Why I Love Bitch Magazine
August 15th, 1998
Being a woman of many interests and commitments, I subscribe to a set of diverse magazines produced for the female audience. I subscribe (in glorious contradiction) to Ms., Martha Stewart Living, Working Woman and Bitch. But I don’t read them all.
I always look at every beautiful page of Martha Stewart. I read a bit, plan to read every word and eventually add it to the Martha Stewart magazines-as-homemaking-encyclopedia stack for use as reference until I am retired and can think about learning to can peaches. I adore Martha Stewart and have tremendous respect for her. She took what she does well and parlayed it into major success. It seems to me a simple recipe for each of us…but that’s a whole other topic.
I started subscribing to Working Woman about a year ago, and if I’ve even opened six of the issues I’d be surprised. I began to take it because in being the ‘Executive Director of About-Face’ (say in deep, serious, resonating voice), I thought perhaps I could glean some valuable information from the magazine about how to run a company, and in particular to learn from the experience of other women. Bland as it is, my copies of Working Woman also find their way to a reference stack as I’m sure I will later use them to full advantage. Ahem.
Now Ms., dear sweet Ms. I subscribe to Ms. Magazine out of principal. I subscribe to Ms. because my mother was a founding subscriber in the seventies, and mostly I subscribe to Ms. because they have no advertisers and it is my little way to say “you show ’em! You don’t need them!” It is my impression that if Ms. can succeed for years (albeit struggling) without advertisers’ money (and input) then there is truly room for all of our ideas, opinions and voices in this society. Non-advertiser Ms. stands out in our world of corporate controlled information and says more about true and real free speech in our country than almost anything else I can think of. Do I read it? Not all of it. Much as I believe in Ms., and enjoy the encapsulated news on women in the world, I find Ms. to be incredibly dry and somehow defensive–apologetic?–as it seems often to be bogged down in its own political correctness. But hey, some of my best friends are bogged down in their own political correctness. I will subscribe as long as Ms. it is in business.
The only magazine that I read cover-to-cover; that gets my heart pumping; that I pass on to friends and pray for more issues of, is Bitch. It’s an unlikely little magazine with an offensive name (they are unable to get a listing in the telephone directory – odd since one can now say “bitch” on television) and great humor and insight. The full name is Bitch – Feminist Response to Pop Culture and is published here in San Francisco.
Publisher and editor Lisa Jervis writes about the magazine name in a recent editorial: “We’re happy to address the question of why we chose the name we did: Some people may consider it an insult, but to us a bitch is an opinionated woman who refuses to back down, a woman who speaks her mind without worrying what others will think of her. And we’re thrilled to talk about why we think it’s important not to shrink from a word just because some people consider it an insult: Every time someone is insulted by the word bitch, we are kept further and further away from a time when outspokenness will be accepted, even welcomed, among women.”
Initially I too was put off by the name, even though the editors print a line that reminds us that the word, bitch is a noun and a verb. Interestingly, since I’ve been reading Bitch and recommending Bitch and raving about Bitch, the word has lost its sting for me. Recently several women have contacted us at About-Face and say they heard about us “through Bitch” just like that, matter of fact as if bitch were just another word. Hmmm, is it?
Perhaps we women would shy away from Bitch the magazine (and bitch the word) if what was inside a copy of Bitch were not so damned much fun. Bitch is smart and funny and clear and sarcastic and truthful and refreshing and very well designed. Bitch is what I wish Ms. could be. Bitch Magazine is the after-hours effort of Editor Jervis, Senior Editor and Illustrator Andi Zeisler and Art Director and Designer Ben Shaykin (with assorted contributors) who produce each issue out of the goodness of their hearts volunteering their time and talent. They cover all areas of popular culture including television, movies, music, books, cdroms, advertisements, trends. The issues often have themes (the fashion issue, the sex issue.) Bitch is published three times a year.
They’ve covered real women Dr. Laura, Camille Paglia, Martha Stewart (they don’t love her like I do,) fictional women Murphy Brown, Cybil Sheridan, Harriet the Spy and fake women, Leah and Stacy of realdoll.com (don’t ask.) They’ve written about the economics of the Wonderbra and the ‘cosmetics conspiracy'; of the ways boys learn to be men and about the missionary position. Their section Love It/Shove is Bitch’s version of Ms. Magazine’s “No Comment” section, but with comments which is a lot more gratifying. Each issue also includes book and music reviews.
Bitch finds the most inspirational women to highlight reinforcing my hope that in this time of the over-sexualized, emaciated female ideal, there are women young and old making positive contributions to the world and making them from their hearts and gut beliefs. The puberty issue (Vol 3, No. 1) which came out in the spring of 1998 featured interviews with a couple of incredible young women, Ariel Schrag, a high school senior who has chronicled her high school life in her own comic books; and Theresa Duncan, 27, who designs cdroms for girls (oh to have been so bloody confident when I was that age!) The issue also reviewed several young adult novels with an emphasis on books for teenaged lesbians.
I often feel like I get flustered when I discuss or write about issues I feel strongly about. Bitch is comforting to me because of how clearly they present the arguments that I myself want to present. If only I could pull out editors Jervis or Zeisler whenever I find myself in a conversation about media’s influence on women’s self perception, or on abortion or really any issue at all: “uh, yes excuse me… Lisa, would you join me over here for a moment?” Reprinted here in its entirety is Andi Zeisler’s recent pieceÂ Plastic Passion (Vol. 3, No. 2) about our culture’s growing infatuation with cosmetic surgery.
Reading a copy of Bitch makes me feel like I used to during passionate discussions with friends in college. I feel hopeful, connected, motivated. It makes me want to get out and do things, talk to people, agitate, communicate. I didn’t realize I missed that common ground and understandingso much until I started reading Bitch. Bitch is the dinner guest who everyone wants to sit next to: smart, funny, balanced. “Where did she come from!?” Where indeed.
My day job is in the production department of Miller Freeman Inc. which publishes trade magazines and produces trade shows. Over the ten years that I have worked there, I have heard the secret of our success over and over again. Find a niche and capitalize on it. The readers of a niche publication can be the most loyal of all readers, because the magazine (and subsequent newsletters, expos whatever) are produced just for them. Bitch has found a niche in bright, socially conscious, cynical but hopeful feminist women and men. I have no doubt that their other readers are as giddy as I am.
To subscribe to Bitch, or order individual copies, call 415-864-6671 or send a check or money order to: Bitch Publications 2765 16th Street San Francisco, CA 94103 Subscriptions are $15 for four issues. Orders outside of the US or Canada should include an additional $12 for postage.
Kathy Bruin is the Director of About-Face. She is shamelessly promoting Bitch for her own selfish reasons. The better the magazine does, the more issues they’ll produce