I know what girls want

Four feminist zines give their anti-Cosmo versions of the modern woman. Plus: The Stranger celebrates the Seven Deadly Sins, and the Willamette Week makes one writer cry on her keyboard.


Jenn Shreve
June 18, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

The icon for Girl Power these days is an object that's tough and menacing -- like rapper Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliot or a spike-heeled sneaker -- tinted various hues of pink. For feminism (or Woman Power, if you're nasty) the image du jour is a darling little girl in a prim dress wearing or holding some symbol of empowerment, like a lion's head mask, as on the June/July cover of Ms. On the cover of the summer issue of Moxie, Girl- and Woman Power coalesce: Surrounded by stuffy, well-heeled men straight out of an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, an adorable girl-child wears a pink dress and waves a pink flag bearing the words, "VOTES FOR WOMEN."

These icons are meant to convey women's yin and yang, their blend of strength and femininity, and in various mutations they appear in the pages of Bitch, Bust, Moxie and Ms., four magazines that provide alternatives for women fed up with the homogenized, commercial offerings on the checkout stands. Like their glossy nemeses, each promotes a canopy vision of womanhood -- complete with artists, products and lifestyle choices -- that it assumes its readers share.

Advertisement:

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Ms., June/July issue

For the longest time, it seemed Ms. magazine's target audience was Gloria Steinem. The leader of the anti-Glamour pack, this editorial lovechild of the fledgling feminist movement first hit the stands in 1972 and has been publishing its advertising-free content on and off ever since. Ms. returned to the stands in April after a two-issue hiatus with a makeover and the mandate "Wake up and smell the estrogen" screaming from its cover. The goal was clear: Bring younger-than-50 women into the fold, or shrivel like a decaying ovary. The content is polished -- save for the occasional tiresome hail to the goddess -- and a broad range of topics is covered: women-centered news from abroad and home, money and the final year of the Lilith tour. "Facing the World," a feature by Liz Welch about a victim of acid-burning, a horrible practice in Bangladesh in which jilted men mutilate the faces of the women who've rejected them, is shocking in the right way, the way that spurs you to action. Susan Douglas' searching feature on a case where custody was granted to a father because the mother worked long hours is emblematic of the magazine's own grappling with unexpected consequences of feminism's success. Ms. is still a white, upper-class, educated woman's magazine, but at least it's trying to open its mind, which is more than you can say for Vogue.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Bust Summer/Fall 1998

Bust is subtitled "The Voice of the New Girl Order." It's an appropriate description. The writers who fill these pages are first-wave feminism's rebellious daughters. They've reaped the benefits of their predecessors' efforts, but have no reverence for them, choosing instead to celebrate the ways that they're different from the Woman Power set. Bust girls are personal without the political; almost every article begins with an "I" or a "me." They celebrate sex, lipstick, other girls and pink, vinyl hot pants. Bust girls rely on emotional arguments rather than intellectual ones. Overall, it's a fun read. The raucous, snarky Sex issue firmly established these third-wavers' sex-positive ideology. But Bust also takes on a boosterish tone that's annoyingly similar to what you read in YM or Seventeen. Like its glossy sisters, this zine tells you what a girl should like, wear, listen to and read. I may indeed find Bust's version of young womanhood more in tune with my own beliefs, but I resent their assumption that I do.

Advertisement:

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Bitch No. 10

It's hard to diss a zine. Nobody gets paid the big bucks to produce these things; they're labors of love. But it must be said that Bitch is a miserable read. Self-described as a "Feminist Response to Pop Culture," Bitch isn't concerned with real women, just the fake ones in TV shows, movies, books and other publications. The result is a lot of predictable rants against obvious targets. I don't need a magazine to tell me that advertising is sexist, that men's magazines are full of anti-women crap or that films featuring violence against women are popular (all these stories are in the recent issue). I imagine the woman who relishes Bitch also throws tomatoes at billboards because the models don't have hairy pits. Now I hate Kate Moss as much as the next woman-shaped woman, and a good rant against the patriarchy is fine now and then -- but Lord almighty, enough already! A magazine that defines itself solely by what it hates gives its enemy far too much credit and leaves itself with a void for a personality.

Advertisement:

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Moxie Spring 1999

Reading Moxie, "For the Woman Who Dares" (dares what? I wonder, but there is no answer), reminds me of "Kumbaya" around a campfire; it's a feel-good zine. Its ideal woman is too old to read Bust, too happy to read Bitch and probably prefers gardening to reading newspapers, so she's not big on Ms. The Spring 1999 issue focuses on role models, with lots of warm-fuzzy profiles and essays. This doesn't mean it's all schmaltz. In many ways, Moxie incorporates some of the better elements of all three zines. It looks a lot like Ms. and has a diversity of stories -- profiles, pop culture commentary, essays. Moxie provides some younger, Bust-y perspectives as well as a few Bitch-like rants. Still, Moxie is a little like a well-worn shoe -- dull. Women are great, yeah, yeah, yeah. Here are some great women, yeah, yeah, yeah. It's nice, but it's not the full picture.

Advertisement:

Some women are bitches. Most of us pick our noses. Many women diet even though we hate being told we're not thin enough. Some women fight; we also bond. Some dress as witches on Halloween; others dress like fairies. We're gay, straight, cosmetically altered, unshaven, cussing, non-smoking, fat, thin, bow-legged, politically correct, anti-feminist, orgasmic, frigid, hormonal, tri-nippled, partying, homebody creatures. Can one magazine cover all that? Probably not, which is why despite their shortcomings it's wonderful to see these four challengers, good and bad, to the Condi Nast stereotype -- a lady without much personality at all, but oh what delicious ta-tas.

The Stranger (Seattle), June 17-23

"The Stranger's 1999 Queer Issue"

Advertisement:

Pride, in case you haven't brushed up on your theology lately, is one of the Seven Deadly Sins. The other six are envy, anger, greed, sloth, lust and gluttony. In honor of Gay Pride week, starting next Sunday in a city near you, The Stranger compiled a stellar list of contributors including Andrew Sullivan, Susie Bright (also a Salon columnist) and of course, The Stranger's star columnist, Dan Savage, who have "put pride back in its original context -- pride as a deadly sin -- and examined it and its sister sins to see how they impact and play out in gay and lesbian lives."

Not every essay is brilliantly executed, but there's plenty o' wonderful stuff here to enjoy. Spencer Bergstedt presents an interesting take on envy: As a woman he envied men until he became one. Urvashi Vaid's anti-capitalist argument in favor of sloth is hilarious. Andrew Sullivan's screed against gluttony in the gay community seems out of place until you read Savage's take on pride: "Pride isn't killing anyone not yet, anyway but the fwap of rainbow windsocks is definitely making us dull and slow, and leading to a resurgence of bad plays and tight pants." Sullivan and, surprisingly, Savage are calling for a more mainstream, integrated gay community -- a perspective always in danger of being obscured by the colorful parade of men in chaps and topless dykes on bikes.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Austin Chronicle, June 11-17

Advertisement:

"Playing on the Past" by Chris Baker

I have a theory about why old video games remain popular, which is the topic of this article by Chris Baker. It's because journalists like Baker, unnaturally obsessed with the commercial products of their childhood, can't seem to stop writing article after nostalgic article after goddamned article in praise of the outdated things. Pac Man was great. Point made. Game over.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Boston Phoenix, June 17-23

Advertisement:

"Cruel to be Kind" by Chris Wright

When I ran over the family cat, Bugsy, back in 1990, it cost $600 to replace his hip. Personally I felt this was outrageously expensive. In addition to the vet's bill, Bugsy had this incurable skin condition that made him gross to pet, so I lobbied hard to give the poor bugger a one-way ticket to kitty heaven. I lost the argument. Nine years later, there's Prozac for animals, CAT scans (that's funny, by the way), dog-food cookbooks, even plastic surgery and acupuncture for pets. Chris Wright takes a refreshingly critical look at the proliferation of medical care and expenses for pets, and reports on the latest, most ridiculous innovations in animal care.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Willamette Week, June 16-22

Advertisement:

"The Graduates" by Nigel Jaquiss

When I set out to write a weekly critique of the alternative press, I hadn't anticipated reading dozens of articles about teenagers, proms and "Dawson's Creek." And, quite frankly, I can't read too many more. Discussions of high school are something I save for the therapist's office. Teenagers are, in my opinion, the best argument against procreation. But Nigel Jaquiss' interviews with five graduating seniors is praiseworthy -- precisely because it's not another cheesed-out feature on teen culture. I'm a little embarrassed to admit it, but this story made me cry. Precisely because of their awkwardness, these unlovely interviews bring back with painful vividness what it feels like to be in high school.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Village Voice, June 16-22

Advertisement:

"The Hillary Clinton Cheat Sheet" by William Bastone

Why Hillary Clinton would want to campaign for a Senate seat in New York when running, and possibly winning, will only mean years more of nasty articles like this one eludes me. For my sake, I wish she'd dump Bill, move to Ibiza and live her remaining days in obscurity. But since she's clearly asking for it, William Bastone sure does let her have it with this amusing list of past scandals, rated according to how serious a threat they pose to her candidacy. Note: This is quite possibly the first time in Village Voice history that they've done something to help out Mayor Giuliani. Shocking.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Phoenix New Times, June 17-23

"The Terminator" by Amy Silverman

Dr. Brian Finkel is a foul-mouthed abortion doctor who arms himself with semiautomatics, decorates his office with Elvis paraphernalia, calls the procedure he specializes in "the deed" and refers to one of the pro-life picketers of his clinic as a "double-butt-ugly mean-spirited bitch." Abortion foes have called for his death and Planned Parenthood would like to pretend he didn't exist. Although the illustration topping this article is in extremely poor taste, the profile itself is well-written and fascinating.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

San Jose Metro, June 10-16

"Computer Cleansing" by Michael Learmonth

While the product placement gurus on the set of "Felicity" are trying their damnedest to convince you that no dorm room is complete without an iMac, this solid report from Apple's home in Silicon Valley points out dwindling numbers of Macs in real-life college campuses.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

Kansas City Pitch Weekly, June 16-22

"Losing Control of Airline Safety" by Jarrett Murphy

I once dreamt I was on a plane that was tumbling backwards into the Puget Sound. Everyone was screaming and crying. My dream-self stood up, turned around and loudly demanded that everyone please shut the fuck up so I could die in peace. It's the best plane-crash dream I've had, and I've had plenty. My fear of flying is not diminished by my strange compulsion to read every book, article and report that proves flying is an unnatural activity for earthbound humans. Jarrett Murphy's piece (first published in the Hartford Advocate) on how FAA improvements could lead to disaster and how the agency's safety inspections haven't been all that thorough is well-reported and scary as hell. Narrow aisles prevent easy evacuation; flammable seats lead to death by smoke inhalation; planes are aging; air-traffic controllers don't get enough sleep. It's the stuff from which nightmares are made, though in reality, the problems are far less serious than stories like this may lead you to believe. (The Seattle Weekly also takes on airline safety this month with a report on allegations of assembly-line sabotage and shoddy manufacturing at Boeing headquarters.)


Jenn Shreve

Jenn Shreve writes about media, technology and culture for Salon, Wired, the Industry Standard, the San Francisco Examiner and elsewhere. She lives in Oakland, Calif.

MORE FROM Jenn Shreve



Fearless journalism
in your inbox every day

Sign up for our free newsletter

• • •