Jezebel is dead. After 16 years, the women’s news site, launched by Gawker Media under the editor Anna Holmes in 2007, shuttered for good this past week. Its most recent parent company, G/O Media, announced that the site was not sufficiently profitable and that it had not been able to find a buyer. The site’s closure will mean that its robust abortion coverage will cease; so will its investigations into sexual abuse and its feminist critiques of culture and politics. The entire Jezebel staff lost their jobs.
There is one way to see the closing of Jezebel as a symptom of an ailing media business. Journalism layoffs have become something of a grim ritual, with dozens of talented, hardworking and well-sourced writers taking to social media to announce their need for new work whenever the industry turns the corner on a bad quarter. Media companies stumbled at the turn of the last century, when the advent of the internet made print advertising dramatically less profitable; they never recovered. Digital media arose, but has not been able to eke out sufficient profit growth as social media evolves and fractures, and traffic becomes harder to juice. Jezebel’s slow death over the past few years was exacerbated by the injection of private equity into the media industry, a medicine that has turned out to be worse than the disease.
Jezebel, like many digital outlets that have shut down in recent years, had the potential to be respectably profitable. But it did not have the potential to be exponentially profitable, and exponentially increasing profits are what private equity demands. In this story, Jezebel became a casualty of greed.
There is another way of seeing Jezebel’s death that understands the end of the women’s website as the end of an era of feminism itself. When it launched in the 2000s, Jezebel was one of a number of feminist blogs, both competing with and complementing the work of rivals like Feministing and xoJane.
By the time of its shutdown last week, Jezebel was the last of these, having long outlasted the rest of the feminist blogosphere and persevered into a new era. (xoJane shut down in 2016, Feministing in 2019.) In their heyday, blogs like these were entertaining, prioritizing the interests of their young readership. There was celebrity gossip and sex advice, television recaps and ramblings about fashion and friendship. There was also politics, and increasingly, the self-consciously frivolous parts of the sites were suffused with an earnest and serious political orientation. They became not just blogs for young women, but a long-awaited intellectual intervention: a defiant revival of feminist commitment in an era when feminism was at a nadir.
By the 2000s, there was not much feminism to speak of, at least not in the US mainstream. Radical feminist activist groups that had sprung up in the late 60s left an indelible mark on the culture, but most disintegrated in the 1970s; the large liberal groups of that era that were left over, like Now, had receded from both their militancy and their relevance as Ronald Reagan and the rising religious right worked to erode civil society and delegitimize social struggle throughout the 1980s. By the 90s, what passed for “feminism” were the self-serving rape apologias of Camille Paglia and Katie Roiphe; women hastened to disavow the term. The media encouraged this turn to a smug gender conservatism, depicting feminism as narcissistic, alarmist and passé. As we hit the 2000s, most popular media outlets were more interested in “issues” like Britney Spears’s virginity or whether Jessica Simpson had become too fat.
Jezebel and its peer sites interrupted this misogynist turn, offering an invaluable alternative. They pioneered a voice-forward, irreverent and acerbic take on news, culture and women’s issues, advancing a tone and vocabulary that would have been unthinkable in print media, but which were the lingua franca of the internet.
From the beginning, the feminist blogs of the 2000s and 2010s allowed their writers to express anger, frustration, sarcasm and delight – emotions that were banished from the tone of more traditional journalism and frequently taboo for public expression by women to begin with. The sites cultivated a profound loyalty from their readers, inviting them into a club of shared conviction and inspiring them to build their identities as feminists, thinkers and allies of the staff writers long before anyone learned the word “parasocial”.
This was because the sites allowed women to write as whole human beings, encountering their world and the injustices and violence done to women within it. In this, feminist blogs like Jezebel were not only inventing a new internet form, but reviving an older feminist tradition; the sites’ use of the first person, exploring gendered experience through often sensationalized but always deeply felt personal essays, was a call back to the second-wave feminist organizing tactic of consciousness raising. By the 2000s, the social movements of the 1960s and 70s had flamed out or been defeated, and none seemed to have fallen so far as feminism. Yet Jezebel and its peers were the first signs that the internet might have a re-radicalizing effect. They were the fertile soil that germinated ideas about the US’s unfinished business of social justice, ideas that eventually bloomed into the social movements of the 2010s, from #MeToo to Black Lives Matter.
Along the way, the site became a training ground for young women writers and intellectuals, an encouraging and educational entry point for ambitious young women in an industry that frequently exploited and disposed of them. Some of the most accomplished and essential writers now working got their start at Jezebel, from New York magazine’s legal writer Irin Carmon to the New Yorker’s master of millennial style, Jia Tolentino. Jezebel cultivated these writers – taking a chance on the green and allowing their curiosity and talent to be its guide. These gambles paid off, not only in the careers of its alumni but in the work of its staff writers – now unemployed – whose angry, committed and morally lucid reporting over the past two years has been the rare bright spot of post-Dobbs abortion coverage. They understood the issue as one of human dignity and not, as other outlets seem to see it, merely a horse-race angle affecting Joe Biden’s re-election chances.
There is still women’s media, of course – New York magazine has a vertical called the Cut, and there are endless fashion magazines, from Vogue to Elle to Glamour, some of which are capable of real reporting. But the era of explicitly feminist media – as opposed to simply women’s media – appears to be over. Jezebel’s voice, its unabashed political commitment, its willingness to explore questions of freedom and dignity, right and wrong, and to risk making mistakes – these are not present in what remains of the media landscape. We’re at a moment when there is tremendous feminist sentiment – ask any political pollster what has been happening since Dobbs. But there is no feminist movement. Jezebel was one of the last remaining feminist institutions, and now it’s gone.
Jezebel was a place, a rare one, where young feminists could gather, learn from each other, and shore up their political identity. Not every line Jezebel took was one I would defend, and not all the ideas published there were good ones. But a dedicated women’s media was essential to the maintenance and evolution of a feminist tradition, a tradition that is more essential than ever in our current moment of abortion bans and anti-feminist backlash. Without sites like Jezebel, who will carry feminism’s torch? Where will young women, angered and confused by their gendered mistreatment, go to struggle with others in the search for a more just world? I don’t know yet. But I know that Jezebel was a resource for such women, and that they, and we, are worse off without it.
Source : The Guardian