Why Bustle Isn’t Going to Win the Hearts and Minds of Women

A while back Bleacher Report founder Bryan Goldberg found himself in a bit of a PR nightmare when he announced he would be revolutionizing women’s media by creating a site that *gasp* put politics and hard news alongside beauty tips and fashion advice. Mostly people just laughed at him because clearly he hadn’t done any homework before launching Bustle.com, which would have shown the many thriving websites aimed at women. Among his competition is Jezebel. I’d forgotten all about Bustle because, well, I read Jezebel, Rookie, XOJane, Slate’s XX blog, and any number of other lady-focused sites. Today I confirmed that I was right to stay away.

It all started at Jezebel, where I was reading an article about the perils of calling anyone a “role model.” Here’s the gist:

One group of women’s perfect role model is another group’s batshit weirdo, so could we please stop christening women good or bad role models as if there is any one such thing? Also, it’s just a backdoor way to slut-shame/police behavior. Own it! It’s just another version of the same game of trying to pin what women do — famous or otherwise — into a neat little box of an appropriate use of their brains, talents and bodies that we’d like our girls to emulate. And it’s a slippery slope lined with shredded religious icons and questionable bodysuits.

It goes on to talk about an article that holds Lorde (who is legitimately pretty awesome) out to be the perfect role model for girls. She’s cool, talented, and she’s a feminist. What more can you ask for, right? Well, here’s what Jezebel says:

“Critiquing famous (or any) women’s behavior in terms of whether what they do is good for the girls or not is a sticky trap…I also think it insults girls, who are more individual, and already far more developed as people than we give them credit for by treating them like blank slates who will copy and absorb every thing they ever see on command.”

It’s probably no surprise that the article Jezebel was responding to came from Bustle. I don’t have much to say about “role models.” Everyone needs someone to look up to, but Jezebel is right, “Seeing that women can be all kinds of things, and that they don’t have to be trapped by one image, one act, one note, is freeing.” What I thought was interesting here was the clear difference between Jezebel and Bustle — the former having been dreamed up by Anna Holmes, the latter being the belated brainchild of Bryan Goldberg.

In practice, there is something simplistic about Bustle. Something about it makes me feel like I’m being beat over the head with a Women’s Studies 101 textbook. Bustle screams: “THESE ARE FEMINIST ISSUES YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT!” Over at Jezebel, it’s a bit more like, “Hey let’s talk about these issues in new ways because they impact us all.”  (Also, as long as we’re talking feminism, you should check in with Joss Whedon.)

Women are a huge force on the web, and one more website isn’t going to make much of a difference one way or another, but from the get go there was something vaguely insulting about Bustle, and now it just seems like it doesn’t haven’t the guts to go all the way. It’s not nearly as frank, dirty, or smart as most of the other big players in the space. I don’t know how it’s doing or who is reading it, but it will be interesting to see if it steps up its game over to keep up with the smart girls at the cool table.

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