Photo illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
On Thursday, November 9, GMG Group CEO Jim Spanfeller announced he was shutting down women-focused website Jezebel after failing to find a buyer. After 16 years, six editors, four presidential administrations, tens of thousands of posts, hundreds of Internet shitstorms, and at least one gallery of digital illustrations of the penises of Walt Disney princes, one of the last pillars of the Internet. Web Feminism was going to shut up.
Jezebel gave me my first chance to become a writer, so her passing seems particularly unsettling, like learning that her childhood home was about to be razed. And while the site’s silent death is no surprise — private equity idiots don’t care about the cultural significance of the legacies they destroy — it’s still an incredible loss.
Jezebel was urgent and necessary when it was created in 2007, and remained so throughout its life. When it launched, mainstream women’s media was largely uncontrolled because it lied to its audience about what women looked like, how we should act, how much we should weigh. Red Book The magazine photoshopped Faith Hill to make her skinny enough for public display. Perez Hilton was still using Microsoft Paint to draw sperm on paparazzi photos of young actresses. The flip flops were above the waist. The tans were orange. The girls were going wild. Everyone’s pubic mound was inches away from being exposed. Jennifer Lopez was the only person allowed to have a butt. It was the golden age of the cool girl, the girl who liked everything boys liked and did everything boys did and said things boys would find funny and didn’t complain about any of it, while still looking fuckable. Women were publicly encouraged to express a very specific type of sexual freedom, and punished when that expression deviated from conceptions of the male gaze. And everyone agreed with that. Until Jezebel.
Jezebel took on women’s bullshit in the media before everyone else did, taking on the role of Mrs, slut And Insolent for the web generation. The site has faced excessive airbrushing and unattainable beauty standards, the reluctance of social media sites to tackle content encouraging eating disorders, fat-phobic comments from celebrities, unrealistic expectations of “having it all”, to the dirty behavior of powerful men, to racist casting in fashion shows. , television and cinema, the general sausage party which took place at the end of the evening in the television writers’ rooms. When the subjects of Jezebel’s anger fought back, Jezebel doubled her speed with the Internet.
Jezebel was an important political voice, treating women’s concerns as serious and vital issues. In 2006, a year before the launch of Jezebel, the Supreme Court ruled Gonzales v. Carhart, in which newly appointed Justice Samuel Alito joined four other Roman Catholics on the court to uphold the ban on so-called “partial-birth abortion,” with no exceptions for the woman’s health. I don’t remember hearing about this case in mainstream women’s media. But after the launch of Jezebel, feminist legal voices like New York Times’ Linda Greenhouse was no longer the only Cassandra to warn the public about the long-running conservative plot to use the courts to dehumanize American women. Jezebel has played an outsized role in mainstreaming the ongoing fight for reproductive rights, from TRAP laws in Texas to Todd Akin’s comments about “legitimate rape” that derailed the Senate campaign, to the Trump administration’s disastrous appointments to the Supreme Court until the death of Roe, and subsequent political galvanization of American women.
When Jezebel was founded, there were other spaces for feminist critique of culture and politics in general, but Jezebel was the most willing to get into a cafeteria fight. The site called out things the media told women to hide and ridiculed things the media told us were important. “The Jezebel blog is not afraid to fight,” declared one summer 2010. New York Times headline, alongside a photo of then-editor-in-chief Jessica Coen smiling with her arms crossed across her chest. A few months later, Coen would hire me for a weekend editing job.
I had been an active commenter on the site for years, dating back to the 2008 Democratic primaries between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. The site was the only place I found in the entire wild west of the Internet in early August that contained writing that actually made me laugh without making me roll my eyes. I was not belittled. It was self-aware, honest, and as a bonus, had a lively comments section that encouraged participation. At the time, I was working at a bank because I needed health insurance, but I spent most of my time at my so-called job reading and commenting on Jezebel. The comments section was way better than a bunch of baby boomer bankers anyway.
It wasn’t a wall-to-wall Kum Bah Yah. At worst, the comments section could be a sort of echo chamber nestled in a snake pit. It was a welcoming place for a certain type of person – but if you were politically conservative, religious, or a slightly overconfident man with an uninformed opinion, commenting on Jezebel would be an unpleasant and probably short-lived experience. There were a few greedy ones to punish them, but most of those who couldn’t hang themselves were yelled at. In the early days of Jezebel, comment moderators did what was called “de-voking”: removing all the vowels from a comment that broke the rules. Editors would select the worst comment of the day and post it in a special public post, where commenters could make fun of it appropriately. The site’s staff was criticized for ridiculing non-public figures and putting a premium on Lena Dunham’s unretouched photos. Vogue photo shoot, dabbling in disgusting body stories that some found sinister, and knee-jerk reactions that a cynic might read as rage-baiting.
Cliques were formed. Meetings took place. People were included. People were excluded. The commenting community has formed its own exoplanet from actual Jezebel content, sometimes linking itself to the site’s authors. Every few months, founding editor Anna Holmes would post something telling everyone to calm down. This would work for a few days.
Once I joined the site as a full-time editor, I gave up my job at a bank and moved from Chicago to New York. It was the most stressful and exciting time of my professional life. I wrote between five and ten articles a day, living on about half a gallon of coffee when I arrived and half a bottle of white wine when I left. I wrote furiously, without time to think about what I was doing or what I had done. I knew almost nothing about politics when I started, and by the time I left, I was invited to White House Christmas parties. I found myself at the center of some really damaging shit storms on the internet. I received death threats. I received marriage proposals. I ended up being somewhat friendly with a pre-Trump Steve Bannon. There was a specific bar in Nolita, a few blocks from our Elizabeth Street office, that I privately called “the crying bar.” It was a great place to cry during the work day.
Writing for Jezebel has messed me up, made me better, made me tougher, made me meaner. Some of the things I learned there I had to slowly unlearn and loosen. But without it, I don’t think I would have had the courage to pursue a career as a writer.
The death of Jezebel signifies the death of an important incubator of female writing talent. When I was on the site between 2010 and 2015, other names on the header included Jia Tolentino, Lindy West, Irin Carmon, Kara Brown, Joanna Rothkopf, Dodai Stewart, Emma Carmichael, Anna North, Tracie Egan Morrissey , Katie JM Baker, Anna Merlan, and many other women (and a few men) whose platforms and prestige have only grown over the years. The multitude of guest bylines that have been featured on the site would make any publishing house editor salivate. Beyond the header, the comments section was secretly teeming with talent – I met dozens of women in prominent positions in media and entertainment who confessed they’d known me since the days when I commented under a pseudonym, because they were there too. Jezebel’s fingerprints are everywhere.
A few weeks ago, Holmes, Jezebel’s founding editor, contacted me about an article she was working on for the New Yorker on Jezebel’s legacy, an article that was, strangely, published just days before Spankeller pulled the plug. In it, Holmes writes that she envisioned Jezebel as a space “with a lot of personality, with humor and edge.” I wanted it to combine wit, intelligence and anger, providing women – many of whom had been taught to believe that “feminism” was a dirty word or a word to avoid – with a model for critical thinking about gender and race that seemed accessible. and entertaining. »
Jezebel was indeed a space with personality – and an unvarnished reflection of the people who created it. His legacy, like that of a person, is therefore complex. Sometimes it was messy, brash, confrontational, irreverent, pugnacious, mean, angry, bitchy, quick to judge. Sometimes it was a chainsaw in a situation that required a scalpel.
At his best, Jezebel embodied the traits his audience aspired to: he was passionate, funny, fashionable, cool, intimidating, smart, sharp, thoughtful, powerful, curious, eclectic, intelligent, absurd, fed up, and, deep down, a a little hope. He insisted on our humanity, but he never asked us to comply with demands that we be anything other than human. While it is undeniable that Jezebel’s influence is now omnipresent, her disappearance will leave a void in the media landscape at a time when – in 2023 as in 2007 – women could use a break.