Making Feminist Media provides new ways of thinking about the vibrant media and craft cultures generated by Riot Grrrl and feminism's third wave. It focuses on a cluster of feminist publications-including BUST, Bitch, HUES, Venus Zine, and Rockrgrl-that began as zines in the 1990s. By tracking their successes and failures, this book provides insight into the politics of feminism's recent past.Making Feminist Media brings together interviews with magazine editors, research from zine archives, and analysis of the advertising, articles, editorials, and letters to the editor found in third-wave feminist magazines. It situates these publications within the long history of feminist publishing in the United States and Canada and argues that third-wave feminist magazines share important continuities and breaks with their historical forerunners. These publishing lineages challenge the still-dominant-and hotly contested- wave metaphor categorization of feminist culture. The stories, struggles, and strategies of these magazines not only represent contemporary feminism, they create and shape feminist cultures. The publications provide a feminist counter-public sphere in which the competing interests of editors, writers, readers, and advertisers can interact. Making Feminist Media argues that reading feminist magazines is far more than the consumption of information or entertainment: it is a profoundly intimate and political activity that shapes how readers understand themselves and each other as feminist thinkers.
Elizabeth Groeneveld is an assistant professor of Women's Studies at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Virginia.
"SOMEONE ELSE ACTUALLY CARES AS MUCH AS ME": SASSY MAGAZINE, GRRRL ZINE CULTURE, AND FEMINIST MAGAZINES
In 1996, Bitch launched its inaugural issue, featuring a special section called "Sassy Sucks." Its second issue featured a follow-up article entitled "Sassy Update: The New Staff of the New-and-Not-Improved Sassy Get Defensive in the Face of their Critics" (Jervis 1996b). Bitch's vitriol for Sassy magazine certainly struck a chord with readers. In a letter to the editor archived in Bitch'S records at the Sallie Bingham Center, one reader writes in: "I was so excited to read [Bitch] and discover that someone else actually cares as much as me about Sassy's sad demise.. [M]y friends thought I was crazy to care so much about a silly teen magazine." Years later, when former Sassy editor Jane Pratt launched a new magazine, Jane, Bitch ran an article called "10 Things to Hate About Jane: New Rag from former Sassy editor Raised Our Hopes and Then Dashed Them on the Jagged Rocks of the Newsstand" (Zeisler, Jervis, and Hao 1999). What was it about Sassy magazine that elicited such strong responses from its readers, including the founders of Bitch?
For many women now in their thirties and forties, Sassy (1988-96) was a touchstone, a magazine that did not talk down to its readers, a cutting-edge girls magazine that was the first publication of its kind to run condom ads, a magazine that was subject to a mass boycott by right-wing religious groups in the United States, a magazine that introduced many readers to zine culture for the first time, and-finally-a magazine that left many readers feeling utterly betrayed in its final year of publication. This chapter introduces the girl culture climate of the 1990s that inspired third-wave magazine publications, a culture in which Sassy magazine played an integral role. The chapter situates third- and post-wave magazines within the context of the 1990s, focusing on Sassy and grrrl zine culture. It then provides an overview of the publishing trajectories of third-wave magazines, as well as post-wave Rookie and Shameless, outlining the philosophies, content, and financial struggles of each publication.
Responding to the lack of writing on girls' subcultures in the late 1970s, Angela McRobbie and Jenny Garber (1976) described the private spaces of girls' bedrooms as key sites for the cultivation of unique girl cultures, which involved experimenting with makeup and hair, gossiping with friends, and reading and discussing teen magazines. Simon Frith and Angela McRobbie (1978/79) argued that "[t]eenage girls' lives are usually confined to the locality of their homes; they have less money than boys, less free time, less independence of parental control" and thus the subcultural lives of girls are shaped by the space of the bedroom (50). Both Sassy and grrrl zines are part of what characterized a new kind of girls' bedroom culture in the 1990s. Both Sassy and grrrl zines constructed their ideal readers as smart and creative. Grrrl zine makers, particularly, often encouraged their grrrl readers to become zine makers for themselves, while Sassy encouraged their readers to explore music, art, and film outside of the mainstream (Leonard 1998, 110; Stockburger 2011, 18). This chapter argues that the girls' bedroom cultures propagated by Sassy and grrrl zines were the ideal petri dish for the growth of third-wave magazines and that the anger and betrayal that many readers felt when Sassy radically changed its publishing profile were intensely generative for many third-wave magazine producers.
THE STORY OF SASSY MAGAZINE
Sassy was the most immediate precursor to third-wave feminist magazines. The publication was founded by Sandra Yates, who worked for the Australian-based Fairfax Publishing at a time when the company was interested in entering the American marketplace. Yates wanted to create a U.S. equivalent to Australia's Dolly (1970-), a frank teen magazine and the highest-selling girls periodical per capita worldwide. Sassy had been up and running for only one month in 1988 when its publisher, Fairfax, dumped its U.S. properties. This move prompted Yates and co-publisher Anne Summers to form Matilda, which purchased both Sassy and Ms. magazine. In 1989 the magazines were purchased first by Lang Communications and then Petersen Publications in 1994. Under Petersen, the entire magazine was overhauled, rendering it virtually unrecognizable to its readers as "Sassy."1
Sassy was a breath of fresh air in the sphere of girls magazine publications in a number of significant ways, including Sandra Yates's early decision to hire as editor the relatively unknown Jane Pratt, whose innovative approach made the publication a cult classic. Pratt encouraged her staff writers to develop their own individual personae through their writing, a technique that was unheard of within the magazine industry. Unlike other magazines that would receive letters to the editor, all the Sassy staff, including Pratt, would receive individualized letters from readers who identified with them particularly. In their homage to Sassy, Kara Jesella and Marisa Meltzer write, "Readers got to know the staff so well that by the end of the first year, writers signed their stories with their first names only" (20). This older sister rather than parental tone cultivated a stronger bond between Sassy writers and readers. As Jesella and Meltzer argue, "Though Sassy was never able to match the advertising or circulation of other teen magazine giants of its day, the magazine more than made up for this lack in terms of reader devotion" (vii).
While Sassy was not an overtly feminist publication, it also set itself apart from other teen magazines because it ran content that was inflected by feminism and was generally considered more socially progressive than the other teen magazines that were its contemporaries. Under its ownership by Matilda, the publication was considered a "little sister" to Ms. magazine. Jesella and Meltzer argue, "Sassy was like a Trojan horse, reaching girls who weren't necessarily looking for a feminist message" (29). For example, as a consumer magazine, Sassy published articles on fashion and beauty but also tried to promote positive body image within them. However, the range of body types the periodical showed in its pages was quite narrow: pictures of plus-sized models were never featured in the context of fashion or beauty. In this sense, Sassy did not radically reconfigure the genre of girls magazines but rather attempted to bring a slightly feminist slant to the existing columns common to the genre.
Another way that Sassy was special was its frank discussion of sexuality, a practice virtually unheard of within the teen magazine genre in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The magazine was sympathetic to homosexuality and was the first teen magazine in the United States to accept condom ads. This difference from other girls magazines was more than a matter of contrasting editorial approaches; Jesella and Meltzer argue that, "[a]s teen-pregnancy rates soared, AIDS became a very real threat, and debates over what kids should be taught about sex in school raged, the magazine heralded a new way of thinking about girls and sexuality" (vii). However, this more open approach to discussing girls' sexuality led to a boycott of the publication and the companies that advertised within its pages. One article in particular, entitled "Losing Your Virginity: Read This before You Decide," drew the ire of a U.S. right-wing fundamentalist Christian group called Women Aglow. The initial boycott soon drew further support from the influential socially conservative groups Focus on the Family, American Family Association, and Moral Majority. As a result, almost every advertiser pulled out of Sassy, a move that was clearly more about business than moral outrage, given that the same companies continued to advertise in Dolly, which in many ways was still a much bolder publication than Sassy. In their discussion of the Sassy boycott, Jesella and Meltzer assert that "[Sandra Yates] had never really understood the dire threat the right wing posed. No one from Australia did" (37). The magazine was forced to pull articles dealing with sex in the following issue and Yates was asked to step down as publisher (40). From that point forward, the publication continued to moderate its sexual content in order to maintain its existing advertising contracts and in order to prevent another damaging boycott.
When Sassy was purchased by Petersen, the entire staff was replaced with new writers, and the amount of fashion and beauty content was increased, a move that deeply angered many of Sassy's readers, many of whom wrote letters of complaint to the magazine. According to Mary Celeste Kearney (1998), "Readers' criticisms of the new Sassy ranged from 'lameass,' 'boring,' and 'repetitive' to 'Sassy should be renamed YMII or Seventeen, The Sequel,' 'Some of...