“Life Not Lifestyle”: The Feminist Times are changing

Article @ The Quail Pipe, published 23 August 2013

Browse through the newsstands of your local off-licence and you will find one of the main battlegrounds of feminism today. Not just because of ‘lads mags’ filled with pictures of naked young women, whose sexuality and sexual liberation is being capitalised on, but fundamentally because these seemingly innocent rows of print media help perpetuate gender stereotypes as effectively as the pink and blue sections of toy-shops. There are your ‘women’s magazines’ which range from fashion to homemaking, and the ‘men’s section’ which will encompass Car and Wired.

Politics and economics periodicals may not be labelled by gender interest but tend to lay close to titles oriented towards a male audience, much like magazines on music, for some reason. In fact, of all The Economist covers of 2013 so far (a total of 35), only one has profiled a woman. In sum, if you are a consumer of magazines, you are exposed to the commands of mainstream media and its opinion of what you can and cannot be interested in depending on your genitals.

Needless to say this is problematic, most of all on the question of women’s oppression. It socially encourages shrewd assumptions of what a woman is interested in – baking, decorating, child-rearing – and hence assumedly what her intellect is capable of. Especially as it is diametrically opposed to what men are supposed to care about – cars, economics, rock & roll – it implies that neither side can share the other’s interests or even partake in such activity. Which is, to put it simply, a big pile of poppycock.

So it was with understandable enthusiasm that the news of Spare Rib’s relaunch was greeted. Something like Spare Rib, iconic feminist magazine of the 1970s covering stories imbued with anti-capitalist and social justice sentiment, is just what we need in British newsstands, to contradict this idea that women are not interested in politics as they are keen on knowing what colour to paint their nails next.

Editor-in-chief, Charlotte Raven, is a former wild child of Cool Britannia, once editor of Modern Review. She granted the mainstream press much coverage about her project to create a magazine under motto “Life Not Lifestyle” until it all became entangled in legal obstacles over the appropriation of the magazine’s name. Since then it’s been a lot more obscure to find out about the whens and whats of the magazine, given that the website is unworkable and the social media side rather ethereal in content. The enthusiasm of the team, however, seems not to have been dampened by its organisational chaos, as any subscriber of the FemT updates will know. Throughout the several name-changes (which took place in less than 3 months and left many rather confused) emails kept pouring through mostly emphasizing that despite the obstacles the project was here to stay.

And so, impressed with the bravado with which Feminist Times has finally started taking some shape, it is time to ask what this feminist magazine will bring to readers of the 21st century. What will it tell about women, what will it recount to its readership? Will it satisfy this craving for a magazine that does not limit itself to frocks and beauty tips, analysing the Syrian civil war or European austerity, but also perhaps that won’t totally alienate those who might comply to much of today’s standards femininity (like waxing or dieting), which might be shunned by radical feminists. Can there be a unifying periodical for us all and will FemT be it?

A recent blurb on the membership page (in itself a dazing crossing of membership fees and crowdsourcing) reassured members that Feminist Times “are certainly not asking you to pay to join feminism”. Yet, it doesn’t seem like FemT are doing much to bring their readers to the grassroots movement either. There is no inkling of what the editorial policy or even the general content of the magazine will be, aside from the indication that all work will be paid at least minimum wage (including interns) and that the magazine will be free of advertising. And while these are very hopeful signs to cling on to, one’s hopes for some paradigmatic-shifting feminist journalism might be thwarted by the realisation that the membership rates are all named after white, Western, middle class feminists. When Feminist Times pledges to write about “Life not Lifestyle”, whose lives are they proposing to write about? Is it Caitlin Moran or Suzanne Moore who will grace their covers? Or will it be a 19 year-old single mother from Leeds or a black pensioner living in an estate in South London, who’s being affected by the Bedroom Tax?

These might seem like secondary questions for a project as ambitious as launching a mainstream feminist magazine in Britain. However, they could help us all understand what exact place the magazine will take in the newsstands. Will it lay close to Harper’s Bazaar or will it be placed further left, along the lines of North American publications such as Bust or Ms? Will it create content which brings feminism and the fight for women’s liberation to a younger public, like Bitch media did? Or will it simply address the concerns of the white, liberal British woman, who is concerned with Tory policies, which are starting to affect her long-established rights and privileges? For while such a publication is naturally not a waste of time, for the average woman, the low-paid worker, the mother of two with no access to affordable childcare, the indebted twenty-something working three part-time jobs and one internship, the concerns are well beyond Page 3 and the City’s glass ceilings.

There is an urgent need to change what the public thinks are the interests of women not just as a public service of rectifying misconstrued information, but also because the realities of women in Britain could not be further away from concerns about price-tags and white furniture. For women who struggle every day for the survival of their children and themselves, there is a need of a media that shares their stories and encourages their fight-back. A need for something that will herald them not just as heroes among us but, importantly, as the great majority, with all the rights that should come from that status. There is a need for a magazine that will talk about literature and music, community and sexuality, race and oppression, and maybe even hairstyles too. A magazine that shows women as unionised bus drivers, as stand-up comedians, as lesbian grandmothers, as disabled astrophysicists, as hijab-wearing athletes, as people. There is a need for a magazine that allows all women to recognise themselves between the stacks of pink, stiletto and fake lashes wielding, Rampant-rabbit ballyhooing sections of our newsstands.

In a world full of noise a revolutionary feminist movement needs a platform to raise its voice above all others. One can only hope Feminist Times can be just that.

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