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Michelle Weiser
Magazine Analysis: Bitch
March 21, 2012
Bitch Magazine: Because Your Brain is Your Most Important Body Part
Looking at only the first page of Bitch Spring 2012 “The Frontier Issue”- a
magazine I had never picked up before - I already knew this was no mainstream or
ordinary women’s culture publication. As I scanned the table of contents, phrases like
“black women” and “disability” - two traditionally marginalized minorities – jumped
out. Phrases of “it takes a village” and “feminist summer school” got me excited to
read the contents cover to cover. I looked at the sponsors and saw the words
“menstrual cup”, “progressive pleasure” and “vibrators” and already knew that the
pages wouldn’t be filled with scantily clad women selling jeans, weight loss pills, and
expensive cosmetics. There would be no beauty myths promoted in this magazine, no
cult of femininity, no phony sex tips, and nothing espousing a “right” and narrow way
of expressing my gender and sexuality.
Unlike magazines in mainstream circulation, Bitch does not succumb, to or
accept, the widespread social and cultural domination of the hetero-patriarchy.
Instead, Bitch Media - comprised of the magazine, blog, website and events - is a nonprofit organization with a mission, “To provide and encourage an engaged, thoughtful
feminist response to mainstream media and popular culture […] and celebrate the
feminist culture-makers who are transforming the media with their unique
contributions.” (Bitch Website). This analysis is divided into subjects - Business Ethics
& Target Audience, Advertising, and Content - each demonstrating how Bitch shatters
the traditions of mainstream magazines.
Michelle Weiser
Magazine Analysis: Bitch
March 21, 2012
Business Ethic & Target Audience
Bitch Media is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, with the goal of fulfilling their
mission rather than striving to make money. Bitch is meant to be a thought-provoking,
radical critique, and analysis of mainstream pop culture. To compliment their mission
statement, Bitch Media has created core values that include, “Community and
activism; diversity; open communication, engagement, and mutual respect; that there
is no one monolithic feminism; and conscious business practices” (Bitch Website). To
give a comparison to the mission of Cosmopolitan - a publication that serves as a foil to
Bitch - Cosmo strives to “Inspire with information on relationships and romance, the
best fashion and beauty, the latest on women’s health and wellbeing, as well as what’s
happening in pop culture and entertainment” (Cosmopolitan Media Kit). Obviously
these magazines have completely different readerships and purposes, but
Cosmopolitan caters to and is accepted by traditional mainstream audiences, whereas
Bitch actively challenges the conventional beliefs held by mainstream America.
Breaking down Bitch’s readership into numbers:
43% are between the ages of 25–34
49% are college graduates, and 20% hold a graduate degree
89% identify as politically liberal, progressive, or radical
(Bitch Website)
Michelle Weiser
Magazine Analysis: Bitch
March 21, 2012
These numbers are significant because Bitch readers are at the point in their lives
where they have the ability to absorb and think critically about the magazine’s
messages. Bitch attracts activists who are looking to explore new radical concepts like
feminism and activism, or are looking to read stories in support of beliefs they already
hold. According to Anthony Cortese’s Symbolic Racism in Advertising, “Cultural beliefs
favor whites over people of color, males over females, and the privileged over the
disadvantaged” (Cortese, 100). Bitch challenges these cultural beliefs and guides its
readers into, “Questioning the definitions of gender, sexuality, power and agency
prescribed by the mainstream media” (Bitch Website). To use the Cosmo comparison
again, sadly Bitch readers are typically older than Cosmo readers (24% of Cosmo
readers are 25-34 and 34% of Cosmo are 18-24) meaning Cosmo essentially gets to
young women readers first (Cosmopolitan Website). Parental control effects both;
many parents won’t let their teenage daughters read Cosmo because of its sexual
content, (which makes the magazine all the more appealing to rebellious teens), but
parents may be equally turned off by a magazine called Bitch. Also important to note
is the scale of readership: Cosmo magazine has circulation of ~18 million, Bitch
magazine has circulation of 50,000.
“Advertising is a powerful social force that commands the public’s attention to,
and faith in, a particular style of consciousness and consumption” (Cortese, 3). Gloria
Steinem describes the laborious and frustrating process she went through when
starting Ms. Magazine to find advertisers willing to create ads that fit her magazine’s
Michelle Weiser
Magazine Analysis: Bitch
March 21, 2012
mission. (Dines, 235) Instead of undertaking this task, Bitch bypasses advertisers
Unlike the majority of for-profit mainstream magazines, Bitch does not have
ads scattered throughout its pages, but rather gives thanks to their sponsors only on
the inside of the front and back covers and center-fold. As advertising is, “One of the
most powerful mechanisms through which members of a society assimilate their
cultural heritage and cultural ideologies of domination,” (Cortese, 2) it is important
for a magazine to have advertisements that promote a culture similar to the identity
and beliefs of the magazine. Bitch sponsors are all sex-positive and encourage things
such as feminist education, reusable menstruation cups, books exploring sexuality,
and the Progressive Pleasure Club. This break from traditional magazine advertising
is significant because it separates consumerist brainwashing ads from editorial
content and therefore bypasses complementary copy, a concept Gloria Steinem also
attempted to avoid when establishing Ms. Magazine.
Bitch technically has no ads purchased by corporations, but rather the few ads
seen in the publication are recognition of sponsors who financially support the nonprofit, independent, feminist media organization. Rather than purchasing specific ad
space, sponsors support the organization through donations and in return receive
visibility and the public acknowledgment that their organization’s mission aligns with
the magazine’s mission. Bitch demands their sponsorship partners, “ Are committed
to being socially and environmentally responsible; work toward goals of being antisexist, anti-racist; adhere to fair labor practices and promote healthy lifestyles; and
Michelle Weiser
Magazine Analysis: Bitch
March 21, 2012
work to develop common goals and create profound social impact to change the
unequivocal gender balance.” Good luck getting any misogynistic ads through that
policy! This is hugely important because ads seen in the publication are far less likely
to have a negative effect on reader’s self-esteem or wallets than ads seen in
mainstream magazines. Ultimately, donating and partnering with Bitch shows
individual’s and organizations’ commitment to see the magazine succeed and
continue to exist.
In accordance with their mission statement, Bitch’s content and contributors
are diverse and talented feminist culture-makers. The voice of each article is distinct
and unique, engaging readers with honest editorials. The authors and editors are
unapologetic in their explorations into the unknown – The Frontier – and explain, “We
have not yet reached the outer limits of our potential” (Falk, 3). The content in Bitch’s
Spring 2012 “The Frontier Issue” advocates for traditionally marginalized
communities like sex workers (Bitch, 9), women of color (Sanders, 24-29) and people
with disabilities (p.30). The editorials support independent projects like the Mobile
Homecoming Project (p. 10), DIY fantasy and sci-fi projects (Bitch, 15), and queermemoir independent films (Bitch, 67).
Each of these pieces explores, subverts and challenges traditional cultural
norms and –isms of race, class, ability, gender, sex, and sexual orientation. Bitch
readers are exposed to new ideas and unique ways to view society and the world and
Michelle Weiser
Magazine Analysis: Bitch
March 21, 2012
it is clear that the goal of the features and columns are to educate and challenge their
readers. From the book reviews to new music suggestions, readers won’t find any
patriarchal hidden agendas or paid product placements. Even in the “Letter from the
HQ” the editorial staff describes Bitch Media headquarter as a quaint office in
Portland, Oregon with “a quilt on the sofa, handmade curtains and an endless supply
of communal tea” (Falk, 3). It is hard to imagine the editors of Vogue, People, or Cosmo
sitting around and knitting blankets for their office.
A strong message in many of the articles of “The Frontier Issue” is the
importance of recognizing intersections of activism. Whereas Rosalind Gill discusses
the characterization of women as catty in mainstream magazines and the
encouragement of competition between women, Bitch authors promote cooperation
and collaboration. The “Feminist In Training” article profiles a conference in the UK to
“springboard young feminists into action” (McCabe, 17) and the author, Catherine
Ruth McCabe, has no shame in admitting she was a feminist newbie before attending
the weekend event. But, McCabe quickly realizes the importance of dismantling
kyriarchy entirely and going beyond just patriarchy. On the following page, Citizen
Radio host Allison Kilkenny berates liberals “me first” attitude and says “Right now,
we need everyone – LGBTQ, labor, environmentalist, vegan, feminist – to come
together and fight back against oppression” (Kilkenny, 21).
In an article titled “Disability at the Digital Frontier” Anna Hamilton outlines
the uncomfortable split of feminism and the disabled community. Disabled persons
have been using technology and online platforms to share resources, find medical
Michelle Weiser
Magazine Analysis: Bitch
March 21, 2012
information and support networks for the past two decades – far longer than any
other activist cause. However, because the disabled community is so marginalized,
activists rarely come to them asking for advice on using web-based platforms.
Furthermore, activists make sites that claim to be anti-oppressive yet they are not
disability-friendly (ie: There is no transcription of video provided, Flash sites are
complicated and screen readers & Braille technology cant translate them, and
comment sections frequently attack disabled people who address these problems). As
a result, feminists have become wary of disabled complaints and disabled persons
increasingly disengage from online feminist spaces. The article ends by saying
cooperation is possible if both communities are willing to work together to fight the
same oppressive forces and “Achieve justice for communities marginalized on the
basis of their bodies – specifically, a marginalization often tied to the body” (Hamilton,
33). The importance of solidarity frames activism and Bitch’s entire magazine ethic.
One of the longest feature articles, “Target Market - Black Women With Guns:
Frontier Feminists or Insurrectionists?” (Sanders, 25) follows the journey of the
article’s author, J. Victoria Sanders - a female black journalist - as she debates whether
or not to apply for a concealed handgun license in Texas. The article examines
traditional race and gender cultural stereotypes in regard to violence, looks at the
effect marketing has had in the rise of women purchasing guns, and challenges the
reader to question how necessary guns are and if they actually will lead to safety if
women possess them. Historically, white men carrying guns are heroic and patriotic
cowboys, while black men carrying guns are drug-trafficking gangsters and women
Michelle Weiser
Magazine Analysis: Bitch
March 21, 2012
carrying guns are sexy in films like Tomb Raider and Charlie’s Angels but considered
un-ladylike and castrating in real life. As Jackson Katz explains in the documentary
Tough Guise, “Manhood is connected with dominance, power and control,” (Tough
Guise, 1999) and most portrayals of racial and ethnic men involve violence. However,
when women take control of the violence it is a different story. Men feel castrated and
although they can make women with holsters slung around their hips look sexy in film
and TV, there is still an underlying warning: “Women using firearms for their own
protection against violence face alienation and, inevitably, death” (Sanders, 29).
The article gives statistics showing the emerging trend of women owning their
own guns. As early as the 1980s, advertising companies started realizing women
were their own niche market for gun sales, and the magazine Women & Guns was
created. The ad campaigns to influence women to purchase firearms used “fear-based
rhetoric” and “graphic examples of women being beaten bloody by rapists” to prove
that women need to own guns to protect themselves from one of their supposed
greatest fears, sexual assault. This is problematic because the media is using their
traditional tactic of manipulation to get women to believe they need to buy a product
for their own good. Their tactics worked. In 2005 approximately 30% of Americans
owned guns and by 2008 women owned 10.8% of the country’s guns (Sanders, 26).
Once gun manufactures began to realize that women were interested in their
products, leopard print holsters and pink pistols and purses with gun pockets were
instantly created. This seems ridiculous, as guns by their nature are not “cute” or
“accessories” but weapons used as instruments of violence. A Times former columnist
Michelle Weiser
Magazine Analysis: Bitch
March 21, 2012
proposed, “feminizing gun ownership could ultimately reduce its appeal to men,
making gun-toting as un-masculine as carrying a purse” (Sanders, 27) Yeah, right.
In Tough Guise Katz reports, “Over 85% of the people who commit murder are
men and the women who do are usually defending themselves against men battering
them.” This supports Sander’s belief that women having guns in their possession
could save themselves or get away from an attack. However, actress Gabrielle Union
who is mentioned in the article as a survivor of assault who shot at her assailant and
missed says, “The desire to kill who abused/raped you is understandable, but unless
its self defense in the moment to save your life, killing will just add to your troubles”
(Sanders, 27). With the U.S. Justice System and mainstream society quick to blame
victims of sexual assault rather than believe them, pleading self-defense from rape as
a reason for murder may not work at all. The article presents both sides of the
complicated issue of gun ownership and use, and encourages readers to come to their
own conclusions.
The film and campaign Miss Representation emphasizes, “You can’t be what you
can’t see.” Bitch Media is clearly dedicated to modeling and teaching people of all
genders that there are countless ways to break free of traditional cultural norms, and
there are communities that can help you do it. This sentiment is the opposite of
everything preached in mainstream magazines, which try to keep people isolated and
insecure so they keep buying products, reading their magazine, and not thinking for
Michelle Weiser
Magazine Analysis: Bitch
March 21, 2012
External Works Cited
Bitch Magazine Website. Bitch Media, 2010. Web. 20 Mar 2012.
Cortese, Anthony. Provocateur. 3rd. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2008. 2, 3,
100. Print.
Cosmopolitan Media Kit. The Hearst Corporation, Spring 2011. Web. 21 Mar 2012.
Dines, Gail, ed. Gender, Race, and Class in Media. 3. Thousand Oaks: SAGE
Publications, Inc., 2011. 235. Print.
Siebel Newsom, Jennifer, dir. Miss Representation. Girls Club Entertainment, 2011. Film.
Tough Guise Violence, Media, and the Crisis in Masculinity. Northampton, MA: Media
Education Foundation, 1999.
Bitch Articles From Spring 2012 “The Frontier Issue”
Falk, Julie. "Letter From the HQ." Bitch . Spring 2012: 3. Print.
Hamilton, Anna. “Axis & Praxis.” Bitch. Spring 2012: 30-35. Print.
Kilkenny, Allison. “Her Aim is True.” Bitch. Spring 2012: 19-21. Print.
McCabe, Catherine Ruth. “Feminist in Training.” Bitch. Spring 2012: 17-18. Print.
Sanders, J. Victoria. "Target Market - Black Women With Guns: Frontier Feminists or
Insurrectionists?." Bitch. Spring 2012: 24-29. Print.