Time to mix my journalism training with my feminist outlook on life into a battle cry for woman-led journalism.
I recently started writing for Lydia Magazine, a webzine “for women by women.” I’m not naive enough to think my editor Kerri is the only one working on the project; last summer I had the pleasure of meeting Claire Bushey, an editor and founder of Rebellious Magazine for Women. More recently, a couple of my fellow MU alumnae, Joanna Demkiewicz and Kaylen Ralph, just made some pretty big waves in the community with the launch of The Riveter, a magazine and website that showcases female-written long-form journalism.
Anyway, my first piece for Lydia was a list of five modern authors who write strong female characters. I got great feedback from Facebook friends and did a lot of research to weed out the writers who have penned some of the most realistic women in modern literature, from Suzanne Collins to Khaled Hosseini. It was a fun project with little real reporting (unless you want to call adding a hundred books to my Goodreads Wish List “reporting”), but it also got me thinking about why we need journalism that is written directly for women by women. But first, we have to look at the sad state of women in the industry.
There are two components to the shortage in good writing for women by women. The first is a lack of women in the field. The second is (because of the lack of women in the field) the lack of professionals targeting female readers with topics other than fashion and celebrity gossip.
The “She” Shortage
Eight of the authors I listed in my story about fictional “femmes de force” were men. While this is less than the number of women writers I cited, it’s still telling that the first two writers off the top of my head were George R.R. Martin and the late Stieg Larsson.
In college it became painfully obvious that while most MU J-school students in the magazine sequence are female, three quarters of top editors are male. Women tend to find themselves at the top of fashion and gossip magazines, but let’s just take a look at how society views them:
The Content Conundrum
Unfortunately, the magazines that are led by women, such as Marie Claire and Elle, act as if all their readers care about is what Rihanna wore to the grocery store on Tuesday.*
Slate Magazine published a story in June that talked about how women’s magazines leave far less room for hard news stories compared to men’s magazines. This supports the idea of the male bias that says women’s magazines have to be fluffy, leaving the hardcore reporting to general and men’s publications. The investigative stories that were published by women’s magazines — such as Marie Claire‘s exposé on breast cancer charity scams — received little attention.
Perhaps this is a continued belief that women can’t understand or don’t care to read in-depth reporting. But just for the record, half of Mother Jones and Time‘s readers are women. We care, and pretending that we wouldn’t want to see better reporting in the magazines we’re supposedly reading more often is an insult to our intelligence.
All Together Now
Journalism could actually — le gasp! — learn something from advertising. In Mad Men, secretary Peggy Olson gets her first account because she’s the only one in the room who can accurately think of how a lipstick ad could successfully reach women. This, in turn, gets her a prime copywriter spot and catapults her career so she eventually becomes a top creative known in the industry.
OK, so this is a fictional example, but it still holds the same argument. If ad agencies in the 1960s could figure it out, why can’t national journalistic publications get it through their heads in 2013? The American Society of Magazine Editors continues to ignore female-written journalism at its awards each year, men get more bylines each month and successful columnists and critics are predominately male.
How do we fix this? We women certainly write enough, work hard enough (despite what Taylor Swift thinks) and devote ourselves to our craft. There are specified outlets tailored to forward-thinking women, such as xoJane, The Riveter, Rebellious and Lydia magazines. The next step is getting our male counterparts to realize we’re not writing our stories in glitter gel pen and dotting our I’s with hearts — which is a much harder task than it should be.
So come on, ladies. We have work to do.