A few months ago I spent the bulk of a Friday afternoon reading each and every post over on new web mag, The Vagenda. Yeah. Vag – enda. That’s a play on vagina and agenda. While not necessarily about vaginas per se (well...), The Vagenda seeks to, in the words of the editor, ‘call the bullshit on the mainstream women’s press’. While many of the posts are infused with a sharp and snarky dose of vitriol, I found myself laughing aloud at the clever, perceptive and downright hilarious accounts of women’s magazines such as Grazia, More! and Cosmo. The Vagenda highlights the manner in which such women publications attack and demonize female celebrities, poke fun at how these so called ‘women’s magazines’ are largely comprised of articles to ‘please him’ and stress the quite frankly ridiculous expectations such magazines place on women. They are not afraid to cast a wry look on the questionable journalism over at The Daily Mail (or ‘Fail’) either. Something I am sure the majority of us sane folk are onboard with too.
The Vagenda tackles the problems within the mainstream women’s press superbly well, shining a light on the utter inanity often at work - er, no More!, I don’t really care that 36% of ‘blokes’ prefer brown bread to white – and their seemingly endless hypocrisy; these maybe ‘women’s mags’ but just have a flick through some of the gossip stories for example, where week after week women are ridiculed due to weight gain, weight loss, constantly trying to ‘win’ back their exes and unable to cope with work and relationship pressures.
The Vagenda is far from being alone in challenging the mainstream media’s demoralizing approach to female experience. The Hairpin, Jezebel and the teen-orientated (but completely awesome and still relevant for anyone not in the intended age bracket) Rookie are some well known examples of internet outlets that are committed to approaching women issues and interests with intelligence, good humour and a healthy dollop of realism. Indeed, it would appear that the internet is the key tool at women’s disposal in what could be considered as feminism’s Fourth Wave. And while these are lighter options, to more political blogs such as Feministing.com, they provide an important foil to low-brow fodder, such as More! Cosmo, Look, Grazia etc.
Maybe not everyone is keen to jump at the notion of Fourth Wave Feminism, but its existence is unquestionable. According to Jennifer Baumgardner, author of the rather creatively titled, F’em, Goo Goo, Gaga and Some Thoughts on Balls, the Fourth Wave emerged roughly in the latter years of the last decade with the onslaught of new media vehicles such as blogs and Twitter. Suddenly, there was a whole new means for women to communicate with each other and places to pen opinionated pieces on what being a woman, being a girl in the twenty first century is really like.
In addition, it is interesting to note the dialogue between fashion and feminism that has been gaining momentum in the past few years also. The Style Rookie, Fashion Pirate, Hipster Musings, The Man Repeller and even Advanced Style are all examples of fashion blogs that celebrate this idea of women dressing for themselves rather than giving into mainstream perceptions of beauty and looking ‘hot’ or sexy in a conventional manner. With physical appearance as a key (if sometimes unfortunate yet undisputable) aspect of female experience, there is a growing appetite among women to use their clothes as a means to question, if not attack societal expectations on what we as woman should look and dress like.
We need such outlets to counteract the derogatory way in which women are pitched to in the mainstream media. I want to read something smart and real and witty that actually relates to my day to day experience as a woman. In general, I don’t wear ‘cute but sexy’ dresses whilst baking cupcakes and the ‘adorkable’ Zooey Deschanel is certainly no icon of mine. I am sick of being told that ‘real’ women have curves only to turn the page to find some soap star being derided for minor weight gain that is inevitably linked, in the eyes of the publication, to her being dumped.
Internet sites such as The Vagenda recognize crucially that women want a much more rounded approach to lifestyle matters and wish for the diversity of women’s experience to be recognized (indeed, The Vagenda has been featured on The Guardian website twice with the magazine growing in significant popularity. Great things lie on the horizon. ). While these online women websites differ in the extent to which they may be overtly feminist , they are feminist because they care about how women are being spoken to in mainstream media and they seek to offer something true to what being a woman in the twenty first century is actually about. It boils down to this: what we see so very often in these magazines does not correlate to women’s actual experience. But the internet is trying to do something about this.