Since its inception, Jezebel offered a corrective to white male-centered media. With Election 2024 looming, the loss of yet another feminist magazine—killed off by venture capital—we’re left with even fewer outlets where women’s political issues are prioritized.
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It’s hard to even remember what women’s media was like in the early 2000s.
Sex and the City—the now-iconic HBO series, not the New York Observer column by Candace Bushnell—was leading the discourse on the newsstands, and it was … white, mostly. Thin. Blonde and bubbly and definitely not interested in anything so gauche as … politics. Everything was pink and if we talked about our vaginas we definitely didn’t use that word. There were a lot of Cosmos being drunk. It was our feminist right to buy shoes and handbags and kiss girls, but only if our boyfriends didn’t mind it.
The word “post-feminist” got thrown around a lot.
That is, until 2007, when into this candyfloss airbrushed girlboss cloud strode Jezebel, like your punk older cousin who crashed the wedding in head-to-toe black, smelling like clove cigarettes, pulling the bride aside to tell her to keep her own bank account.
Jezebel was bold and brash enough to inform us that those celebrities we were poring over were all airbrushed. They gave us permission to gossip to our heart’s content about hot dudes as long as we kept our grades up. Jezebel said if our boss put his hand on our ass, we should quit and told us how. Jezebel told us enjoying sex doesn’t make us a slut and then provided a bunch of info about sexual health so we could identify STDs. Jezebel never judged us for our consumer habits, but they did inform us that some of our clothes are made by women in sweatshops who are earning only pennies.
In short, Jezebel told its predominantly women readers that they could talk to and about each other about anything they wanted, and the site’s millions of readers and dozens of imitators took that advice to heart.
The site reported on sexual harassment allegations against powerful men long before mainstream publications took accusations of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and photographer Terry Richardson seriously. Its call-out format matched the urgency of the early #MeToo movement and made clear the stakes of allowing predatory men to continue to undermine women’s creative work.
So when G/O Media announced last week that it was shutting down Jezebel, the latest in a long line of closures for sites like Bitch, The Hairpin, The Toast, The Frisky, it felt like a load-bearing wall had collapsed.
In announcing the Jezebel shutdown, G/O Media owner Jim Spanfeller stated that “unfortunately, our business model and the audiences we serve did not align with Jezebel’s.” He did not elaborate as to which business model might benefit from firing everyone, nor what it is about Jezebel’s audience—millennial women—that made it unattractive to a media company.
But at a time when women are driving economic growth, achieving unprecedented political power, spearheading social movements, and changing the prospects of this country in the face of a misogynistic wave of violence driven by a misogynist political party, it boggles the mind that this segment of the population doesn’t deserve to be addressed by its own media.
With Jezebel’s death, readers in search of feminist content have few sites to which to turn—thankfully, DAME is still standing, though we are fighting every day to be here for you all. There are nonprofit women-focused newsrooms and old-school print magazines, but those tend to prioritize middle-of-the-road coverage, not incendiary commentary on the hypocrisies and indignities of the day.
The fall of a platform to nurture new women writers is a major loss. Jezebel, founded by editor and writer Anna Holmes, amplified voices and even launched a host of writing and editing careers, for so many women writers and editors we read today, from Kate Harding and Dodai Stewart, to Anna Merlan, Koa Beck, Anna North, and Jessica Grose. Jezebel reviewed women’s books and women-centered films and women storytellers who were making TV shows about women.
The once-vibrant feminist blogosphere never attracted the kind of funding and support given to white-male election punditry, and vital sites have either shuttered or moved onto TikTok or Substacks that fracture the collective voice of different women that made them valuable in the first place. Writers have personal brands, but outlets don’t develop a collective voice the way they did in the early 2010s, and the media suffers for it.
In giving voice to women’s anger, women’s humor, women’s stories that didn’t fit neatly into a magazine box, Jezebel created a place for the kind of writing now done across the internet, appreciated everywhere except where it began.
I’ve written before in this space about the rapaciousness of venture capital, which scoops up news sites and newspapers and then drops them when quarterly profits don’t immediately shoot through the stratosphere. The media business thrives on trust, and trust takes time to build, sometimes over generations of readership and relationships. Profits can be small, savings nonexistent.
Capital, impatient as always, demands double-digit margins and ever-increasing traffic and circulation, and when it doesn’t come, or come fast enough, capital begins to chip away at the very qualities that made the magazine, the newspaper, the radio station, the website attractive in the first place.
Audiences notice editorial declines like this. Audiences then turn to other outlets to spend their time or get their information. And, seeing traffic dip, management cuts more and more, to make the profit margin bigger, or stave off actual shortfalls. Round and round it goes, until there’s nothing left to cut, and by then the audience has noticed that there’s nothing left to read.
Jezebel published less frequently in recent years, offering shorter articles, fewer deeply reported pieces that couldn’t be found at other online outlets. Celebrity gossip and pop-culture snark were always reliable drivers of traffic, but those pieces began to overtake the site’s once-sharp critiques of political and economic issues.
But with its ending, online political media becomes even more male dominated. Traditional corporate media is already overwhelmed with dudes offering us their thoughts on abortion (repealing Roe isn’t that big a deal, calm down!), child care costs (just make sacrifices, like your entire future!), foreign policy (sending other people’s kids to fight wars is fun!) and elections (you hysterical girls are too worried about fascism!).
Online places like Jezebel could be relied on to counter the onslaught of men for whom women’s issues are interesting thought experiments, not real problems with real stakes. Without Jezebel’s voice, women have one less place to turn where they know they’ll be heard and understood.
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