Law, law, law. It’s an endlessly fertile ground for blogs, but today I wanted to write something completely un-legal. I hope you don’t mind. I want to write about Vagenda
I enjoy Vagenda. For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s a feminist website (no groaning at the back) and it’s sharp, funny, irreverent and well-written. It’s brutally honest, down to earth and in part aimed at glossy magazines. It pokes fun at the sillier content. The ridiculous sex-tips, the articles urging readers to embrace their curves nestled next to those urging readers to adopt the latest fad diet which will take them from flabby to fabby in two days just by eating raw onions or some such. And if it worked for J-Lo….
Vagenda’s aim is to attract a new audience to feminism. An audience reared on Grazia and Glamour rather than Anais Nin and Germaine Greer. They told the Evening Standard
that they don’t want to make women feel stupid for buying magazines, but want to highlight the inherent sexism in the how-to-please-your-man-position-of-the-month type content. Suggesting that the “love yourself” message magazines purport to promote in fact hides the rather darker truth that all the glossies are just playing on women’s insecurities. I’m too fat, too ugly, not sexy enough, not rich enough etc. etc.
And this is certainly true for some magazines. A quick peek at the timeline of excellent tweeter (and lawyer) @londonfeminist
on a Thursday afternoon, when she live tweets her reading of Closer magazine, highlights the dangerous "she's too fat, she's too thin" twaddle peddled by some.
But much as I enjoy reading Vagenda, recently I have begun to feel a vague sense of unease. The site seems to be edging away from an inclusive, funny feminism and moving into a more dictatorial style of writing, one which seeks to prescribe what readers should be thinking and what they shouldn't be reading.
A recent article
lampooned Red Magazine, which Vagenda dubbed the “yummy mummy bible
First off, can someone explain to me what a “yummy mummy
” is? I have never really understood. Is it a derogatory term for stay at home mums who get their hair and nails did and drive over-sized cars? Or is it a catch-all term for women with children? Either way, Vagenda, it sounds awfully patronising and that’s really not supposed to be your game.
To the magazine itself. The first thing that pisses off our writer is an article on Naomi Watts. She doesn’t read it “because fuck, I’m 25, I’m basically dying, and that’s time in my life I’m never going to get back
”. But she somehow sees enough to get riled by the opening sentence: “Naomi Watts is the rarest of creatures
.” Our writer doesn’t like the word “creature
”; she says it would never be applied to a man, never to Johnny Depp. Grrr.
Only it has been applied to Johnny
and I’m sure a whole host of other men. It’s fair enough not liking the use of a word, hell we all have our bugbears, but it hardly seems the basis on which to write off a whole article she hasn’t even read.
Next up, a confessional feature from a woman who feels guilty about being mean to her disabled brother when they were kids. This pisses off our writer because she has a disabled brother to whom she has always been perfectly nice. Which seems a bit of a non-sequitur. This article is surely one woman’s personal experience, it’s a confessional feature rather than a guide on how to behave towards our siblings. Plus we’re none of us perfect. Who doesn’t look back and remember being a bit mean to a sibling in the past? For kids, it’s hard not to be a dick occasionally. But this confession is all too much for our writer, who again stops reading to prevent her mulling over “how vile the human race can be
A relationship therapy feature comes in for some spleen venting next, because it suggests weekly “couples meetings
” with spreadsheets, which doesn’t really sound super sexy. But where our writer laments the passing of “spontaneity
”, maybe the jump-me-now approach is easier when you’re in your twenties but an altogether trickier propostion when a woman reaches “yummy mummy
” status, juggling work, family and mortgage repayments. It’s tough getting older. Maybe Microsoft Excel and meetings help keep the flame alive for busy couples? Who are we to judge?
Then there is “Cool, clever and clueless
” (smart women that have been known to say silly things) makes the writer feel dead inside because she says it feeds into the idea that women are ditzy creatures (sorry) who are only funny by accident.
Next up is “Friendship top trumps”, which probably deserves a slice opprobrium. The piece is along the lines of that over-used Gore Vidal quote “everytime a friend succeeds, a small part of me dies
”. Which isn’t a very nice way to think but sadly it happens, people feel this way all the time. Men AND women. Although the woman writing this particular article does seem a bit of an idiothole, claiming she can cope with a modicum of brilliance in a friend but not too much please.
But our writer though, she’s a fricking saint. She never gets jealous of her friends, even though some of them are sleeping with famous musicians, because “I make a conscious effort not to be a dick to people
”. Most people make an effort not to be a dick, but how many people have never experienced a twinge of jealousy when their friends appear to sail effortlessly and upwards through life with few struggles along the way? It’s so rarely mean-spirited, it’s just hard to look at yourself in the light of their achievements and not feel a bit less sunny about yourself. NOT them I hasten to add. How many of us can hand on heart say that in a low, ugly, poverty stricken moment we haven’t compared ourselves unfavourably to our brilliant mates and felt a little envious?
The lampooning goes on, getting more het up in the health section. Some of the articles our writer picks out – most notably the suggestion that readers lose weight by blowing balloons in front of the mirror – are ripe for ridicule. But she concludes by saying “Don't buy this shit, seriously. This is one of the worst magazines I've ever reviewed
Excuse me? Don’t buy this shit? Isn’t that dictating what your readers should and shouldn't read? Isn’t feminism supposed to be about choice? I thought that was exactly what Vagenda was about
There is such a gap for a publication like Vagenda which aspires to be the Private Eye of feminism. But blaming magazines for all the world’s ills doesn't seem like a long-term plan for success. Vagenda's original material is so much better and funnier. Their articles about body hair, masturbation and talking penises give great big belly LOLZ. Pieces which have the effect of making those who enjoy glossy magazines feel stupid (whether intentional or not), make Vagenda seem like just another publication eager to tell women what they should and shouldn't do. How they should and shouldn't think.
Many people enjoy glossy magazines, they love the fashion, the interiors, the features that resonate with them. This doesn't preclude them from being clever, successful feminists. Why should they feel they’re letting down the sisterhood as a result?
Absolutely there’s a place for the tough, honest, hilarious writing of Vagenda but instead of nit-picking over the use of certain words and getting cross about features that don't exactly match their own personal experience why don’t they offer a real alternative? As one of their commenters asks “can anyone actually recommend a good magazine?
” Come on Vagenda put your V where your agenda is and create one. I for one would buy it.