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A story I wrote went viral this week.
Some of you may know (and others may not, because it’s still a relatively new gig) that I’m a trending news writer at Refinery29 two days per week. That means that on Wednesdays and Thursdays, I write three or four 350-500 word pieces about a trending news topic. Most of the time, these pieces don’t involve original reporting, which means I’m not calling sources myself (though sometimes I do). I’m usually aggregating or summarizing reporting other outlets have done, finding an angle that will appeal to Refinery29’s readers or maybe covers an aspect of the story that has been overlooked.
One thing that my editor and I felt had been overlooked were the new sexual assault allegations against Joe Biden, so I wrote up a quick news hit about them, basically just summarizing the reporting done by Katie Halper on her podcast and Ryan Grim at The Intercept, and adding context about what women have previously said regarding Biden’s inappropriate touching. (Right now, the allegations are just that, and the Biden camp has denied them in new reporting from Vox (below). But the fact that they exist should not be ignored by mainstream media.)
When that story published, we were (AFAIK) the first mainstream outlet to pick up the allegations and write about them. It was syndicated by Yahoo (who has a syndication deal to re-publish Refinery29’s stories) and then, today, Anna North at Vox expanded on the reporting done by Halper and Grim (she also acknowledged that Refinery29 had been one of the only outlets to cover the story).
My mentions have been a garbage fire, as you can imagine, but I’m not interested in the political infighting, the accusations that I am a Bernie plant, or the claims that Tara Reade is a Russian agent. Those are all predictable. The reactions I want to talk about are the ones expressing surprise that Refinery29, a publication aimed at millennial women, was the first outlet to cover the allegations against Biden.
Whenever a women’s publication runs content that is good or ground-breaking or radical, the response seems to be shock. We’ve seen this a lot with Teen Vogue’s political and labor coverage. It happens whenever Cosmo drops a huge investigative story (their reporting on reproductive rights is especially great). Refinery29 has had, for some time now, a phenomenal politics desk.
When Phillip Picardi was at Teen Vogue, he often spoke about their brand and about how teen girls could be interested in both lipstick and politics. The same is true for adult women: they may want to read about hot new fashion trends and they also care about the election and their health. And women’s media has always been reporting on these topics. Back in the early aughts, Teen People was reporting on AIDS and immigration; even in the mid-twentieth century, women’s magazines were writing about abortion — before it was legal —and birth control pills — when they were new and controversial.
And it’s not just reporting; women’s publications often run beautiful essays about more than just beauty, even if they use makeup or skincare as the way in to telling a larger story. I teach a class called “More Than Skin Deep,” in which we study how to write essays for women’s and beauty publications. We read Allure’s “Why Lipstick Makes Me Feel So Empowered As A Disabled Woman” by Keah Brown; The Cut’s “The Lipstick I Wore To My Divorce” by Pooja Makhijani; and SELF’s “Why I Embraced Skincare After My Mother’s Death” by Rachel Vorona Cote.
But this collective amnesia where people cannot remember that women’s media is capable of employing stellar journalists or covering stories that matter can be traced back to plain old sexism. Women’s voices are historically discredited or not listened to, women’s interests are often deemed vapid or shallow or unimportant, women’s opinions are seen as less important than men’s (for more on this last one, I highly recommend Michelle Dean’s book “Sharp”). And so the publications that cater to women are also determined to be unserious. People are surprised that women can care about such meaty issues, shocked that these publications give their readers credit and see them as smart, capable, and worldly.
This same attitude is why it’s so hard to get sports media to care about women’s sports or take it as seriously as they do men’s (I do wish women’s pubs would step in and fill this gap; I’m working on it). The women are seen as less skilled, less interesting, less newsworthy.
Maybe eventually people will stop being surprised that women’s media does good work, breaks big stories, and wins magazine awards on the regular. Until then, I’ll just keep yelling about it. Oh, and can I recommend subscribing to Natalie Daher’s newsletter, CLIPPED, where she explores the world of women’s media and offers great analysis and interviews with people working in it?