Interviews | December 12, 2013 at 10:51 am

Anna Holmes: Founder of Jezebel

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Anna Holmes

Anna Holmes is the founder of the feminist website Jezebel and recently published The Book of Jezebel. Holmes is an outspoken writer and a newly minted columnist for the New York Times Book Review.

Harvard Political Review: You created Jezebel as an offshoot of the blog Gawker. Where do you see Jezebel going in the future? Do you see it becoming independent of Gawker?

Anna Holmes: Although I created Jezebel in 2007, I left in 2010, so I can’t say what’s going to happen in the future. I don’t think it’s going to become independent. I don’t think Gawker media would want to spin it off or sell it. But I can’t make those predictions because I have no idea what’s going on with the company. I don’t see it happening.

HPR: Do you think Jezebel created an incentive for more feminist publications to arise?

AH: That depends on what your definition of “feminist publication” is, and I don’t know that I have a very good definition of it. I’ve seen websites pop up after Jezebel that were influenced by it and had feminist points of view, but I don’t know whether I would describe them as being feminist publications. And I know that some women’s magazines seem to follow suit in giving more types of posts that you might see on Jezebel.

HPR: A 2010 Slate article by Emily Gould entitled “Outrage World” criticized Jezebel for promoting alienating behavior at the expense of “progressive thought and rational discourse.” Several people have shared this sentiment in criticizing publications or websites like Jezebel. How do you respond to such criticism?

AH: The fact that the readership has grown a lot over the past six years contradicts the idea that Jezebel only speaks to a narrow slice of people. The audience is growing. More people want to read it. In terms of political positioning, the site, when I ran it, was very unapologetic about being left-leaning, unapologetic about its support of reproductive rights and democratic and liberal politicians and women. If the critique is that it hasn’t done enough to reach across the political aisle to the right, then that’s absolutely correct and my answer is, “So what?” We have a particular point of view and we’re not trying to appeal to everybody. But I do think there is evidence that the readership has exploded over its brief lifespan.

HPR: What do you think is the future of feminism and your role in it?

AH: Oh, I have no idea. I mean, I think there are lots of interesting, vibrant conversations going on among women who call themselves feminists, among women who don’t call themselves feminists, among women who aren’t certain they want to call themselves feminists, and it’s happening online and in social media, personals blogs, and Tumblr. In terms of the big picture, I have no idea. I’m optimistic that important conversations that wouldn’t have happened 10 years ago will continue, but I don’t know what that means in the bigger picture. I’m not sure that anybody does.

HPR: You recently published The Book of  Jezebel. Why did you do the book?

AH: I think we just wanted to have a product that was static as opposed to a website that is ever changing. Yes, that’s part of the great thing about the site: it’s always changing and people have new things to say. It’s very dynamic in that way, but we always wanted to have some kind of supplementary piece of material that would be an actual object you could hold in your hands, that wasn’t constantly being updated and changing, that was something you could go back to again and again. And sometimes we read a post and then a couple days later it’s not up to date anymore, so you have to go searching for it. So it’s satisfying having the book because of its permanence.

HPR: Are there particular difficulties you had in conducting strong feminist journalism for Jezebel?

AH: I don’t know if they’re unique to talking about feminism or gender politics. Certainly with the rise of the Internet you have a lot more people chiming in with their opinions, which is a good thing but also very tiring when you’re on the receiving end of it. But that isn’t specific to feminism. I think that’s specific to the Internet and to how hyper-connected we are. I do think there are opticals in terms of getting more men involved. People think of feminism as being only about women. Men can also be feminists, and they can also advocate for change in terms of socioeconomic equality for both sexes. This applies to Jezebel, but I’m not sure these are challenges specific to the site. They are challenges specific to social media and to social movements. And they all came together on the site.

HPR: You had an interview with Mother Jones in which you said you did not enjoy writing for Glamour, and you had that in mind when starting Jezebel. Tell us more about that.

AH: Oh yeah. I wrote and edited for women’s magazines and I hated it. The content was always the same month after month, so it didn’t feel challenging. I also felt that we were contributing to communicating messages to the readers, to young women, that were destructive in that they encouraged an idea of femininity that was only concerned with men. It wasn’t fair to a lot of women who are gay. It was very hetero-normative, very much about finding a man, pleasing a man.

Glamour promoted conspicuous consumption: buying things like makeup and clothes and shoes. That is not an obsession for every single woman in the world. These magazines seem to communicate a very superficial idea of what women are interested in. I hated working for those magazines. I felt like I was complicit in sending out those messages. I didn’t think they were magazines that challenged the reader or reflected how diverse they are, not just in their interests but also in how they look. Most of the women’s magazines at the time I was working for them were only showing Caucasian women. The United States is a very diverse country. You wouldn’t have known that looking at Vogue.

HPR: Can you talk about how you came to feminism?

AH: I don’t think I ever came to it; I was born into it. I grew up in a feminist household. I was marinating in what I thought was a pretty uncontroversial idea that women deserve equal treatment, equal rights, and freedom economically and socially and politically. So there was no “a-ha!” moment, unless it was the first time my mother read or gave me a copy of Ms. Magazine. But of course I have no recollection of when that happened.

HPR: Do you have any plans for the future?

AH: Beyond publicizing the book? I mean, maybe I’ll start another website, but it wouldn’t be anything like Jezebel. I don’t want to repeat myself. But it’ll most probably be something in media.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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