Published in The Portland Alliance, January 2007
In 1996 when feminists Lisa Jervis and Andi Zeisler began a black and white magazine named Bitch,
they planted its pages into fertile feminist soil. The mid
90s were a time of burgeoning DIY attitudes among young women who were
starting their own zines, knitting their own clothes, and starting women-only bands.
With the official tagline of “Feminist Response to Pop Culture,” Bitch
has provided a decade's worth of intelligent women's perspectives
on the movies, music, and other media that are an integral part of
most young women's lives. The new book Bitchfest: Ten years of cultural criticism from the pages of Bitch Magazine collects some of its greatest hits and adds a few new essays to boot.
Much like how popular culture is a product of its historical time, Bitch Magazine sprang from the editors' reactions to news being made in the 90s. The introduction to the book explains:
wanted to read something that would call the news media on its
ghettoization of feminist viewpoints and its vicious stone-casting at
women like Anita Hill and Patricia Bowman, who stood up to abusive
behavior from a future Supreme Court justice and members of the Kennedy
family, respectively, and were dragged through the mud for their
efforts. We wanted to read something that talked about why all the
actresses on the cover of Vanity Fair and Details and all the female
musicians on the cover of Spin or Rolling Stone were dressed in
lingerie with their mouths hanging open.”
Popular culture, in its many incarnations, is relevant to political
movements. I'm as familiar as anyone with the urge to throw the television away because the idiot box seems to get more idiotic every year.
However, television, movies and the internet are where citizens spend time
learning behaviors, ethics and the answers to many of their questions. To simply tune them out is not a viable option for a serious
activist. Righteous comrades have bragged about not owning a
television but the sad fact of most popular media being
rife with sexism, racism, and other unsavory bigotries means do-gooders need to keep our eyes on it.
Popular culture is just that, it is the culture most popular with average folks. In Bitch's
case those folks are women, particularly women under the age of about
30 who were on the younger cusp of Generation X-hood in 1996 and weren't as commercially pegged as their slightly older
With the exception of one unfortunate essay where the groovy bitchfest turns
to a graceless whinefest (“Pratt-fall: Ten Things to Hate About Jane”),
the selections make for the odd combination of casual yet thoughtful
reading. The earnest tone of the essays belie the
magazine's usual childlike graphics and tongue-n-cheek visual
presentations to deliver a healthy dose of academic criticism; when did
the word academic become a slur, anyway?
Many of the essays are
outstanding in quality and thoughtful without getting bogged down in boring text-referencing. Distinctly female voices come through when
authors discuss pointed topics such as sexual assault, gay parenting,
and lesbians who have sex with men.
One cluster of typical ruminations are collected in the mainstream
book-inspired chapter, “Beauty Myths and Body Projects.” The
chapter breaks down into essays on plastic surgery ("Plastic
Passion," "Vulva Goldmine") and less acknowledged prejudices such as fat-phobia
(“Are Fatsuits the New Blackface?”) and the out-of-proportion shame for
women who wear their facial hair proudly (“Beyond the
Bearded Lady”). This juxtaposing of deadly serious medical issues with
casual musings on the smaller sexisms in women's lives is what keeps
the book from seeming didactic.
Bitchfest is easy reading on cultural politics
and the subject matters span a range broad enough to find something of
interest to any progressive readers. If you've felt the hole left by
Portland's excellent feminist magazine Nervy Girl
since its untimely demise in 2003 you should read this book to catch up. If you've never heard of Nervy Girl then you should read this book to familiarize yourself with what the
women's movement has been up to these last few years you weren't
Copyright © by genderberg.com All Right Reserved.