Back in 2014, Fox News discovered that Cosmo had begun to cover politics and news in depth, with the women’s magazine openly and proudly endorsing policies that benefited women’s health. Baffled by this, Fox News’ response was totally predictable.
“Is this beyond the purview of what the readership of this magazine actually wants to see?” said panelist Guy Benson during a broadcast. “Do they want to be preached at about politics when they really just want to check out the latest fashions and these wonderful shoes you guys are all wearing?”
Though the station’s actions were criticized, Benson’s line of thinking didn’t appear out of nowhere. The content produced by women’s and men’s “lifestyle” brands have traditionally differed in a way that suggests exactly what Benson said: Women can’t care about both news and lifestyle. But that doesn’t line up with the truth. Women are actually reading the news, and not by accident.
Women have always been interested in the news and what’s happening in the world. Heck, they even turn up to the voting polls more than men. According to a Pew Research study, women and men consume news differently — women tend to watch their news and men read it — but on the whole, the share of men and women who said they followed news stories only differed by a margin of 5 percent. But up until recently, women-centric outlets, aside from the Jezebels and Everyday Feminisms of the web, haven’t delved too deep into presenting women with equal yet different types of content.
When I asked my own Facebook friends, who come from a variety of races, backgrounds, and education levels, if they felt like they could go to a traditional women’s outlet for substantive news, the majority answered with a resounding “no.” One commenter discussed the difference between men’s and women’s lifestyle sites: Both offer content that isn’t newsy, but the men’s, in her opinion, are the ones that have sustained a decent reputation for reputable news and commentary.
“I don’t get my news from women-centered websites,” she wrote. “Might seem strange, but I actually LOVE Esquire and have always wished women had an equivalent news/media source that wasn’t the pink-washed clickbait we see so often. Esquire is so phenomenal to me because it’s funny, smart, well considered, written by phenomenal journalists and writers alike, covers contemporary news and asks what it means to be a man in today’s age. News outlets geared towards women don’t hit that simple, thoughtful mark that treats women as intelligent, even-keeled, considerate, well dressed citizens.”
“There are a lot of things that aren’t explicitly women’s issues that would benefit from being covered by women reporters, and whose coverage could avoid a lot of tired tropes by being handled by a journalistically responsible feminist writer,” wrote another.
Here’s the good news: Women’s media is starting to catch up. Within the last few years, The Huffington Post launched HuffPost Women and Hearst created a digital team that most notably revamped Cosmo.com, now a staple on Snapchat Discover alongside Vice and CNN. Refinery29 is close behind, a traditionally fashion brand that touts successful news roundups every morning and investigative pieces on rape culture in high schools. (That one I wrote — if you’d like to check it out.) Even newsletters like The Skimm and Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter are gaining momentum talking about social issues and current events, whether or not they’re related to women specifically. They talk about the latest bombings overseas and what the GOP candidates really stand for, as well as body image and race. These are issues that women, as human beings, care about and now don’t have to click out of their favorite gender-focused site to find.
While there is plenty of space taken up by women publishers already, there are still seats at the table to be filled by women publishers tackling news content. It’s this reason that I accepted my job as editorial director of news and identity at Revelist, CafeMedia’s new millennial women’s site. When their people reached out to me about the job, I was excited. But it wasn’t until they told me their vision, to add more smart news and analysis to a women-oriented platform, that I became invested. To not only create mainstream news content on a gender-specific platform, but be able to put those articles next to stories about the Kardashians and lipstick and making sure they all have equal credence.
It’s already happening. But in 2016, it’ll go from something that’s happening to something that just happens. And if women readers want to rock wonderful shoes while reading it, so be it.