When you first hear the word “Jezebel,” you think of the biblical tale of Jezebel – a woman who seduced her husband from the light of religion, who was subsequently thrown out a window and fed to dogs for her transgressions against God. You might also think of the modern usage of “Jezebel,” which serves to mean “a sexually promiscuous and controlling woman.” For this post, we will be discussing the digital platform Jezebel.com, a site created to re-appropriate such sexist ideas found in the world.
Jezebel.com was launched in 2007 as another branch of Gawker Media. At this point in
time, Gawker’s readership was 70% female. Jezebel founder Anna Holmes noted this majority, and created the site to better serve the female readers; making “the sort of women’s magazine we’d want to read.” This “magazine” was to be one without unrealistic photoshopping, misogynistic comments about weight, or condescending comments about women in general. Summarized by their tagline, Jezebel is “Celebrity, Sex, Fashion for Women. Without Airbrushing.”
Jezebel has been the center of several controversies since its launch. Several incidents have caused people to ask just how “for women” Jezebel really is. The site has been accused of preying on the insecurity and jealousy of their base with clickbait articles that obsess celebrity gossip and appearances in the same way the site promised it wouldn’t. Emily Gould, a Gawker alumna, wrote a piece for Slate explaining just how sites like
Jezebel, Salon’s Broadsheet, and even Slate’s own XX Factor produce this manipulation.
Gould explains that these sites fall into the trap of racing for the highest number of page views; which are primarily generated by the most provocative pieces, as well as by the “commenters who are moved to speak out, then revisit the comment thread endlessly to see how people have responded to their ideas.” This problem is also ironically
magnified by the goals of these sites. Jezebel was founded to be an empowering site, and was built to stray away from the typical format of women’s publications, where the publishers exploit women’s insecurities by convincing them to buy the summer-hot-beach-bod-super-workout-edition because it’s plastered with imagines of perfectly thin, beautiful models. As such, articles on sites like Jezebel were directed towards targeting these ideas and smashing them. Some of Jezebel’s most famous articles are exposing certain magazine covers for using ridiculous amounts of photoshop on women, or chastising sites for how
they advertise plus-sized women. Unfortunately, because Jezebel forces itself to be as provocative as possible, and get the most page views as possible, they have been accused of encouraging a culture of attacking any person or idea that makes the readers feel the slightest amount of shame.
As I browse through Jezebel now, years after most of the scathing criticisms of the site were published, it does not appear to be so threatening. It appears that, if anything, readership and popularity of the site have fallen quite a bit. According to website traffic rankings from Amazon’s Alexa, Jezebel.com has lost quite a bit of its readership in the past years. The current front page features articles such as
“’Atomic Blonde’ Is the Next Best Thing to a Female Bond,” and “Donald Trump Is in Trouble for Deleting His Tweets,” which are both fairly benign pieces. I see no crusades against beautiful women, nor any shrieking cries against the patriarchy. I never followed Jezebel.com, so I suppose I cannot truly comment on what the site ever was or even is now. However, I do have a feeling that most of the criticisms I found were either blaming Jezebel for things that weren’t fully its fault, or just chastising them for no good reason. An article from Thought Catalog chastised Jezebel for committing such atrocities as writing about a celebrity who was accused of rape, and about a group of horrifically racist teens. The article is meant to be about how the site is anti-feminist, but literally makes a comparison that the Jezebel reader is a girl who’s “driving daddy’s car too slowly in the passing lane … oblivious to the accidents taking place behind her.” Isn’t that sexist too?
Jezebel is a digital platform that serves liberal women. Any site as large as Jezebel will attract attention and hate, especially if it’s a site that talks politics. Some people see Jezebel’s endgame as tearing women apart, others see it as creating a tribe of radical feminists who are surely looking to kill all men. In truth, Jezebel has been praised by rather reputable sources, such as NPR and the New York Times, for its work in modern feminism. While the site fell into the clickbait trap, it certainly isn’t as absurd and manipulative as it has been accused of being.
The endgame of Jezebel.com is simple. The site exists to fight sexism and misogyny in the media. Within the lifetime of this publication, we have seen a drastic push away from the types of media Jezebel was directly against, and this is partially thanks to the work Jezebel has produced. The path may have gotten dark at times, and may have drawn criticism for small details, but overall, Jezebel and sites like it have had a massively positive impact on major media platforms, thus it is necessary that these outlets continue to exist and fight.