The Co-Founder of Bitch Magazine Claims ‘We Were Feminist Once’

Zeisler has a new book out, and it’s predictably Bitch-y.

Andi Zeisler. Courtesy of author

In the 1990s, feminists drew a line between a pair of up-and-coming magazines: In many social circles, you could either be a fan of Bitch Magazine, or you could be into Bust. Bitch was rougher-edged than Bust, less glossy. Bitch was interested in feminist theory, and reviled the concept of selling out; Bust was more fun, more inclusive. Bitch had way more words per page, and fewer celebrity interviews. Bust got a fancy book deal and great placement on Borders’ newsstands around the country; Bitch was often tucked in the back of the racks, with the philosophy magazines and some of the weirder subcultural signifiers like The Comics Journal.

If you had asked me back then to predict the future, I probably would have sworn that one of those magazines would be gone by 2016. Though as far as I can recall, the editors of Bitch never explicitly called out the editors of Bust or vice versa, the two seemed eternally at odds. Two magazines enter the feminist Thunderdome, and only one can leave. Right? Happily, no. Both Bust and Bitch are still around today. There’s room enough in the world, it seems, for two perspectives on feminism.

But even in 2016, you’ve just gotta pick a side. My feminist tastes always leaned more toward Bitch, because it was prickly and sarcastic and dedicated to its own unalloyed principles. I didn’t realize it back at the dawn of the Bitch/Bust days, but by siding with Bitch I was declaring my allegiance to its co-founder Andi Zeisler. Her writing exemplified—and still does—Bitch at its best: She’s smart and funny and honest and more than a little scornful of her enemies. Zeisler wrote in the 20th anniversary issue of Bitch that she was somewhat disappointed to see that her magazine was still around: “When your mission is to respond to crappy, insulting representations of gender, race, and more, after all, the goal is to put yourself out of business.” But there will always be more idiots, so we should be grateful that there are people like Zeisler who can call those idiots out.

Zeisler has a new book out, and it’s predictably Bitch-y. We Were Feminist Once is a call to arms for feminists, an insistent manifesto charging that the old feminist ideals are being lost in a haze of “marketplace feminism.” While many women applaud when Taylor Swift calls herself a feminist, Zeisler accuses Swift, basically, of diluting the brand. At some point over the past 20 years, the idea of “selling out” became passé; Zeisler didn’t get that memo. She is not afraid to call out and shame people she believes are hurting feminism.

On the Seattle stop of her book tour, Zeisler will stage an extended conversation with Seattle-area #shoutyourabortion founder Amelia Bonow. Whoever thought up this pairing deserves a raise; Bonow is loud and unapologetic and more than a decade younger than Zeisler, which means the two will have to navigate a slight generational gap to reconcile their views on feminism. This should be a hell of a talk—and funny as hell, too. Town Hall, 1119 Eighth Ave., 652-4255, townhallseattle.org. $5. All ages. 7:30 p.m. Mon., May 16.

Paul Constant is the co-founder of The Seattle Review of Books. Read daily books coverage like this at seattlereviewofbooks.com.

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