This is a Bust!

Celebrating 15 years of the feminist magazine for "women with something to get off their chests."

Published June 10, 2008 1:20PM (EDT)

I wasn't much of a feminist in high school. Afraid of seeming shrill or self-righteous or hairy or humorless, I would call myself a "humanist" or an "equalist," as if those weren't euphemistic ways of saying that I did, in fact, support women's rights. But all that changed in the winter of my senior year, when I stumbled upon the feminist magazine Bust. I was lucky enough to have picked up the Winter 2000 "F-Word" issue and was shocked and delighted to find that a magazine with Gloria Steinem on the cover -- interviewed by Kathleen Hanna of Le Tigre and Bikini Kill, no less -- could also devote an entire section to sex and erotica. It was nothing like the dry, strident and entirely too serious writing that made Ms. a chore to read. Quaint as it seems to me now, before Bust, I had no idea feminism and fun weren't mutually exclusive.

Now, a full eight years after I fell in love with the publication "for women with something to get off their chests," Bust is celebrating its 15th anniversary. And it's come a long way, baby. Bust's special issue, out now, is an all-out Sweet 15 party, including interviews with Isabella Rossellini, cartoonist Lynda Barry and current screenwriting It girl, "Juno's" Diablo Cody. Amy Sedaris -- the quintessential brainy, crafty, funny Bust lady -- jumps out of a cake on the magazine's cover and poses dressed as Minnie Mouse inside.

Broadsheet e-mailed with Laurie Henzel, Bust's co-publisher and creative director, who has been on board since the very beginning, about the magazine's first 15 years and all the good times yet to come.

How has Bust grown and changed over the years?

Bust started out as a Xeroxed, black-and-white, stapled zine with a circulation of 500, and now we are at 95,000, so we've grown quite a bit. I think our readers are essentially the same kind of women as in the early days -- smart, independent-minded, creative women who can see through bullshit and are insulted by both the fluff and the dishonesty that most women's magazines are full of.

As far as subject matter, we go through stages. At first, we were very interested in presenting sex from a woman's point of view; most women's magazines, when they talk about sex, talk about either "how to please your man" or various sexual diseases and how to avoid them, and we just wanted to talk about how to find your own sexual pleasure. So, we frankly and humorously discussed vibrators and other stuff. Even today, this subject is very important to the magazine, and each issue includes a "One-Handed Read" -- an erotic story -- at the back. We put that there the way men's magazines put half-naked women all over their pages. Half-naked men wouldn't really work the same way in a women's magazine -- acknowledging the readers' sexuality and delivering them something that's purely for their pleasure -- but we figured an erotic story could kind of serve the same purpose.

We worked through a lot of "reclaiming" over the years, too, reconsidering certain subjects that earlier feminists had considered to be taboo for women. We thought about whether there was a place for fashion and beauty among young women. We decided that if it was acceptable for RuPaul, it should be acceptable for us. We churned through these -- after sex, fashion and makeup, we became interested, in the late '90s, in traditional "women's work" and started printing craft projects in the magazine -- knitting, crocheting and so forth. We figured it was something that deserved respect. That really took off, and we found our readers couldn't get enough of the DIY stories.

The most noticeable change is that we went from being a magazine that contained about 30 or 40 personal essays to a truer magazine format, with smaller pieces in the front, then a number of feature stories, then reviews. At first it was just a bunch of us spouting out our opinions; now we think of it more as a "lifestyle" magazine for independent, opinionated young women.

How do you feel that Bust has impacted the women's magazine industry?

I know that a lot of women at other magazines read Bust (they tell me), and we do see an influence. For example, a few years before they folded, Jane started reviewing vibrators, where they had never done that before. And the DIY and craft stuff is now popping up in a lot of places as well. We're now seeing a lot of Web sites that are feminist, even if they don't use that word, like Jezebel.

What, for you, has been the most memorable moment in Bust's history?

Oh, boy, for me personally? I've had so many great moments, interviewing my biggest idols, like Yoko Ono and Iggy Pop. When the New York Times featured us on the cover of the business section on Sept. 10, 2001, that was a great day, but that was short-lived, as it was eclipsed by you-know-what.

What will the next 15 years bring for Bust?

We plan on growing the magazine and our Web site,, and trying to reach as many women as possible, so when I tell people I work at Bust, I don't have to explain that it's not a porno mag.

By Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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