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This totally ridiculous and outdated stock art reflects the tone-deafness of Brian Goldberg’s pitch for his lady-business website, Bustle.com (Photos.com)
This totally ridiculous and outdated stock art reflects the tone-deafness of Brian Goldberg’s pitch for his lady-business website, Bustle.com (Photos.com)

Ladies don't need Bustle.com to mansplain the news to us Add to ...

Ladies, are you tired of the same ole fashion and gossip rags? Do you have difficulty reading articles from publications that aren’t explicitly for women? Have you been wondering where all the serious news commentaries and beauty tips are? Well, Bryan Goldberg has solved all of this for you.

Yesterday, the entrepreneur and Bleacher Report co-founder announced that he’d raised $6.5-million for a lady site for ladies with lady stuff on it. His aim? To attract a huge audience and large advertisers, and make it a “titan in the women’s publishing landscape.”

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According to Goldberg, other major media outlets like Gawker, The Verge and TechCrunch launched to “mostly attract men.” (Not necessarily true.) Traffic numbers on women’s-specific sites, like Vogue and Glamour, are significantly lower – so Goldberg-logic dictated that obviously the women needed something new.

I’m not sure how comparing broad-interest and tech sites to fashion and beauty sites counts as fair competitive analysis, but anyway, women are reading online. One would think the Bustle team would know this, since Mr. Goldberg acknowledged that women are spending the most time on the Internet. We simply don’t need a hub to host it all – that’s the beauty of online. We can find what we want. We don’t click around women’s websites, wringing our hands over the lack of varied content. We don’t land on Mashable and think, “Oh, there’s no makeup here, I’m out.” We are perfectly capable of reading The Verge and Business Insider despite their non-pastel designs if that’s the kind of stuff we want to read about.

None of this seems to have occurred to Mr. Goldberg, who asks: “Isn’t it time for a women’s publication that puts world news and politics alongside beauty tips? What about a site that takes an introspective look at the celebrity world, while also having a lot of fun covering it? How about a site that offers career advice and book reviews, while also reporting on fashion trends and popular memes?”

Oh, like The Hairpin? Or Jezebel? Or Rookie? Or Hello Giggles? Or the less explicitly gendered Salon? Women are enjoying smart and varied content in all kinds of places. Even traditional women’s titles have done a lot of intelligent journalism, but whether we view those pieces as being on par with those in other titles is debatable. The fact that Mr. Goldberg, his investors and his team thought that Bustle could be positioned as groundbreaking in an Internet full of great women who have been making great content for years is simply amazing.

Given all its posturing, Bustle must be pumping out some all-time great stuff right? As I write this, seven out of the eight featured “must-reads” on Bustle are little more than linkbait: question headlines, “surprising facts” and listicles – many of which turn out to be irritatingly formatted as galleries. (Page views! Ads!) A few choice headlines include: “Why do women wear makeup?” and “Is this star really flaunting her body?”

Truly earthshaking and unique stuff.

Possibly the most offensive part about Bustle’s positioning is that it’s a self-identified feminist publication, believing that a “partner-track attorney can be passionate about world affairs and celebrity gossip.” (Welcome to the past few decades, Bustle.) But a truly feminist publication wouldn’t cater to a privileged few (upper and middle class, probably white women), put air quotes around income gap, claim men would only read it “secretly,” or resort to jokes about makeup when justifying why a man is running a women’s publication. (“Knowing the difference between mascara, concealer, and eye-liner is not my job.”)

As Karen Schulman Dupuis wrote in her epic Medium rant (that I highly recommend for its on-point hilarity), there is another very real problem apparent in Bustle’s early success:

“If you don’t think that there’s a bias in women led ventures getting VC funding, then you’re being willfully blind. It’s documented, ad nauseam that women only receive 4.2 per cent of VC funding in the U.S. I seriously cannot think of another more perfect example than this one to animate how horribly wrong the VC eco-system is, and how every single one of the players that gave @BGoldberg money should be ashamed of themselves.”

While Bustle might be less off-putting if it was totally led by women – not just in editorial – I have grown weary of websites for women, pens for women, books for women, insert-anything-here for women. Bustle isn’t alone in its assumptions. The Daily Beast, for example, has a “Women in the World” section, lest any lady stuff end up in the regular politics or business sections.

Our interests, though they may sometimes fall along stereotypically gendered lines, are not secondary or definable. It’s patronizing to assume we need everything packaged according to one aspect of our identities, and places far too much importance on something as varied as gender. (For example, some men like makeup! Some women like sports! I can’t believe I have to type this in 2013!)

But it never really was about us. Women don’t need websites for women, advertisers do. Mr. Goldberg would be wise to just admit it.

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