- Feminism Lite: Backwards and Forwards
Here are some fun feminist offerings about how two teenage magazines of the 1980s and 1990s—Sassy and Bitch—shaped the generation of women who read them. Plus, a postscript about where to look to see what is shaping young women’s thinking today.
How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time, by Kara Jesella and Marisa Meltzer. New York: Faber and Faber, 2007. 193 pages, paper, $18.00.
In the canon of teen magazines, Seventeen is the mother ship; Sassy magazine was a short-lived renegade rocket (Sassy ran from 1988–1994). Whether you were a devoted Sassy reader or have never heard of it before, reading journalists Jesella and Meltzer’s book How Sassy Changed My Life: A Love Letter to the Greatest Teen Magazine of All Time, about the rise and fall, influence and attitude of this short-lived phenomenon, is very engaging. What Sassy had going for it: a hip, ironic, cool, offhand, and decidedly feminist voice during a time of feminist backlash, and a trend-setting take on “indie” culture. Part narrative history, part meditation upon the times the story took place, and part reflection about the magazine and its place in publishing, teen girls’ lives, and feminism’s “third wave,” Jesella and Meltzer’s book offers a snapshot in time. Sassy’s story represents an important slice of relatively recent feminist history and also provides insight about the tug of war between corporate power and journalistic freedom, especially during the late 1980s and early 1990s (these issues seem to have intensified).
Readers harboring no previous idolatry toward Sassy may fear that self-definition: love letter. Indeed, Sassy was revered by many teens (also, twenty-something gay men, feminists of many ages, and revelers in a particular slice of pop culture). The writers do describe enough about the magazine’s content to fill in the blanks for nonreaders (and probably make you want to dredge up some back issues). [End Page 175]
Bitchfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine, edited by Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler. New York: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2006. 372 pages, paper, $16.00.
In their introduction to Bitchfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine, editors Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler lay out one of the central premises of the magazine (and book):“If the personal is political, as the famous phrase goes, the pop is even more so.” This compilation of essays from the magazine’s first decade demonstrates what feminist critique of pop culture looks like. Topics include “The New Housework Workout,” “What’s Up with the Mainstreaming of Gay Parents?” and “How Hollywood Keeps Single Moms in Their Place.”
My favorite essays are the ones that make me rethink something seemingly small, like Audrey Bilger’s 2002 piece about the phrase “you guys” (I use this all the time, especially with my three boys/guys). Bilger points out that from the television show Friends on out, the phrase has infiltrated, but “if you call a group of men ‘you gals,’ they’re not going to think you’re just celebrating our common humanity.”
Sometimes Bitch can get a little, hmm, bitchy. I was glad to see one of my all-time mean favorites included: Jervis and Zeisler’s “10 Things to Hate about Jane.” Jane magazine was marketed as an edgy women’s magazine. Reading Jervis and Zeisler’s critique-cum-attitude, such as “6. Jane still thinks we’re supposed to give a tiny rat’s ass how men want us to look and behave,” is kind of fun! It’s that combination of smart perspective along with a little attitude that makes Bitch—and this anthology—so terrific.
Postscript: Along with the printed-page worlds of glossy magazines or feminist responses to pop culture is the more fast-paced commentary offered from the blogosphere. Here are a couple of sites that will keep you current: Jessica Valenti, author of Full Frontal Feminism and a contributor to Bitch, began by blogging. Her site is feministing.com. Jenn Pozner, also a...