Editor’s Note: We rebranded our membership program as The Rage in September 2018.
When we say—and we often do—that corporate media is interested in publishing feminist perspectives only when those perspectives make them money, we’re often purposely vague. Why? Well, we don’t want to be accused of snarking or infighting or sour graping, for one thing; we also don’t want to suggest that only one kind of feminist outlet can make a difference. But today we’re ready to be a little clearer, so here’s what we mean.
Corporate-owned media, especially in the past several years, is interested in publishing feminist content first and foremost to make money for advertisers and investors on a group of consumers who have historically been difficult to sell to. That feminist content itself may be informative and fun and activist-minded, but ultimately, it’s just a tool used to bring both the eyeballs and the user data of those tough-to-reach consumers to one convenient place (#squadgoals).
Still not sure what we mean? Let’s be even clearer. And yes, here’s where we name names:
In 2013, Bryan Goldberg started Bustle as a new women’s vertical buttressed by 6.5 million dollars of venture capital and primed to be, in his words, “[T]he largest website in the Female 18-34 category” and “a billion-dollar company.” Goldberg used a thin veneer of feminism (oh, word, women can care about politics and religion?) to justify his quest for “many wealthy advertisers.” Not surprisingly, we weren’t exactly fans then. But now, Bustle has launched a new tool to help collect the sweet, sweet user data of Bustle readers in an “exclusively inclusive” way. But that’s not the best part. Seriously, you thought it couldn’t get better than “exclusively inclusive”? Oh, it can.
Because guess what Bustle is calling this group of readers who will be mined for user data that’s sold to advertisers? Just take a guess!
Not to be That Guy, but Bitch began our B-Hive—the monthly membership program that quite literally is the reason that Bitch is still around—back in 2009, when even Beyoncé’s biggest fans hadn’t started buzzing under the formal BeyHive umbrella. We designed giving levels with cute bee mascots, even! Thanks to B-Hive members who give, on average, $10 each month, Bitch Media has been able to expand our programs, deliver sharp daily and weekly content, increase pay for contributors, and support a community of media-savvy feminists who care deeply about editorial independence. And not the kind of editorial independence that depends on partnerships with LUNA Bars to fund content explaining things like the wage gap. The kind that depends on whether or not the story matters and needs to be discussed in order to keep the transformative work of feminism moving forward.
But we’re not here to talk about our B-Hive, we’re here to talk about Bustle’s, which just happens to extremely coincidentally have an identical name that someone there probably Googled at some point just for due diligence. (I mean, we don’t know! That is something one should do, though) and a bee-motif logo. To apply for acceptance to Bustle’s BHive, all a person has to do is take a short, probing demographic survey that tells you not to worry because all your info is totally confidential. So one of us did.
Kate, Bitch Media’s publisher, answered the preliminary questions, disclosing that she’s 64 years old and “Other,” as opposed to “Male” or “Female.” (Kate would like it on record that she’s actually 31, but always enters a much older birth date when taking corporate surveys.) Shortly after that, she got this response that denied her AARP-eligible self access to Bustle’s “‘exclusively inclusive” BHive.
Julie, our executive director, was next to take the survey. After letting Big Brother Bustle know that she’s in her early 40s, identifies as female, and has two children ages 11 and 8, Julie was offered entrée to the BHive—well, as soon as she signed an 8-page Terms of Service contract that allowed Bustle access to her Facebook data and included phrases that made it pretty clear that the “confidential” data she shared as part of her membership was definitely going to be exploited. (To wit: “By submitting User Content through the Services, you hereby do and shall grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, perpetual, royalty-free, fully paid, sublicensable and transferable license to use, edit, modify, truncate, aggregate, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, perform, and otherwise fully exploit the User Content…” [Italics ours])
When Bustle enthuses that it wants you to join its BHive so “we can inform the entire universe about what’s important to Bustlers and all the millennial ladies that are driving public opinion and trends,” what it’s really saying is this: The “universe” is advertisers, those advertisers want to move as many units as possible, and Bustle is going to flatter you by telling you that your voice matters while it serves you up on a silver platter so a multinational corporation can sell more “empowering” body lotion. (And all those targeted surveys and quizzes they’re trying to sell as a perk of your membership to this special club? That’s called market research, and it usually requires paid compensation for a volunteer’s insights and opinions. We see you, Bustle.)
This is not feminism. This is corporate media doing what corporate media has always done and trying to fool you into thinking there’s some cooler, nobler angle. Spoiler: There isn’t.
What Bustle is doing isn’t about working toward equality, or liberating women from circumscribed gender roles, or even about making media and pop culture better reflect people’s real lives and identities. It’s about using women to sell shit to other women in order to further benefit wealthy people who literally do not care what they’re selling as long as it makes them more money. At a time when media outlets are being held accountable for tokenizing marginalized people for buzzy content while failing to include them in their leadership—or failing to even pay those writers at all—Bustle ought to know that its listicle-driven, SEO-superfriendly content isn’t fooling anyone anymore.
This kind of marketplace-feminist spin is just one reason why Bitch Media is and has always been independently funded. Not only are we definitely not in the business of 1. Using mysterious qualifications to determine whether or not you as a reader are a worthy set of eyeballs to sell back to some corporate advertiser, but 2. We only serve our mission, which is to 3. Provide and encourage an engaged feminist response to pop culture and mainstream media.
And here’s our response to Bustle’s mainstream media move: If you’re going to say that you were founded with a “very simple maxim” that “every woman should have a voice, and that voice should be heard,” then be clear about who you want to hear it. And if you’re going to shamelessly bite the title “B-Hive,” don’t be surprised when it bites back. Because at this point, it seems like your target audience is advertisers. That’s not some bold, groundbreaking move for feminist communities or women’s voices. That’s capitalism as usual, and dressing it up as feminist is an insult to feminism—and to your readers.