Callie Beusman describes herself as a "professional feminist with a corporate sponsor". Currently Senior Editor of Broadly, forthcoming feminist site from VICE, Beausman has worked across a range of feminist websites. This has enabled her to understand a new form of violence against women—online threats and trolling. That most feminist websites are run by "boy's clubs" only makes things worse. She lays down her thoughts about the current status of feminist sites, both online and inside office spaces, and in a matter-of-fact way picks apart everything that is wrong and right about this new web activism.
The relationship between feminism and the Internet is contentious to say the least. The majority of big news and social media sites like Gawker, Facebook, Twitter, and VICE were all founded and continue to be run by men. When Gawker started their blog Jezebel, in 2007, it was a voice aimed at Gawker’s female readers focused on delivering “celebrity, sex, and fashion for women. Without airbrushing.” Since then, other websites like Slate and The Huffington Post have followed suit and created feminist sites of their own. As has VICE, the edgy news and culture website famous for its unflinchingly honest journalism, and for being a total boy’s club. But all of that is about to change this year with its upcoming vertical site, Broadly, which will feature female writers and provide the gritty, feminist voices that the Internet is in desperate need of.
VICE has worked hard these past few years to create a website that functions on multiple platforms with diverse content, but the one thing that has been crucially missing is one focused on women and feminism. With the past year being full of debates about reproductive justice and slogans like Emma Watson’s #HeForShe campaign, the moment for a leading feminist voice on the Internet has never been more necessary or relevant. This is especially true considering the rise of the men’s rights movement and its associated websites and bloggers, all of which advocate for the silencing of feminists, and some even violence against women. Their main thesis is that (white, heterosexual, cisgender) men are the most oppressed group in society today. They routinely spew their anti-woman vitriol on websites like Return of Kings and online “pick-up artist” forums, as well as advise their fellow “activists” to undermine women’s safety and rights every chance they get. With misogynists lurking in every corner of Congress and the Internet, the question remains: will the formerly male-dominated VICE be able to successfully create a voice for feminism on their website?
Callie Beusman is a writer, Vassar graduate, former Jezebel staff member, and in her own words, a “professional feminist with a corporate sponsor.” She has been chosen as the senior editor for Broadly, the-sub property of VICE targeted to women, which launches Spring 2015. VICE has done their homework by picking Beusman as the senior editor of Broadly: she is the perfect fit to create the feminist voice that VICE is searching for because of her background working at Jezebel, the Hairpin, V, Interview, and IMPOSE. Beusman has also written several articles for VICE before, aimed towards a feminist audience about hot-button issues such as rape culture, feminist DIY products on Etsy, and a story about Women in Waves—an activist group that provides safe abortions for women living in areas where abortion is inaccessible by sailing them into international waters to administer safe abortions.
When I met up with Beusman for coffee, I was expecting her to only talk about Broadly, but what we ended up talking about was much more than just a small project she will soon become a part of; we talked about writing, feminism and what it means to be a woman working in media today.
Callie Beusman. I really think that Jezebel changed the entire way that we process news, the way that we read news, and the way that we respond to news. Someone asked me “why do you think the Bill Cosby thing only got attention now?” I think it’s because of Jezebel and sites like Jezebel that people are starting to not victim-blame and take women seriously. I think something like the Monica Lewinsky incident wouldn’t be able to happen again because it’s like there is this voice standing up for women’s interests and teaching women to be hyper-critical of media institutions in a way that they weren’t before.
Jezebel started as a reaction to women’s magazines. [The founders] went through women’s magazines and were like “what do we hate about this?” Women’s magazines were really different when it started, and now I think that they adopted a lot of Jezebel-like stuff. Tracy, who’s my boss at VICE Women, was one of the founders of Jezebel, said that they were reading a magazine and the headline was “What He Thinks of Your O Face.” How insulting is that? You have to be perfect all the time, even when you’re having an orgasm? So they wanted to interrogate the idea of aspirational women’s lifestyle magazines, and they changed the discourse in general.
But with that said, I think it’s gotten to the point now where so many blogs are doing that, being really hyper-critical of media stuff, and media criticism is becoming synonymous with women’s writing. Women’s blogs now are almost dependent on sexism. If they woke up tomorrow and the patriarchy was gone, what would they write about? It’s this sort of whole reacting to something without providing an alternative solution. It’s like, “Oh, can you believe Rush Limbaugh said this about women?” Instead of having the conversation that’s already been started and having the last word, a better solution seems to be having another entirely different conversation. You don’t have to just battle the sexism: create an alternate model where instead of getting mad at people for saying sexist shit about Hillary Clinton, report on Hillary Clinton yourself. I like op-eds, but I don’t like how women’s writing has become synonymous with op-ed writing about sexism.
I’ve always been a feminist. It’s the one thing that I actually genuinely care about. I studied Women’s Studies when I was in school, and I continued to do that. When I was graduating high school, my parent’s friends were all like, “What are you going to do? What job are you going to have?” and I was like, “Oh, I’m going to be a professional feminist with a corporate sponsor.” That’s exactly what I am. I applied for a job at Gawker and they told me, “You shouldn’t work at Gawker, you should work for Jezebel.” It’s really fortunate and I think I got lucky. I worked really hard and I did a lot of writing. I think a lot of people had to segue into becoming a feminist writer. You know, you just start writing about pop culture and then something else, and then kind of segue into a career in women’s media and I’m fortunate because I just started doing that right off the bat, by chance.
I think it’s tough for people to figure out how to do it, but it gives a platform for people who wouldn’t have a voice otherwise. It’s a lot of women of color, queer women, transwomen who wouldn’t necessarily be propped up in the mainstream media, and now they can have a way to make themselves heard, which is really cool because there’s a way they can now hold mainstream media accountable.
There was this huge controversy at Jezebel when they had hired this man who systematically silenced women of color. He was this gross guy and they had given him this platform to write, and then he had this breakdown and people got mad, like, “Jezebel, why did you give him a voice?” They’re right—and around the same time Jezebel had only one woman of color on staff, and everyone was pointing that out, and they were right about that too. When the new Editor-in-Chief Emma took over, she hired such amazing and brilliant diverse women with amazing and diverse interests and she really responded to that criticism well. The site is infinitely better now because of it.
There’s sometimes a policing of other people’s feminism, like “It’s not feminist that you did that,” or if you have an opinion.” That’s not the right feminist opinion to have. That can be exhausting and a bit frustrating. Instead of attacking each other, how about we attack sexism? Especially if everyone wants the same thing, which is equal rights for men and women. I think there’s a lot of stuff that’s objectionable, but it is sometimes frustrating.
It sucks when that happens. It sucks that when you enter women’s media, you have to prepare yourself for it. I have a really weird full name that I’ve never gone by and I was telling my boss about it, and saying to them that I should get it legally changed, and they were like, “No, it’s good that you have a weird name. Now no one will be able to get your address.” I know so many women who’ve received personal threats. I know at least three people who had to file police reports because of online harassment. It’s insane. There just needs to be better security. I think there’s this idea that free speech is being able to say whatever you want, but I think that’s not what free speech should be because allowing these anonymous misogynists to say whatever they want makes it so women can’t speak. Whose freedom are we protecting? We’re protecting these misogynists’ right to attack women, and by doing so we are directly contributing to the silencing of women. And this silencing increases exponentially when it’s a woman of color, a transwoman, or a queer woman. You’re protecting this anonymous person on the Internet to the direct detriment of women.
On Twitter, people can say, “You should have your head cut off and get raped.” And Twitter’s like, “That’s free speech, they can say whatever they want. They didn’t make a direct threat. They said you should have your head cut off and get raped. They didn’t actually do it.” You need to have a Twitter handle to work, and as a writer, you can’t shut it down. Someone found out my friend’s address because she was tagged in a picture on Instagram and it was geotagged—so you have to remove all of your geotags if you want to be a feminist writer. You have to be really savvy about personal security. At one point I was getting harassing phone calls every night. It was just someone breathing heavily and it got to the point where I called the cops. I don’t know if it was someone from the Internet or just some guy, but I think that once you get through your first bad one, you’re less afraid. It is sad that I have to say that. Roosh from Return of Kings directed all these people at me and I was really shook up at first, but it was stupid personal attacks. Who cares if a bunch of Internet misogynists are calling me ugly? But 10 people an hour tweeting mean stuff at you does rattle you, and I don’t think its something that you can ever get used to. It doesn’t really happen to me anymore at VICE because I think people have a weird antipathy for Jezebel specifically. VICE has a reputation of being a boy’s club, which is why I think it’s really important to have a women’s site on it. We have these big empty conference rooms now, and I’ll walk by a meeting happening that’s just all women. And they also hired a female COO, and I bet that was never there before we got here. It really makes you feel proud.
I hope that we can get to a point one day where women’s interest writing isn’t defined as writing about all the awful stuff that happens to women. We don’t want to do only rape stories! We don’t want to do all abortion stories. We want to write about cool stuff that women are doing, and I think that’s another unfilled niche in online feminism that’s well done in magazine feminism, and again this is something that Jezebel’s doing much better now. Basically it got really cool when I left. It’s like cultural stuff, profiles on cool women, articles drawing attention to cool projects that women are working on in arts and music and film, and pieces showing us who we all should admire. That’s something I’d love to see more of. I think Jezebel’s definitely doing a lot more of it. They have amazing interviews now, and wonderful historical pieces. If you read a lot of women’s interest, the takeaway you get is that being a woman sucks and that’s not how I feel. I never want to be a man. Sometimes, the way that the experience of being a woman is written about gives you the message “Who would ever want to be a woman?” I hope we can create this conversation where you realize that there are so many reasons why you would want to be a woman. Being a woman rules. I think it’s really important that the media that we consume and we create reminds us of that, rather than thinking that we’re all going to get raped and no one will let us abort the baby afterwards. I don’t want that to be anyone’s takeaway.
Abortion is another thing that’s troubling to me, because in the past few years women have really lost their abortion access. It’s crazy because feminism is having this pop culture moment and more women are identifying as feminist, and yet while this is happening, women across the United States are losing control of their own reproductive freedom. How does that happen? How is it that feminism is getting so popular, but politically things are the worst they’ve ever been for women in the past 50 years? I wish that women were as engaged and concerned with their political future as they are with pop culture right now, but I think that women’s engagement with pop culture has changed the world for the better and I hope we can translate that into politics.
I mean, Cosmo’s doing their big feminist thing. I don’t subscribe to Cosmo, but I’ve heard that a lot of feminist writing doesn’t make it into the magazine and I don’t know whether or not that’s true, but I think some of it does. I think it’s interesting to read some of the comments on Cosmo. Some of it is like, “What the fuck is this? This isn’t the Cosmo I know”. I think another thing with online feminism is the pressure to respond when something awful happens. I’ve gotten so many emails like, “Why hasn’t Jezebel responded to this yet?” You want to respond quickly and you want to respond coherently, and you kind of want to be the first person to respond. I think that’s why it’s easy for stuff to lose its nuance. With print magazines though, you can take more time to thoroughly research something.
Jezebel is amazing and I get worried because I think some “ex-Jezebel” people think there’s some kind of rivalry. When I left, it was because it was a huge step-up. I went from being Editorial Assistant to Senior Editor, but when I left, I was sobbing. Working with all women is just phenomenal. I literally haven’t experienced sexism in the workplace since I left college. I was at Vassar when I studied Women’s Studies, and then went right to Jezebel and worked with all women, and now at VICE I basically only work and talk with women.
I’m mostly really happy with online feminism. It’s not perfect obviously, but I think it’s great that so many smart talented women are having platforms, and people are listening to them. I think it’s really cool. I’m watching the world change right before my eyes. I’m watching women learn how to advocate for themselves and learn what kind of world they want to live in and talk about how they’re going to make that happen.
Callie Beusman tweets at @cal_beu
Edited by Carlo Mantuano