Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Internet | Media

June 25, 2008

Fashion Magazines' Arch-Nemesis

Anna Holmes, the editor of Jezebel.com, mercilessly mocks the Vogues and Cosmos of the world.

Michael Gluckstadt

To a male reader who is unfamiliar with Jezebel, the experience of immersing yourself in its content kind of feels like going through your sister's closet. There are some things that may feel icky and uncomfortable, but ultimately you learn more about women than most men who aren't doctors have any need to know. In just a few short weeks following the site, I learned what the cover of Glamour is really telling you, that Anne Hathaway is in denial of her ex-boyfriend's fraudulent ways, and that having big boobs is a pain in the neck.

Anna Holmes has been the managing editor of Jezebel since it launched just over a year ago. Since then, it has grown into one of the most popular Gawker Media sites, and is famous for exposing the absurdity of women's fashion magazines. It would, however, be a disservice to reduce the site to celebrity-photo and body-image anti-clichés. There is also sophisticated political and media coverage through a female-oriented lens—though not one that is blind to other estrogen-less factors.

Gelf exchanged emails with Holmes while she was taking a break from the site to go on her honeymoon. In the interview below, she tells us what makes Jezebel commenters different, how she plans to make women's fashion magazines obsolete, and that while you don't have to like Maureen Dowd, you had better respect her. You can hear Holmes, as well as writer/blogger Chez Pazienza and Hipster Handbook author Robert Lanham, at Gelf's free Non-Motivational Speaker Series event on Thursday, June 26, in the Lower East Side. (The following interview has been edited for clarity and the datedness that accrues when an interview with a blogger is conducted over a month's time.)

Anna Holmes/Photo by Nikola Tamindzic
"Here’s how I hope we are regarded by women's magazines: with suspicion and with respect. Here’s how we are probably regarded: as an annoyance."

Anna Holmes/Photo by Nikola Tamindzic

Gelf Magazine: How was your honeymoon?

Anna Holmes: The honeymoon was great but now there’s too much work for me to catch up on! I did, however, get a tan and lots of rest.

GM: It says on your About Us page that Jezebel is the most commented-on site in the entire Gawker Media network. Why do you think that is?

AH: We are the most-commented site on the Gawker network depending on the month. Often we "lose" to Kotaku. As for why that is, well, I think that conversation and communication are some of the most important and rewarding parts of life to many women, and, as most of our readers are women (and our focus is on women) it seems to follow that we’d have a lot of conversation going on. Also, many of the Jezebel editors have strong opinions and our readers have just as strong counter-opinions, which is always heartening to see as a staffer.

GM: The commenters on Jezebel are known for their candor and sense of community. How do you maintain such a high volume of comments without descending into the pettiness that permeates so many other blogs?

AH: I think our comments sometimes descend into “pettiness,” but we are lucky to have an intelligent, voracious, and observant commenting community which is led, for the most part, by our commenter moderator, Hortense, who keeps a keen eye on the comments and makes sure to intervene if she feels that a commenting thread or particular commenter is moving in an unwanted direction.

GM: How does Jezebel fit into the broader Gawker Media network?

AH: Well, I’d say we are the only female-focused blog on the Gawker Media network, but there are many, many females reading other Gawker Media blogs so that seems unfair. I think we are still trying to find out how we "fit," despite the site’s success— remember, we’re only a little over a year old and we’re still figuring things out as we go. I do think that we are a mix of the hyper-intelligent, snarky tone of some of the Gawker Media blogs and the earnestness of the others, but that’s not something we planned on doing; it’s just how it turned out.

GM: As editor of Gawker's so-called "sister site," you're in a unique position to comment on the Emily Gould story. Is there anything to say about it that hasn't already been said?

AH: I haven’t personally commented on the Emily story for a number of reasons. I think that a lot of what Emily gets criticism over is a reflection of her particular generation—her "oversharing” or her focus on herself—and I also believe that a lot of the negativity directed at her was the result of her gender, her youth, her appearance, and her success. But to answer your question, no, I don’t think there is anything else to say that hasn’t been said, and if there is, I am not the person to say it.

GM: Where is the percentage of males higher, your readership, or the audience of a Sex and the City screening?

AH: The percentage of males among our readers is higher than a screening of Sex and the City. That’s an optimistic guess, I should say.

"I purposely avoided seeing Sex and the City because the hype around it was making me so angry I didn’t think I could go into it without bias."
GM: Speaking of which, what did you think of the film? Is it sexist for me to ask that?

AH: I haven’t seen the film, and no, it’s not sexist for you to say or ask if I have. I’ll see the film in a month or two. I purposely avoided it because the hype around it was making me so angry I didn’t think I could go into it without bias. And I had a group of staffers who were more than willing to go see it in my absence.

GM: While I'm at it, is it sexist for me (as my own mother alleges) to have an extreme dislike for many of Maureen Dowd's content-less, cutesy columns?

AH: Ha! No it’s not sexist for you to dislike Maureen Dowd—I have an on and off love affair with her. But even if you don’t like her writing style or the content (or lack thereof) of her columns, I think you do have to respect her position, her ability to generate and make news, and her talent as a writer and a wit.

GM: I think Jezebel performs a service to women's fashion magazines similar to Deadspin's relationship to the mainstream sports media. Namely, holding them accountable for much of the bullshit they put forth. How is Jezebel viewed in the women's mainstream media?

AH: I have no idea how Jezebel is viewed within or by the women’s MSM. When I took on the task of creating the site, I basically disengaged from many of my acquaintances in my social circle who were involved in the women’s MSM because I didn’t want to put them in a difficult position and I didn’t want to let my relationships with particular editors or writers get in the way of our critiquing the content in women’s magazines. Here’s how I hope we are regarded: with suspicion and with respect. Here’s how we are probably regarded: as an annoyance. I’d love to think that Anna Wintour or Kate White find us terribly frightening and threatening to their continued healthy readership, but I think that is probably very far from the truth. It is, however, what we strive for.

GM: Are readers of those magazines (and watchers of E!, etc.) grateful for your insights or bitter about what could be construed as an elitist attitude? Or is it a mixed bag?

AH: I have no idea what the overall reader reaction is regarding our criticisms of women’s magazines and the like. And part of me doesn’t really care. It’s part of our mission, it’s what we do, it’s what we will continue to do, and I think it’s absolutely necessary. I’m sure some of the readers are tired of it, or skip over those particular posts, but we cannot be everything to everyone, and yes, when warranted, we will beat a subject to death just to drive the point home to older readers and introduce certain concepts to new ones. And, unfortunately, the women’s magazines and gossip blogs continue to put forth the sort of bullshit that needs to be called out.

"We’ve gotten bigger, more stressed, probably sloppier, and hopefully broader in terms of the types of subjects we cover."
GM: With so much content produced daily, it's hard to keep regular features fresh online. How do you gauge the shelf-life of things like LOLVogue or Harper's Bazaar Index before they lose their punch?

AH: I gauge the shelf life of features by whether I am personally bored by them, and, often, by "complaints" we get. A few whiny comments isn’t enough to bother me, but when they begin to crescendo, it’s usually time to retire something or rethink it. That said, I don’t think we’ve been around long enough that I’ve grown tired with that many features; usually it’s not regular features that I tire of, but topics. Also, sometimes we just want to put up what we want to put up, even if people bitch and moan—we are trying to amuse ourselves as much as others, oftentimes.

GM: Do you worry at all that your regular Snap Judgment posts encourage the sort of girl-on-girl crimes you so vigilantly oppose?

AH: I worry about it, but not to the point that it paralyzes me from putting them up on the site. It’s an issue that’s been addressed at length with the commenters, in commenting etiquette posts, and with our commenter moderator, who keeps an eye out for it. But beyond that, there is not much we can do other than not put up headlines that encourage the girl-on-girl crime, whether in tone or in content. We put up dozens a day, however, so I don’t think we have a 100% success rate, but things have certainly gotten better since we called some people out on it. Problem is, we always have new readers and as they have been taught to bodysnark on other sites with celebrity photos, they often think it’s OK to do so on Jezebel until we disabuse them of that notion.

GM: In the Op-Ed you recently wrote in the New York Times, you call for Hillary to deliver a speech on gender akin to Obama's Philadelphia speech on race—after she's dropped out of the race. Does she still command the same level of national interest now that she's longer in the running for president?

AH: Hillary will command a high level of interest if she chooses to, I think. That is not to say she will command the same level of national interest—how could she? The drama and intrigue surrounding her campaign for the presidential nomination is not easily replicated—but if she wants to keep herself in the national spotlight, I think it’s just a matter of choice on her part.

GM: What did she achieve for women in this campaign?

AH: That’s not a question I can answer now. It’s too soon after the end of her campaign for me to be able to say anything other than what others are saying, namely, that she made it easier for other women to run for president in the future and, if she didn’t shatter the glass ceiling, she certainly put a lot of cracks in it. The thing about blogging is that opinions on issues are easy to come by but postmortems on those issues are not—they take time and not enough time has passed—for me, at least—to be able to make any sort of interesting statement on what Hillary Clinton "achieved."

GM: Jezebel is just over a year old. How dramatically has the site changed over that span?

AH: Well, the site has changed in a few ways: We’ve gotten bigger, more stressed, probably sloppier, and hopefully broader in terms of the types of subjects we cover. Some readers complain that it’s gone downhill; unfortunately, they never articulate just why or how that is. That said, I think the individual writers have gotten better—they know the drill now, they understand the pace, the subjects that readers want to hear about, etc.

GM: Has it been, and will it be, difficult to maintain the site's voice while it changes so rapidly?

AH: Maintaining the site’s voice is something that, if I do it, I do it subconsciously, because I’m very concerned with letting each writer on the site have her say—and they all have different things to say and different ways of saying those things. I suppose that constructing a "voice" for the site was achieved in large part by who I chose to hire in the first place. Of course, I do edit them and communicate with them and direct them, but there’s no "Rules for Writing for Jezebel" book circulating around, and I’m not sure there should be.

GM: Though it seems like forever in the world of blogs, where do you think Jezebel will be in a year from now? What about, if you can conceive it, five years from now?

AH: A year from now I will hopefully not be burned out, and still working on the site. The site will have a larger staff, more people in positions of management so I can step away from day-to-day stuff and focus more on the site’s future, and will be the destination people turn to when they want an opinion on issues affecting women. Let me tell you: I am constantly frustrated by all the topics we don’t have the time or man—or is it woman—power to cover comprehensively: sports, health, foreign affairs, etc. Hopefully in a year we will have staffers in place who will be able to fill the many holes that we have yet to fill.
As for five years from now, my god, I can’t even conceive of five years from now. I’ll tell you this: I won’t be editing the site five years from now. But less personally, I hope that five years from now—no, a year from now!—we will have made women’s monthly magazines so obsolete that they have moved their mockable content online…or revolutionized their content altogether.

Michael Gluckstadt

Michael Gluckstadt is an editor at Gelf and host of the Varsity Letters speaking series.







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Article by Michael Gluckstadt

Michael Gluckstadt is an editor at Gelf and host of the Varsity Letters speaking series.

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