitatingly replied, “Everyone from Tavi to Patti Smith.” It’s an ambitious dream. But it offers the hope that you’re never too old — or too young — to be sassy. That’s so sweetly optimistic. That’s so Jane.

Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon and the author of "Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream." Follow her on Twitter: @embeedub.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 7
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    AP/Jae C. Hong

    Your summer in extreme weather

    California drought

    Since May, California has faced a historic drought, resulting in the loss of 63 trillion gallons of water. 95.4 percent of the state is now experiencing "severe" drought conditions, which is only a marginal improvement from 97.5 percent last week.

    A recent study published in the journal Science found that the Earth has actually risen about 0.16 inches in the past 18 months because of the extreme loss of groundwater. The drought is particularly devastating for California's enormous agriculture industry and will cost the state $2.2 billion this year, cutting over 17,000 jobs in the process.

       

    Meteorologists blame the drought on a large zone (almost 4 miles high and 2,000 miles long) of high pressure in the atmosphere off the West Coast which blocks Pacific winter storms from reaching land. High pressure zones come and go, but this one has been stationary since December 2012.

    Darin Epperly

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Great Plains tornadoes

    From June 16-18 this year, the Midwest was slammed by a series of four tornadoes, all ranking as category EF4--meaning the winds reached up to 200 miles per hour. An unlucky town called Pilger in Nebraska was hit especially hard, suffering through twin tornadoes, an extreme event that may only occur every few decades. The two that swept through the town killed two people, injured 16 and demolished as many as 50 homes.   

    "It was terribly wide," local resident Marianne Pesotta said to CNN affiliate KETV-TV. "I drove east [to escape]. I could see how bad it was. I had to get out of there."   

    But atmospheric scientist Jeff Weber cautions against connecting these events with climate change. "This is not a climate signal," he said in an interview with NBC News. "This is a meteorological signal."

    AP/Detroit News, David Coates

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Michigan flooding

    On Aug. 11, Detroit's wettest day in 89 years -- with rainfall at 4.57 inches -- resulted in the flooding of at least five major freeways, leading to three deaths, more than 1,000 cars being abandoned on the road and thousands of ruined basements. Gov. Rick Snyder declared it a disaster. It took officials two full days to clear the roads. Weeks later, FEMA is finally set to begin assessing damage.   

    Heavy rainfall events are becoming more and more common, and some scientists have attributed the trend to climate change, since the atmosphere can hold more moisture at higher temperatures. Mashable's Andrew Freedman wrote on the increasing incidence of this type of weather: "This means that storms, from localized thunderstorms to massive hurricanes, have more energy to work with, and are able to wring out greater amounts of rain or snow in heavy bursts. In general, more precipitation is now coming in shorter, heavier bursts compared to a few decades ago, and this is putting strain on urban infrastructure such as sewer systems that are unable to handle such sudden influxes of water."

    AP/The Fresno Bee, Eric Paul Zamora

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Yosemite wildfires

    An extreme wildfire burning near Yosemite National Park forced authorities to evacuate 13,000 nearby residents, while the Madera County sheriff declared a local emergency. The summer has been marked by several wildfires due to California's extreme drought, which causes vegetation to become perfect kindling.   

    Surprisingly, however, firefighters have done an admirable job containing the blazes. According to the L.A. Times, firefighters with the state's Department of Forestry and Fire Protection have fought over 4,000 fires so far in 2014 -- an increase of over 500 fires from the same time in 2013.

    Reuters/Eugene Tanner

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Hawaii hurricanes

    Hurricane Iselle was set to be the first hurricane to make landfall in Hawaii in 22 years. It was downgraded to a tropical storm and didn't end up being nearly as disastrous as it could have been, but it still managed to essentially shut down the entire state for a day, as businesses and residents hunkered down in preparation, with many boarding up their windows to guard against strong gusts. The storm resulted in downed trees, 21,000 people out of power and a number of damaged homes.

    Debbie Arita, a local from the Big Island described her experience: "We could hear the wind howling through the doors. The light poles in the parking lot were bobbing up and down with all the wind and rain."

    Reuters/NASA

    Your summer in extreme weather

    Florida red tide

    A major red tide bloom can reach more than 100 miles along the coast and around 30 miles offshore. Although you can't really see it in the above photo, the effects are devastating for wildlife. This summer, Florida was hit by an enormous, lingering red tide, also known as a harmful algae bloom (HAB), which occurs when algae grow out of control. HABs are toxic to fish, crabs, octopuses and other sea creatures, and this one resulted in the death of thousands of fish. When the HAB gets close enough to shore, it can also have an effect on air quality, making it harder for people to breathe.   

    The HAB is currently closest to land near Pinellas County in the Gulf of Mexico, where it is 5-10 miles offshore.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>