Women. Let’s real talk, okay? You think you’re reading real feminist publications, what with your Bitch Media and your Crunk Feminist Collective and your Clutch and your Feministing and your Toast. But don’t you need a REAL feminist publication? One that “puts news and politics right beside fashion tips”? One that can totally bypass the rules of feminism and do the earthshaking work of reporting on world events but ALSO on The Bachelorette? One like Bustle, a new web magazine which is different “because we recognize how many diverse interests are shared amongst the next generation of women”?
Well. Lucky for you, there’s this guy named Bryan Goldberg. Bryan has seen nothing out in the world that looks like what he’s just invested 6.5 million dollars in creating. Bryan also totally didn’t look, or else he probably wouldn’t have given his new publication, Bustle, almost the exact same name as a feminist publication that has existed for 20 years already, but no matter. When you’re a CEO with money to burn, there’s really no reason to do market research.
Yesterday, Goldberg announced Bustle’s presence with an article in the Silicon Valley startup chronicler PandoDaily that can only be described as a giant windbag mansplanation of women, media, and women’s media. Behold:
Creating an amazing blend of content — one that puts news and politics right beside fashion tips is what will set us apart. It will also help that we are fast… very fast. When a big event transpires, I expect us to offer original commentary on it within the hour. Sometimes that event will be an Egyptian revolution; sometimes it will be the next “Bachelorette” selection.
Yes, we believe that a partner-track attorney can be passionate about world affairs and celebrity gossip. On the same day. During the same coffee break. And there is nothing wrong with that. Welcome to the year 2013.
And we expect the content to change a lot. A day is an eternity. If a woman visits Bustle during breakfast, and then again at night, we expect the entire front page to have changed completely. Because the world has changed in those twelve hours.
Got that, ladies? That is how a clock works. And the news. Stuff happens in twelve hours. Bryan Goldberg is here to make that clear.
The logic behind Bustle, according to the PandoDaily piece, is that the new-media properties that have launched in the last decade—Goldberg names Politico, TechCrunch, Business Insider, Mashable, Grantland, and Gawker, as well as his own site, the sports-focused Bleacher Report—have been “most[ly] aimed to attract men.” Comparing their numbers to those on the web properties of women’s magazines like Vogue, Goldberg noticed that the women’s sites were coming up short. Thus, it must be that there simply weren’t sites catering to women and pulling down the same numbers.
What Goldberg did here perfectly indicates why he’s the wrong person to found a women’s site: He assumed that women don’t get their news from any space that isn’t pink and flash-animated with high-heeled shoes. He deduced, wrongly, that because Grantland and Politico and Gawker—which was founded by a woman—weren’t rife with, I don’t know, stories about skirts and periods and stuff, that women’s sites simply don’t exist. And apparently, none of the investors who ponied up for this wild new experience of “content for women” cared either way. (Valleywag’s Sam Biddle reached out to all five investors, and found only one to comment. And his comment was…”It’s early…judge in a year or two.”)
But it’s really, REALLY hard not to judge right off the bat. It’s hard not to judge because, unless “Hoop Skirt,” “Foot Binder,” or “Big-Ass Sanitary Belt” were already taken, there could hardly be a garment more inappropriate to name one’s feminist webzine after. It’s hard not to judge when you see Bustle’s tagline: “Redefining Women’s Interest.” (We’ve been defining it all wrong, you guys! It’s probably because we didn’t know how to use those fancy ink pens.) But it’s especially hard not to judge when Goldberg’s piece for PandoDaily includes an especially tone-deaf interview…with himself.
Is this a feminist publication? You’re damn right this is a feminist publication….
My job, as CEO, is to hire the right people. My job is to know a lot of engineers, editors, venture capitalists, and salespeople — and to bring them together. Knowing the difference between mascara, concealer, and eye-liner is not my job.
All right, ladies? That wacky shit you smear all over your face, whatever the hell it is, is of no concern to the men doing the real work of hiring the big swinging dicks of Silicon Valley. Run along now and do your hair with that bottle of lipstick! Also, I’ve heard feminism is marketable, so I’m going to say that word.
The comments of the PandoDaily piece are where this doucheyacht really hoists sails, though. When Gawker co-founder Elizabeth Spiers remarked that Goldberg didn’t seem to have researched his competitors all that thoroughly, and when Jezebel founding editor Anna Holmes noted that Bustle’s content already exists in many other web forums, Goldberg’s only semblance of a reply was to repeat variations on the themes of money, and hugeness, and, again, “difference.”
Bustle is a very different company from xojane or thehairpin. I would like for Bustle to be one of the fifty largest sites on the internet within this decade, and I would like to see it generate $100 million in revenue by that point. That’s not to say that it is impossible for a feminist site like thehairpin to also achieve this, but I think that we are approaching things differently. Raising a large round of venture capital is one such difference in approach. Partnering with a major media company like Time Warner is another….
There are many great female-focused websites out there, and some great explicitly feminist ones too. Very few have raised venture capital. Very few attract eight-figure advertising revenue. Very few have been acquired for $100,000,000’s. My goal is for this to be massive.
In other words: “We’re different because I have a lot of money and I want to make a lot of money.” Does Goldberg really think this is a novel approach to women’s publishing? That Gawker Media started Jezebel because Nick Denton just really wanted women to make friends on the Internet? And does he really think that he’s going to be the one to break feminism through to the global mainstream because he has the most money?
Since you didn’t ask, I will fully cop to being jealous. Bitch, and every progressive women’s publication and website out there, could do a fuck of a lot with 6.5 million. What we could particularly do would be to bring the feminist news-and-pop-culture combo that Goldberg seems to think is his own special mindsploding recipe but which we’ve been doing for 18 years, to a larger audience, with a bigger staff and far more resources. Which brings me to the fact that Bustle is currently advertising for a Freelance News Writer, who will be paid $100 per day for 4 to 6 posts, “3 of which would be ready for edit by 10am EST.” That breaks down to about $16/post, which, as Jessica Hopper pointed out on Twitter this morning, is less than half of the rate paid by all the sites Goldberg thinks Bustle should be able to leave in the dust. (It should also be noted that this rate is less than what Bitch pays per post, and we’re a nonprofit whose annual budget is probably what Goldberg has earmarked to pay for food at Bustle’s holiday party.) The job posting disappeared earlier this morning.
Women’s magazines headed up by men, in themselves, are nothing new—many of the mainstream women’s glossies in history, from Delineator to Mademoiselle to Ladies Home Journal, have been. Those magazines were highly prescriptive, inherently normative, and existed to sell female eyeballs to advertisers of lipstick, diapers, and household-cleaning supplies. Bustle, according to Goldberg, will be something so new, so different, it’ll knock our…oh, what’s that? Seven easy ways to wear your hair down? Anna Wintour is annoyed with Kanye and Kim? Six things you need to know about IUD’s? Oh. OH.
This is not to say that there aren’t going to be good pieces on Bustle. Perhaps it’s not fair to throw the innocent, well-meaning baby out with the venture capital-scented bathwater. But let’s also acknowledge that Bustle is doing literally nothing that other websites—feminist or not—haven’t been doing for years, and if Goldberg’s focus is on sustaining his current level of venture capital and hoped-for advertising revenue, it’s not going to be breaking any new ground. The female writers and editors that Goldberg hired for this venture probably don’t deserve whatever heat is now on them thanks to their boss’s utterly boneheaded dealings with the public thus far. But seriously: This guy is a douche. He told The Wrap yesterday that he “had to Google ‘IUD’ because it was on the front page of our site.” He tweeted that “Having a company full of girls is great —they snuck into my bedroom and filled it with balloons!” Look hard: Is this man really the future of feminist publishing, or someone who in four months will be asking for more Kardashian-focused slide shows?
But perhaps the most depressing thing about the Bustle story so far is that it underscores the entire narrative of how gender functions in the world of startups and venture capital. Writing in Medium, Karen Schulman Dupuis notes that a woman bringing such a half-baked idea (and presentation—Goldberg bragged that he was able to hook investors using only two slides) to an investor’s table would have been viewed as evidence that women have no place in Silicon Valley’s “meritocracy.” “When sites like Bustle get $6.5 million in funding from multiple VCs,” she writes, “it is a glaring statement that as long as the same old same old exists in VCs, then the same old same old shit will get funded.”
But take heart, Bryan: Even though you’re a laughingstock on Twitter, and people are talking about how you could have used, you know, a PR firm to launch this thing, you’ve already got at least one accolade to your name: Today’s Douchebag Decree. My eyes are a little blurry (even though I’m a woman and should know better, I mixed up my concealer and my mascara this morning), but I’ve got the trophy right here. And guess what? It’s massive.