BITCHfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine

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9780374113438: BITCHfest: Ten Years of Cultural Criticism from the Pages of Bitch Magazine

In the wake of Sassy and as an alternative to the more staid reporting of Ms., Bitch was launched in the mid-nineties as a Xerox-and-staple zine covering the landscape of popular culture from a feminist perspective. Both unabashed in its love for the guilty pleasures of consumer culture and deeply thoughtful about the way the pop landscape reflects and impacts women's lives, Bitch grew to be a popular, full-scale magazine with a readership that stretched worldwide. Today it stands as a touchstone of hip, young feminist thought, looking with both wit and irreverence at the way pop culture informs feminism―and vice versa―and encouraging readers to think critically about the messages lurking behind our favorite television shows, movies, music, books, blogs, and the like. BITCHFest offers an assortment of the most provocative essays, reporting, rants, and raves from the magazine's first ten years, along with new pieces written especially for the collection. Smart, nuanced, cranky, outrageous, and clear-eyed, the anthology covers everything from a 1996 celebration of pre-scandal Martha Stewart to a more recent critical look at the "gayby boom"; from a time line of black women on sitcoms to an analysis of fat suits as the new blackface; from an attempt to fashion a feminist vulgarity to a reclamation of female virginity. It's a recent history of feminist pop-culture critique and an arrow toward feminism's future.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Lisa Jervis is publisher of Bitch and a regular lecturer on media and feminism. Andi Zeisler is Bitch's editorial/creative director. Both women write regularly for newspapers and magazines nationwide.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

BITCHfest
1Hitting PubertyBEING A GIRL HAS ALWAYS MEANT NAVIGATING A TIDE OF mixed signals and unexplained directives, and when I was ten, none filled me with more free-floating dread than the Movies. If you're a woman between the ages of twenty-five and forty-five, you know what I'm talking about: that fateful day in fifth or sixth grade when the boys and girls were separated (the boys herded, invariably, into the school gym), sat down, and told, via filmstrip, all about what makes them different.Those of us schooled by Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret knew, if only vaguely, that there was something called a period that happened to girls that made us older, mature, even special. Blume didn't fully explain the mechanics of menstruation, focusing instead on its importance as a badge of maturity and the fact that it required some cryptic accessories (a belt?) to accommodate; the filmstrip we watched that day didn't do much better. I don't even recall a mention of blood, much less any step-by-step explanation of how the monthly process happened and why it was necessary. All information was disseminated on a need-to-know basis. And we, as girls, apparently didn't need to know what was happening to our bodies. Nobody told us, for instance, that growing pains are actually more than a figure of speech (a fact that would have saved me, a few years later, from being convinced that I had nipple cancer). And there was no mention of the important by-products of our changing bodies, either--the fact that theymight really bum us out, cause us to be jealous of and mean to each other, or attract unwanted attention.When the boys and girls were reunited in the afternoon, after the Movies, everything had changed. Neither side knew what had gone on with the other, but we now regarded each other warily, armed with our new (if cloudy) knowledge that though we played kickball together at recess and all trapped bugs on the sidewalks before dinner, we were now defined, irrevocably, against each other. I don't know if the boys got a parting gift, but the girls did: a pastel pamphlet, handed out after the filmstrip, produced by Modess and directively titled "Growing Up and Liking It."Puberty is a time when girls by anatomy become girls by imperative, socialized into a world where we're supposed to be more excited about a big box of maxipads than about, say, the wonders of the solar system. Tomboys are instructed to be more "ladylike." Boys are transformed from buddies into people we're supposed to either stay away from or develop crushes on. Instead of digging on our own unique qualities--our ability to draw or skateboard or double Dutch--we start focusing our energies on fitting in with everyone else, zooming unhappily in on our perceived shortcomings with the precision of the Hubble telescope.Since 1992, when Lyn Mikel Brown and Carol Gilligan published Meeting at the Crossroads, their landmark study on how girls' self-esteem plunges at puberty, we've slowly become aware that the problem is a universal one, affecting girls of all places and races and classes. Mary Pipher, whose 1994 book Reviving Ophelia built on Brown and Gilligan's research and prescribed ways for adults to help the girls in their lives through this time of crisis, identified female puberty in America as an update of Betty Friedan's "problem with no name," writing that "America today limits girls' development, truncates their wholeness, and leaves many of them traumatized."The problem may have had no name, but in the years since Brown, Gilligan, and Pipher identified it, the subject of puberty and its discontents has yielded some amazingly lucid, bracing, and resonant pop culture. From books (Dorothy Allison's Bastard Out of Carolina, Danzy Senna's Caucasia, Peggy Orenstein's nonfiction study Schoolgirls) to TV (My So-Called Life, Freaks and Geeks) to movies (Welcome to the Dollhouse, Girls Town, Thirteen), the past decade-plus has given girls a bigger platform than ever before from which to talk about growing up and not liking it one bit.But at the same time, it's also made puberty and adolescence more visible than ever before. We've always been obsessed with youth, but the age of media consent appears to be dropping ever lower. Adults read books about a pubescent wizard and get obsessed with The O.C. Teen starlets, once confined to the pages of Seventeen and YM, are sprawled all over the covers of Vogue and Elle, which have in turn spawned their own teen versions. Journalists who wring their hands over the thirteen-year-olds who traipse the streets in hoochie-mama ensembles buy their own assenhancing pants at Forever 21. The blurring of boundaries between childhood and adulthood in pop representations is sometimes cute and poignant, as in movies like Freaky Friday and its remake or those wacky Gilmore Girls, but more often disturbing--as when frat-house retailer Abercrombie & Fitch began peddling tween-size thong panties printed with cutesy comeons for the training-bra set.And ever since published studies of teen girls and relational aggression--Rachel Simmons's Odd Girl Out, Lyn Mikel Brown's Raising Their Voices, and Rosalind Wiseman's Queen Bees and Wannabes, among others--became big media news, the nuances of girls' untamed hostility have been shorthanded to bemoan an epidemic of "mean girls." The result is that media outlets have been quick to broadcast the most sensational examples of this girl trouble--girls who physically hurt each other (or worse, hurt or humiliate boys)--but less inclined to draw attention to the culture that does-so much to foster our anger and resentment.It's a difficult time, puberty, and maybe an acknowledgment of that was exactly what those stupid filmstrips, with their clinical, bloodless diagrams and stilted voice-overs, were trying to get across. But on the upside, puberty is often a time when girls in the process of being socialized into their gender are also politicized by it. They have questions that can't be answered by the pink and blue playbooks we've been using to define girls and boys since forever. They don't see why they should accept the status quo rules and limitations--don't climb trees, don't call boys, don't show your smarts--assigned to them just because they happen to be female. They challenge the lessons of sex, race, manners, mores, and everything else about girlhood that we learn everywhere from MTV to Tiger Beat to Toys "R" Us. They offer clear insights on crucial intersections of feminist consciousness and pop product. If the culture at large would just listen, we all might learn something.--A.Z.Amazon Women on the MoonRemembering Femininity in the Video AgeAndi Zeisler / WINTER 1996 
 
 
LIKE SOME GRIZZLED OLD-TIMER SITTING ON THE PORCH OF the homestead talking about the good old days, I think back to the first time I saw MTV and pity the prepubescents of today who didn't have the luck to see, as I did, the wonder of MTV when it first aired. I was eight years old, alone in my living room, and somehow I knew that I was witnessing a tremendous event: a connection with something that just wasn't accessible through after-school cartoons or Gilligan's Island reruns. When I recall what I saw back then, my perception of those early videos creates the memory that resonates in my TV-addled mind as the truth. And what I remember best are the images of women I saw on MTV. I'm aware of those representations in a different way than I was in those first golden days when I sat glued to the small screen, clutching a handful of Fritos. What I say about these images now comes from filtering them through a screen of theory and history and related bullshit, but it still comes from what I saw back then. The women of MTV were not merely women; rather, they were on-screen archetypes of what a video-age woman could be, and they were indelibly printed on my young brain.The AndrogyneBy the time the first little MTV spaceman planted his flag on the screens of cable-blessed homes, androgyny in rock music was old news. This was, after all, the post-glam-rock early 1980s. The New York Dolls, Patti Smith, David Bowie, and many others had been praised up and down not only for their musical achievements but also for their knack for appropriating/ mocking the styles of the opposite sex. But the legions of suburban tykes lounging in our beanbag chairs in front of the tube didn't know about that. All we knew was that there was a huge number of girly-looking guys staring out at us from the other side of the TV screen, and we were mesmerized. Through Adam Ant and Duran Duran, I absorbed the concept of androgyny unconsciously as I giggled dreamy-eyed over these grown men with made-up faces, these boys who looked too much like girls to be the "opposite" sex.But then there were the actual girls: Joan Jett, who wore head-to-toe black leather and reveled in crunchy cock-rock riffs in her video for "I Love Rock 'N' Roll"; and skinny, imperious Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders. These women's physical images incorporated a litany of bad-boy references, from pre-zirconium Elvis to Marlon Brando to Keith Richards. They were aping the style of men whose blatant sexuality made them "dangerous." Not so much rejecting femininity as cloaking it in the historical acceptibility of male rebellion, these women were insinuating themselves into the badass canon. I didn't consciously think that they looked like boys, but when I saw the video for the Pretenders' "Brass in Pocket," I thought that Chrissie Hynde in a waitress's uniform was all wrong. And the end of the video, when she runs out of the diner and hops on the tough guy's motorcycle--well, that was all wrong, too. Anyone who had seen the video for "Tattooed Love Boys" knew that Chris...

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