Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wake Up And Smell The Estrogen

That sentence was on the cover of one of the old Ms. magazines I just put into the trade basket in my library, and it makes a very good kick-in-the-pants beginning for this rant. And a rant it will be.

To begin with the Bitch magazine is in financial trouble and it needs your dollars to continue. You can donate here.

Then you can go out and buy (yes, buy) the Summer Issue of the Ms. magazine, which includes the following topics:

We've got an exclusive story on medical neglect at the only federal prison hospital for women, dirt on anti-gay-marriage but prostitute-going Senator David Vitter, a look at misogyny within polygamous cults, and more …

Naturally, if you have no money don't give any. But supporting feminist media is not a bad way of spending your money, despite what Jezebel has to say about the financial difficulties of Bitch:

Maybe the reason why Bitch isn't succeeding is because, although it's trudged along for 12 years, it just isn't successful. Has anyone stopped to think that it's the content, and not the mean, evil corporate world that's costing them money? A lot of women don't really subscribe to the stilted rhetoric of first-year women's studies. And it would seem that a lot of women don't really subscribe to Bitch either.

That Bitch has a circulation of only 47,000 seems to support that argument, does it not? Until you start thinking what the circulation rates of political opinion journals are in general. Here is a picture for you showing the circulation rates of really important political opinion journals (click on it to make it bigger):

From the source of the graph:

As the BPA audit ending in June 2007 shows, counting the Hill-delivered copies allows the New Republic to keep its subscriber numbers up above the 65,000 mark (although just barely, at 65,779) . That is a critical point because it means the magazine, which has been losing circulation since 2000, can say that it has stemmed the losses. Keeping subscriptions up at the magazine is a priority for its new owner, CanWest.

You must have heard of the New Republic? It's a major opinion source in political debates and its circulation figures are rotten. Now, it could be that the reason is that no reader is interested in Political Science 101 and that the ads in the magazine are too boring for eyelid batting. It could even be that the New Republic is circling the drain.

But isn't it funny that we hardly ever read something similar to the opinion from Jezebel when it comes to these political opinion journals? Note that the National Review, the breeding site of All Things Conservative, isn't doing that well in the circulation races. Does it mean that the wingnuts write about how boring it is and how it should get better ads?

Of course not. And they don't write to wonder why the Washington Times is still in business, despite having made a loss in every single year of its existence. Because that's not the point of political opinion magazines. Their point is to get certain topics out there, to be discussed more generally. Their point is to influence opinions.

And that is ultimately the point of Bitch and Ms. and other feminist magazines, too. Once they stop existing (for being soooo boring), fewer feminist stories will crop up in the political discourse.

Have I made my point? It's closely related to the misconception that picking things in politics is just like choosing an ice-cream flavor. This misconception is astonishingly common and I blame the advertising culture for it. There's a difference between political choices and preferring chocolate ice-cream with extra chips to vanilla ice-cream: If the ice-cream parlor doesn't stock your favorite, you can just not buy and leave empty-handed. This is impossible in politics, because the choice for those who don't vote will be made for them.

Or perhaps a different parable would be clearer here: Suppose that you are stranded on a deserted island, running out of food and going mad with the solitude and the fear. Then you see a ship against the horizon, you scream and yell and light fires and jump up and down. And the ship sees you! It turns and comes to rescue you! YEAH!

But as it gets closer you see it's a dirty ship with bad paint and a torn sail and ugly sailors, so you decide not to get on the boat at all. You deserve a prettier and more interesting rescuer.

So I may have just fallen overboard the ship called My Rant. But feminists should support their opinion-making organs, just as the progressives support their and the conservatives support theirs, especially because those other journals have more institutional backing than feminism has, more angels covering up their losses.