We need sites that honor the wholeness of the female experience—and of the femme experience, the female-identifying experience, the trans-man and genderqueer's experience, and even the experience of the straight white man who loves makeup and cries in his bedroom to Billie Eilish.
Image via The Cut
Those who don't know the site by name might recognize its most famous article: "I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life." That viral story sparked a complex conversation about the parameters of #MeToo and what constitutes assault. It detailed the experiences of a woman named Grace who, when on a date with Ansari, felt threatened and demeaned by his coercive actions; and it led to massive backlash against Ansari's career, especially in light of the fact that he often proclaimed himself a staunch feminist.
Ironically, the fact that Ansari branded himself a critically-minded feminist but displayed less-than-feminist behavior in his intimate life is eerily reminiscent of the inner workings of the babe.net office. According to The Cut's Allison P. Davis, office life at babe often continued into bars and parties at night, and the line between professional and romantic life often evaporated as liquor flowed.
As it turned out, a website that branded itself a place "for women who don't give a fuck" was not exempt from actively harming its female employees. Among the morally disconcerting happenings at the office: There were relationships between 27-year-old Joshi Herrmann, founding editor of The Tab (the umbrella media company that owned babe.net), and multiple younger staffers. One staffer said that she was asked to write a personal story about a "walk of shame," even though she had never actually experienced one; another, a black employee, said she was asked to participate in a video series in which she felt like a caricature.
Inevitably, things boiled over. It was about more than the strange office dynamics: babe.net's employees soon grew "mad about the whole power imbalance inherent to working for a website that translated their most intimate experiences and identities and beliefs into clicks." Employees delivered a letter full of complaints, which were ultimately written off as "baseless." Eventually, babe.net closed after failing to secure the funding it required to remain afloat.
Are Women's Sites Still Relevant?
If babe.net's now-private Instagram is a zombie, as Davis writes, then its website is a kind of graveyard. In the ever-changing digital world, the Internet is full of these: repositories of old stories that once desperately fought for engagement of any kind. If you go on babe.net today, you can see the skeletons of posts like, "Why is this egg prettier than me and you," "We spoke with the woman Tek$shi 6ix9ine slept with when she was underage," and—eerily—"Aziz Ansari talks sexual assault allegations for the first time." It's an eclectic array of pieces about makeup, the Kardashians, and hyper-modern feminist critiques, all written in the cynical, dada-esque, and sometimes oddly formal language of the social media age.
Though not directly caused by its workplace culture, babe.net's downfall reveals a lot about the modern media landscape. It reveals that the architects of purportedly feminist content are often swayed by pressures beyond their control, pressures which usually stem from profit made from the stereotypes they set out to combat. "babe.net was created during an era when to be a woman saying just about anything online was now, theoretically, classified as feminist," writes Davis. Its downfall reveals that this kind of "women's media" is a fundamentally flawed brand, especially in a world where the confines of gender are rapidly dissolving and where gender cannot be disconnected from other fields like race and class.
A Women's Site for the Male Gaze
This is not to argue that women's sites are obsolete. In today's world, women-only spaces are necessary and important; and websites like Jezebel, Bitch Media, and The Cut itself frequently release the kind of high-quality, nuanced content that gives voice to a wide variety of people and move away from gendered stereotypes. However, poorly thought-out sites like babe.net frequently pander to gendered stereotypes while working under the guise of feminism, fixating on a brash and narrow vision of female sexuality and manufacturing a niche that compromised the women it claimed to elevate.
From the sound of things, babe.net was manufacturing itself to be a very specific kind of women's site—one mostly focused on women and sex, not women as people—and its office embodied that lifestyle of nihilistic quasi-liberation. According to Chloe, a babe.net writer who eventually quit, "The portrayal of being a woman or woman-identified person on babe was very much through the lens of what Joshi, and by extension the female editors that he had hired, wanted it to be. All of our content just felt very male gaze-y to me," she added. "It was like a woman who was obsessed with having sex with men and performing sex for men."
Her comments reveal that one problem with babe.net was that it mass-marketed women's experiences, distilling their sexual lives into stories aimed at clicks and provocation. This kind of marketing will always skew towards money—and in a world where straight men have most of the capital, inevitably, content will swing back towards the male gaze.
Image by Amy Lombard via The Cut
The Internet's Blind, Binary Rage
On the other hand, it's impossible to say that babe.net was all bad. When identity politics are involved, making binary judgments about whether something is good or bad usually ends up draining issues of their nuance and complexity. So it is with the kind of sexually liberated feminism that powers women's media sites like babe.net and with feminism on the whole. Certainly, babe was not a feminist victory, but feminism shouldn't be a competition in the first place, and writing off babe.net's content as shallow and sexist would be devaluing its writers' and readers' interests, something third-wave feminism has worked hard to undo.
Third-wave feminism has also worked to undo the gender binary. Modern science is more and more certain that gender roles are performative, constructed by society and not innate. So, in a theoretical, ideal world where gender does not confine anyone to anything, women's sites would no longer be relevant.
But in the real world, a persistently gendered one where gender-neutral bathrooms are seen as existential threats, we do need women's sites. We need sites that honor the wholeness of the female experience—and of the femme experience, the female-identifying experience, the trans-man and genderqueer's experience, and even the experience of the straight white man who loves makeup and cries in his bedroom to Billie Eilish.
This doesn't mean we shouldn't, collectively, be really mad at straight white men. It does mean that instead of exclusively focusing on what they've done wrong, there should be a conversation about how they might change and about what consent might look like. There should be conversation about how we might collectively create space for femininity and gender-queerness by changing the structure of our institutions and highly gendered society at large.
It also doesn't mean we can't have sites about makeup and female sexuality. What it does mean is that these issues need to be treated with more nuance, empathy, and care, especially when they veer into territories like sexual assault, and companies that tell these stories should ideally be women-led from the top down and not designed to provoke outrage or amass clicks.
Ultimately, the concept that sexually liberated feminism will somehow circumvent sexism and commodification ignores the fact that we live in a gendered world, and it encourages the kind of workplace culture that brought down babe.net. To move past this, there needs to be a movement away from gender binaries, but this needs to be coupled with structural change that addresses sexism and sexual assault, both in the workplace and out of it.
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After posting cryptic messages on her Instagram story, it's clear that many of Azealia Banks's behaviors were a cry for help.
Content warning: This article contains depictions of suicidal ideation.
Eight years ago, Azealia Banks was positioned to be the next big thing in hip-hop.
The Harlem rapper's debut single, "212," had spread through the Internet like wildfire. Banks was only 20 years old at the time and had just left her record label, XL Recordings, due to creative conflicts. Despite being strapped for cash and admittedly depressed, Banks released "212" as a free download from her website. The unforgettable hip-house track would reinvigorate her tumultuous music career.
Please, let there be gay Disney princesses.
A new musical based on Britney Spears' discography is coming to Broadway. It's called Once Upon a One More Time, and it follows everyone's favorite Disney princesses as they sing, dance, and—read Betty Friedan? That's right, feminism has come for cinema's most helpless damsels in distress at long last, and it's to the tune of Britney, Bitch.
Although Britney seems like an odd choice for a musical about female empowerment—after all, she literally has songs about loving someone toxic and being a slave 4u—hopefully, whoever's writing this show will alternate stunningly sexy dance numbers with a couple hard-hitting lines about the importance of leaving toxic relationships and possessing a strong sense of self.
Image via Stereogum
As we wait with bated breath for the musical to premiere in Chicago and eventually take Broadway by storm, we couldn't help but speculate about which iconic Britney songs will soundtrack which princess's ascension to independence and liberation. All we currently know about the plot comes from this quote from the writer, Jon Hartmere—a white dude (suspicious) who admittedly sounds somewhat woke. "Cinderella is having an existential crisis, and she has a posse of famous princesses, and her stepmother is the main antagonist," he told
The New York Times, "and there's also Prince Charming and a dwarf we've never met—the eighth dwarf—and a narrator who is unhappy his system is being dismantled before his eyes. These women have been in this hermetically sealed world, and then they start to get deeper into modern ideas—second-and third-wave feminism—and also explore how stories are passed down to us, and where we get our norms from."
Given this information, here's our dream song list and plot. (Hint: it's gay).
"Born to Make You Happy": This song would work well as a satirical opening number, featuring Cinderella, Tiana, Mulan, and Snow White singing in harmony. Ideally, it would build up to a climax of despair as they lament the patriarchal, hierarchical system that binds them to lives spent in their respective castles, having vanilla sex with their perpetually absent, womanizing Prince Charmings.
"Work B**ch": This song would be the perfect theme for the Evil Stepmother character, who celebrates her riches and relishes watching our girls toil away (and who also embodies the evils of white feminism). Possibly it could also feature the Beast, Shen from Mulan, and the many, many other characters who have forced Disney princesses to work (or temporarily put them to sleep and/or killed them) until princes save them.
'Once Upon A One More Time' is scheduled to debut in 2020, @AliciaCPowell reports https://t.co/y3knaOpMvq— Reuters Top News (@Reuters Top News)1553110200.0
"I Wanna Go": This song would be a great solo for Cinderella (played by Carly Rae Jepsen) as she experiences her existential crisis. Reimagined as a slow-burning ballad that culminates in a dramatic dance sequence, this would be a perfect song to mark the start of Cinderella's spiritual awakening.
"What You Need": As the Fairy Godmother inevitably descends from the rafters, decked out in glittering wings, she should definitely be singing this song, turning Cinderella's lamentations into an all-out party complete with backup dancers, backflips, and tons of glitter. Ideally, it would be broken up with smart passages from feminist theory texts. And this time, instead of shoes and a fancy dress, Cinderella would, of course, receive a gorgeous, larger-than-life copy of Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique.
"Brave New Girl": This song could soundtrack Cinderella's transformation from subservient wife to second-wave feminist. Perhaps its verses could be broken up by a fight with her husband in which she tries to weigh in on some political policy, and when he tells her that he only wants her to be a wife, not a person, Cinderella leaves in a huff to meet up with her girls.
"Circus": This song is perfect for when the princess posse meets up at a masquerade ball-themed club, and we meet each character, each dressed more fabulously than the last.
"If U Seek Amy": Just hear me out on this one: wouldn't this not-at-all-explicit song be the ideal soundtrack for the moment Cinderella meets a female love interest (Mulan?) and, as a trick, says her name is Amy, leading to a flirtatious chase?
"Toxic": This masterwork of modern composition must have a starring moment in the show. It may be perfect for the moment when Prince Charming returns to seduce Cinderella, tricking her with promises of money and Happily Ever After if only she keeps her head down and follows the rules. Stripped down to a tragic piano ballad, this song and its presentation in the show should emphasize the true dangers of staying in toxic relationships.
Britney Spears - Toxic (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com
"Stronger": This would be great for the moment when Mulan, critical of the second-wave feminists, decides to go rogue. While on the way, she meets the seminal Eighth Dwarf, who teaches her all about intersectionality and third-wave feminism while calling attention to people who have been left out of traditional narratives; here would be a good place for Mulan to realize that she might be non-binary.
"Oops… I Did It Again": This song would work well for the moment the audience discovers that the Eighth Dwarf is actually a traitor in allegiance with the narrator and the evil stepmother. Together, they're dedicated to passing down the same narratives through generations, to preserve tradition, order, and white supremacy; and once again, they've succeeded...or so they think.
"Baby One More Time": The musical is called Once Upon a One More Time, after all, so this song will almost definitely be the finale and/or curtain call. It will hopefully feature the slaying of the musical's villains, a dance number, and a reconciliatory kiss between Cinderella and Mulan. Perhaps, at the end, they'll get married onstage (hopefully both wearing suits) and their vows could include denouncing gender and proclaiming their allegiance to intersectional feminism and environmental activism. Weary but full of love, they could promise each other that they will always be willing to jump back into the fight, no matter how many times the patriarchy hits them, baby, one more time.
Hopefully, the Broadway team takes note of the nuanced and cohesive narrative outlined in this article and utilize it to tell the most meaningful story possible. Hopefully, they won't misuse their massive platform to create a tribute to white, capitalist-based feminism, and will instead transform these historically oppressive fairytales into stories that actually empower all women, especially those left out of the traditional narratives.
Once Upon a One More Time opens April 12 in Chicago. Until then, we'll be pumping Britney full-volume.
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