The evolution of Bitch Media, as told by its EIC

We said it: Evette Dionne is a genius

Hello friends, you may have noticed that it’s hard out there for a print mag in 2019. Make that a print feminist magazine — even a web zine for teens — and you’ve got arguably more of a dilemma to stay afloat. This month, Bitch Media launched a “Keep Bitch In Print” campaign to raise $150,000 by September 27. In terms of, say, venture capital, that figure is small. As of September 20, Bitch had raised nearly $64,000. You can donate here.

If you’re a Bitch fan, then you know the outlet is much more than a print product; the nonprofit produces an active, thoughtful blog and podcasts and is home to an engaged, thoughtful, tight-knit community. For this issue of Clipped, I interviewed Bitch’s editor-in-chief Evette Dionne, who is also a culture writer, scholar, and author of “Fat Girls Deserve Fairytales Too” and “Lifting As We Climb.” We talked about what makes a Bitch angle, the late Toni Morrison, and other writers/pubs to keep up with.

xx Natalie

Of the many things to love about Bitch are the angles one cannot cannot scroll past or forget. Coming to mind are Andi Zeisler’s screed on empowertising, the 2017 piece on how NBC manufactured Trump, and a recent analysis of why Black women can’t gain through the individualist narrative of capitalism. What makes a “Bitch” angle, and how would you describe the Bitch audience? 

Bitch’s tagline has long been “a feminist response to pop culture.” As the organization has evolved to be more inclusive, our mission has also evolved. We no longer just respond to pop culture. We are also invested in creating culture through the interviews we conduct, the longform features we publish, and all of the content that we produce on the website, in the magazine, and through our podcasts. 

A Bitch story doesn’t just trot over familiar territory; we aim to push our readers and our listeners to consider politics and culture through a feminist lens. We shy away from being too academic because we want the content to be accessible, but our stories are rigorous, well-researched, and most importantly, entertaining, witty, and enjoyable. We’re not wedded to following the latest celeb gossip, for instance, but if you have a great angle on Pete Davidson, Ariana Grande, and reproductive coercion, or Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth, and biphobia, then we’re all in. Essentially, we use culture as a lens to discuss larger themes, including capitalism, reproductive rights, police brutality, and chronic illness.

Our audience has evolved since I came to Bitch in 2016. We have been intentional about contracting writers from underrepresented communities and trying to cover stories that will appeal to people from underrepresented communities, including people of color, LGBTQ people, working-class people, people with disabilities, etc. I would describe our audience as well-informed, well-read, and very much invested in pop culture. They’re vocal as well. They’ll tell us when they don’t like a story we’ve published or pass along ideas that they think we should pursue. Their alertness keeps me and my editorial team sharp and on our toes.

You’re very steeped in the internet and news, but also clearly have an academic, literary side. I think this is increasingly common among young writers, but I’m always curious: How do you manage those different skill sets, or balance those two sides of your brain? 

I’ll be honest: It is difficult to balance my need to really sit with an idea or concept in order to process it and the demands of the news cycle. I often tell my friends and my coworkers that I miss being in graduate school because it often felt as if I had all the time in the world to develop a thought, research it, and see it through. Unfortunately, given how quickly news happens, especially in politics and culture, I often have to form an opinion or a story idea and then take more time to wrap my mind around it. In many ways, graduate school taught me how to manage being a journalist and steeping myself in theory.

I was in a media management graduate program, but I spent most of my time in the school’s Department of Communication Studies and Department of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, taking courses like Critical Race Theory and Methods, Black Feminist Thought as Theory and Praxis, and Gender and Sexuality in Media. There were times when my course load included a class about branding, a class about the history and legacy of Blaxploitation, and a class about qualitative methods. While that was difficult to balance at first, it now comes more naturally to be reading the newest peer-reviewed paper about Black feminism while also tweeting about Cardi B and assigning stories. All of those different elements inform my work as a writer and an editor, and it feels good to be able to be in so many different conversations in so many different ways.

You recently brilliantly articulated what the loss of Toni Morrison means for her legacy and for the community of Black women writers she inspired. And you recommended ‘Sula.’ I read an old interview where Morrison talked about the significance of Ms. magazine’s arrival within a conversation about female friendship in literature: “Ms. magazine was founded on the premise that we really have to stop complaining about one another, hating, fighting one another and joining men in their condemnation of ourselves—a typical example of what dominated people do. That is a big education.” What do you think Morrison might say about our current conversations on gender, and the activism around women’s rights and liberation? 

Toni Morrison has been a guiding light for me as a Black woman writer and editor for as long as I can remember. She, Zora Neale Hurston, Ntozake Shange, Pearl Cleage, and Alice Walker introduced me to written language as a means to foster connection and love with the Black women who we know and the Black women we may never meet. I would hope that Ms. Morrison left this world knowing how indelible her impact was and how many Black women, in particular, she inspired to use language as she did. I imagine that she was thrilled about the ways in which Black activists, especially Black women of all genders and sexualities, have been building coalitions designed to make the world better. 

There wouldn’t a Black Lives Matter organization without the vision and leadership of three Black queer women. There wouldn’t be local and national Women’s Marches without women uniting around common causes and goals. I also imagine that she would be disappointed that racism, transphobia, homophobia, and xenophobia still persists in movements that intend to be liberatory. It would seem, then, that we really haven’t learned in the 26 years since she told Charlie Rose, “If you can only be tall because somebody is on their knees, then you have a serious problem. And my feeling is: White people have a very, very serious problem, and they should start thinking about what they can do about it. Take me out of it.” These are still serious problems that few people want to face, confront, and tackle.

You’ve got an impressive longform editing range on topics from pop culture and politics to race and gender. Do you prefer writing or editing, and how do the practices inform one another for you?

I am trained as a magazine journalist, so at the beginning of my career, I preferred reporting and writing to editing. However, since I’ve made the transition to being a full-time editor, I’ve found that I really enjoy helping writers, especially emerging writers, develop their ideas, their stories, and their voices. There are few things in my life as fulfilling as watching a writer’s work evolve as we build an editorial relationship. I try to be as affirming but clear as possible with writers, which is definitely an approach that stems from my time as a freelance journalist. I tried to adopt all of the elements that I admired and respected about the editors who I collaborated with when I was fully freelance, including extending grace to writers who miss deadlines, offering praise before and throughout the process of critiquing their work, and really making sure that the entire editing process is collaborative.

Ultimately, I want the writer to be satisfied with the final product because it bears their byline, not mine, and I invest a lot of time in making sure their experience is as fruitful as possible. In turn, I try to extend the same grace I give writers to myself as I write. That’s difficult for me because I tend to edit myself as I write, so I am often bearing my soul on the page while simultaneously picking myself apart. Writing, for me, is a difficult process, so I try to be as kind to myself when I’m in the throes of it as I am to the writers who I work with.

Your work also focuses on music, including your analysis of Rihanna’s public image and an entire essay series on Lemonade. In recent years, the landscape of culture coverage, especially music journalism, has looked grim. How do you see your work within that context, and what kinds of voices are you looking to amplify?

For Bitch, music is the most difficult vertical to assign stories for, primarily because most artists don’t have promotional cycles before releasing their newest projects. Thanks to Beyoncé, surprise albums trump traditional rollouts, so we are often scrambling to assign coverage in a timely fashion that will resonate within the small window allotted by the news cycle. Often, we shy away from publishing traditional reviews. There are other outlets, including Billboard and Pitchfork, that are entrenched in that lane and are doing their work so well that they’ve become the go-to publications for music reviews.

Instead, we aim to provide cultural context, either around the artist themselves e.g. our recent Taylor Swift piece, which was more about her politics than the album itself, or around a phenomenon they’ve started e.g. Megan Thee Stallion’s “hot-girl summer” mantra and lifestyle. Publishing pieces that contextualize artists or moments both widens our reach with new audiences and deepens our relationship with the audience we already have. I am always looking to amplify independent artists, artists from underrepresented communities, and artists whose music includes some sort of alignment with Bitch’s feminist values and political commitments. I am often seeking the same values in the writers who I choose to work with: Can they write well? Are they able to articulate an original viewpoint that doesn’t tread over well-trodden terrain? Are they able to include both their personal voice and good analysis? Do their values align with the organization’s values?

Which women’s outlets, or women who write primarily for women’s outlets, should we be reading?

I read a variety of different publications, so I am sure that I am going to leave some of them off of this list. That’s definitely not intentional. I believe we should all be reading (and supporting) Wear Your Voice, Longreads, The Cut, Autostraddle, Shondaland, Zora, The Nation, and Teen Vogue. In terms of women writers, I am always looking out for the work of Cate Young, Britni Danielle, Candice Benbow, Taylor Crumpton, Morgan Jerkins, Keah Brown, Angelica Jade Bastién, Tressie McMillan Cottom, Melissa Fabello, Britni de la Cretaz, Jourdain Searles, Serena Sonoma, and Clarkisha Kent.

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