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Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - NEWS -

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

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