from the hq
A look at the substance, support, and strategies of feminist media.
In fact, I’m supposed to be telling you about all the amazing work that Bitch Media has done this year in some snappy, neat, year-end way. But I’m not really a snappy, neat, holidaycard-in-the-mail kind of person. So I’m going to be real with you instead.
This job—director of community—didn’t exist a year ago. And even as I was going through the interview process, I have to admit I was a little guarded. It sounded too good to be true. An opportunity to build programs up from scratch and question and change the way things were already done? To reenvision what Bitch could be for our community and break all the rules along the way? It sounded like a no-brainer, right?
But as a woman of color in the nonprofit world, I’d heard that tune before. I’d been lured to numerous organizations with the promise of change-making and impact, only to realize it was just for optics or diversity quotas for grants. Despite the uptick in “woke” content, people of color still account for only 23.4 percent of journalists in large news organizations and an appalling 13.4 percent of editors. I’d seen too many women take on that uphill battle and had told myself I would no longer put myself in the position of being the sole person of color in any organization again.
So when the opportunity at Bitch came along, I called up every writer of color I knew to ask about Bitch: What did it prioritize? Was Bitch as feminist in its practices as in its pages? The consensus was “Bitch isn’t perfect, but it’s trying.” And I thought about that, for a long time. Was “trying” good enough? I crossed my fingers and accepted the job, but first I promised myself one thing: If nothing else, I can be an advocate for our voices—the voices of poor, Latinx, queer, marginalized, undocumented people—in this space, and it would be worth it.
Since that interview, when Trump declared war on sanctuary cities, Bitch made room for a piece about ICE operations in my hometown of Miami within the week. And when we talked about increasing our poetry coverage, I didn’t have to doubt that our reviews would include books by writers who look and speak like me. I’ve had the opportunity to engage in conversations on Latinx identity that push against everything that mainstream media depicts, and I’ve had the support of the brilliant women-of-color colleagues who have joined along the way. In less than a year, I went from cautious skepticism to not being able to picture myself anywhere else.
Because I’ve seen, time and again, an organization that puts mission and advocacy above all else. As someone who has worked in everything from national nonprofits to local literary organizations, from volunteer-run literary magazines to performance spaces, I know it’s so, so rare for an organization to be this willing to be challenged, this aware of where it still has work to do, and then to commit to actually doing that work.
In social-justice circles, we say that it’s not the intent that matters—it’s the impact. But in media, especially lately, the opposite feels true. When publications like Broadly, Bustle, Vice, or Teen Vogue devote more space to marginalized perspectives, we all win, of course. But what I try to never forget is that, at the core of these publications, there is only one intent: to sell things. We’ve seen publications go through what feels like entire life cycles this year. Teen Vogue went from Vogue Jr., to its woke reincarnation, to selling teenagers on $300 conferences. Broadly—vice’s vertical for women—went from “representing the multiplicity of women’s experiences” to selling those very women out to white-supremacist trolls for increased traffic. We saw Bustle, a selfidentified “women’s publication” that in fact was only a “women’s publication” because its owner (a man) was contractually prohibited from targeting other demographics, attempt to go full-on market research firm until we called it out. And
let’s not forget about the numerous publications that depend upon the labor of women-of-color freelancers (not sure if it’s faster to name names or just point you to all of Condé Nast) and have published remarkable stories this year only to turn around and not pay their writers? None of this is surprising or new. We women of color who have worked in these fields have always known this, have always been able to see through this.
Organizations, magazines, nonprofits—all have a central mission at their core. At Bitch, that central mission is feminism. Just feminism. Not selling feminism, or making it palatable. Just the daily grind that is the real work of intersectionality and justicemaking. Remember that episode of Popaganda where Sarah Mirk went to Chile to talk to activists about what it was like to live in a country where abortion was completely illegal? Or the heartwrenching piece by senior editor Evette Dionne on what the continued defense of R. Kelly really says about how we perceive Black girls? Or perhaps you recall the brilliant case for an emotional labor–based economy by Leah Lakshmi Piepznasamarasinha that ran in Bitch magazine a few issues back, which argued for the economic value of invisible labor carried out by disabled, femme, working-class folks? These are the stories that do the work, that open up the most difficult conversations, whether they generate clicks or not.
And so perhaps the biggest thing I can say, as someone who has had a year to see Bitch in action from the inside, is that I find hope here every day.
Despite everyone’s initial predictions, this independent feminist media outlet has only gotten stronger in the past 21 years. In 2017, we saw massive growth in our editorial team and our collective vision for the most radical, inclusive, intersectional content yet. And in 2018? That groundbreaking content will reach more people than ever through new projects in audio and video, an amped-up speakers program, and an even more fearless magazine. I can’t wait to show you what that will look like. But I need your help to get us there. I’m asking you to make a meaningful contribution and help Bitch reach our $85,000 goal by December 31. And I say meaningful because every dollar is meaningful to us. You can make a donation at bitchmedia.org/donate or give us a call (I mean it, you can call us!) at (503) 282-5699 and we’ll walk you through.
From coverage of under-the-radar pop culture that cannot be ignored, to amplifying the work of the fiercest feminist organizers in local communities, Bitch does the work that no one else in the media can. And that’s because our only intent, our only goal, is to be the most feminist media organization we can be. What we’ve found is that when you start with such intention, the impact always, always follows.
Was “trying” good enough? I crossed my fingers and accepted the job.
I’ve found a home here at Bitch as your director of community. My hope is that, as you see yourself reflected in this work, you will too.
So perhaps this is not the letter you expected to see. It’s certainly not what I intended to write when I sat down to pen our traditional year-end appeal (though when have we ever been traditional about anything, right?). But what I hope you do see is change, and hope, and something you want to be a part of. I know I do.
Feminism por siempre,
Soraya Membreno, Director of Community