In Defense Of Ms. Magazine

Our November 1st post on the state of 'Ms.' Magazine — now celebrating its 35th anniversary — riled some readers up, including 'Ms.' staffers themselves! We asked Jessica Stites, Assistant Editor at the magazine to respond.

For me, a 20-something and a Ms. editor, Jezebel's post on Ms.' 35th anniversary came as a bit of a personal shock. Apparently, here I'd been toddling along like the formerly eight-limbed Lakshmi Tatma of India: Unaware that my two halves were in deadly conflict. I had to choose between fun-loving, snarky, Jezebelian third-waver who abhors the "constructive" (which would make one, um, "destructive"?) or uptight, anti-sex, boring second-wave prune. Neither was very appealing. If these were the faces of my movement I was tempted to tiptoe off to environmentalism, which at least has polar bears.



At such times of feminist crisis I turn to Lisa Jervis, founder of Bitch. In a '04/'05 Ms. article, Lisa tried to put the "wave" terminology to bed, pointing out that, "ideological disagreements...can't be discussed productively while in disguise as generational issues." In other words, dividing ourselves according to the relative viability of our eggs is only going to get nasty. She goes on to point out the dubious origins of the "wave" stereotypes:

[The image of the second wave feminist is] a slightly — and only more slightly — more nuanced and polite version of the stone-faced, hairy-legged man-hater whom we all know to be a myth that originated in the sexist culture at large and was cultivated and amplified by conservative, antifeminist and/or just plain clueless journalists. The image of the frivolous young pseudo feminist has the same provenance.
It's precisely because such myths are so tenacious and insidious that I'm a feminist. As Tracie's post and my reaction show, they too easily sneak into our self-images, along with dozens of others like them: bossy businesswoman, sassy black lady, passive Asian girl, desperate housewife.

And that's why I think Jezebel, at its best, is so necessary. Sometimes the best antidote to stereotypes is snark. Three cheers for Jezebel when it takes down Asian fetishists, sugar daddies or too-thin models.

But there are other reasons I'm a feminist, and I refuse to believe they're fundamentally at odds with Jezebel or hopelessly "second wave." I'm a feminist because magazines and newspapers still accept back-page sex ads that allow human traffickers to connect with johns. Because U.S. women still work a "second shift," spending 133 minutes per day on housework compared to men's 81. Because immigrant women laborers in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Mariana Islands work long hours in squalid conditions for little pay to make clothes that bear the misleading label, "Made in the U.S.A". Because plastic surgery is becoming scarily mandatory, with 11 million procedures performed in the U.S. last year alone. Because the government recently drove up birth-control prices. And because the U.S. invasion of Iraq set the clock back 40 years for women there.

Ms., like Jezebel, is necessary, because it can bring all this to the attention of hundreds of thousands. The other week, our Fall issue came out lambasting New York magazine for running sex ads; this week New York magazine changed its policy.

Movements have faced worse conflicts than "serious vs. funny." Most of us integrate these two traits just fine in our day-to-day lives. Maybe it's time to do so in our political lives? Here's a deal for you, Jezebels: admit that you and Ms. are kinda maybe fighting the same fight, and I'll see what I can do about a few sex-positive Ms. articles, because lord knows, prune stereotypes notwithstanding, I can't think of a single Ms. staffer who's against sex.

Earlier: Ms. Magazine Celebrates Its 35th Anniversary... Yay?