My Totally Unsolicited Site Critique

Pretty much every thirty-something editor I know was influenced by Sassy magazine. It had a fresh editorial voice, and it was so funny. Better yet: the way it was funny made you realize how patronizing so much other teen fare was. Its savvier-than-thou approach plugged directly into the back-brain of counter-culture teenagers. It made readers feel understood and less alone.

The editors did not talk down to teen girls. That in and of itself was totally revolutionary in the ’90s, and felt very political. If the reason a guy was in the magazine was because he was cute, the headline would be something like “We Are Writing About This Guy Because He Is Cute. Look at Him! Look How Cute He Is!” Everyone does self-deprecating headlines now, but who did that back then? Spy? Certainly no one writing for teenagers.

Even if it didn’t sell very well, the magazine’s influence spread beyond its official reach, like The Daily Show or The Colbert Report. Every time I see an editorial wink or a specific kind of really-paying-attention-to-the-culture humor—like The Hairpin’s Women Laughing Alone With Salad, or Jezebel‘s smartest-girl-in-the-room take on pop culture coverage—I feel like that’s part of the legacy of editor in chief Jane Pratt and the early Sassy team (especially Christina Kelly).

Jane Pratt’s next endeavor, Jane magazine, was for the twenty-somethings, and it was less fun. I subscribed and read every issue, but I didn’t feel the same sense of unbridled fealty. I felt like I should like it, but it didn’t make me laugh the way, say, Sassy did the time they took all of Cosmo‘s fashion advice for a week and fell down the steps wearing a fake-fur coat and platforms and a homeless guy on their stoop meowed at them . . . Funniest. Self-Help. Article. Ever.

Today Jane Pratt launched her new site, It’s always seemed like the internet would suit Pratt well. Less conservative advertisers to appease (for better and worse). More room for commenters to interact with the editors, rather than just sending stalkery collages and fan letters via the mail. More fun to be had with fonts, multimedia, heds and deks. Let’s party!

So far (in the last few hours), reactions seem to be ranging from enthusiastic (The Stir effused), to ambivalent (The Hairpin editor was welcoming; one of its commenters dubbed it “ladyblog horrorcore”). My first impressions:

1. The Crying About Getting Old Blog Post

Pratt’s opening blog post—in which she overhears a lady say she has wrinkles, bursts into tears, calls her celebrity friends, then angrily outs the offender on her site—made me very uncomfortable, rather like how I felt listening to Liz Phair’s latest album, Funstyle. I was shocked by the amount of self-conscious self-pity in both. Also: this includes the first of nine My Friend Michael Stipe name-drops in the launch content.

Talking about age is important. The way Tina Fey did it recently in The New Yorker and Bossypants was especially great: “The definition of ‘crazy’ in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.” That is perceptive and useful. But going out of your way to hear someone say you have wrinkles, when you—like most us over thirty—have wrinkles, and then crying and slinking off to blog about it? It’s a big gimme; any comment besides “You go, Jane! I hate that mean old Karen at J. Sisters Salon! You’re sooooo preetty!” comes off as mean. Jane is super pretty, of course. But that waxer lady does not deserve a public roasting.

2. The Facebook Rape Story

Managing editor Emily McCombs writes about how her rapist tried to friend her on Facebook. She took the opportunity to interview him and run it as a Q&A. She says it was “more helpful than 1,000 hours of therapy.”

There was something so upsetting to me about reading this painful story via a jaunty headline, and blithe tone: “I’d describe my feelings upon seeing his friend request in my inbox as sort of ‘hurt-y?’ With a side of ‘can’t breathe.’”

The lack of satisfying and-then-he-and-his-serial-sexual-predator-friends-went-to-jail-the-end closure disturbed me, maybe because of the similar but much more cathartic article that ran in the Sun a couple of weeks ago. It was called: “Dear Rapist: Twenty years after her assault at a college party, Liz Seccuro received a letter of apology from her attacker. The correspondence that followed led her to pursue justice at last.” Contrast that tone to xoJane’s “My Rapist Friended Me on Facebook (and All I Got Was This Lousy Article).”

3. The Selfishness Thing

The mission statement is: “ is where women go when they are being selfish, and where their selfishness is applauded.” The only post that seems to fall into this theme: “I Can’t Date You Unless You Have a Smartphone,” which seems like more of a celebration of princessy-ness than selfishness. Also, isn’t selfishness what ’90s women get wrongly accused of all the time? Is this a bid to reclaim the word “selfish,” like Bitch magazine did the word “bitch”?

4. Fashion Shoot

Cute photos! Sort of a strange selection of people, some really relevant and great, some sort of random. But fun questions! It’s always good to ask famous people who they would make out with.

5. Entertainment Coverage

This is a long-time ’90s Woman battle cry, but how can you argue about how there should be more female singer-songwriters without mentioning that there are so many right now! Taylor Swift, a female singer-songwriter, has had a billion #1 hits this year. Also, how can you write about ’90s nostalgia and use the very un-’90s phrase, “I’ll try not to get too gay about this”?

6. The Lube Story

The story about the woman who doesn’t want her unemployed husband to masturbate has been dubbed a plea for divorce by The Awl. That seems about right. It certainly indicates a very pre-’90s relationship model.

I could keep going with these ambivalent feelings, but I’ll stop there. It’s a new site. After all, Double X inexplicably launched loaded with anti-feminist essays. XoJane could go in a million different directions. But it’s hard not to wish it were more inspiring out of the gate.

What was important to me about Sassy was the making-you-feel-less-alone. Not one of the stories in the launch of made me feel less alone. In fact, there’s an unbecoming combination of self-congratulation and sloppiness masquerading as sauciness (“Let’s demystify everything. Because knowledge is power. Or something.”) The chatty, best-friends-realness voice feels put-on and costume-y, like too-big heels.

Whatever. I shouldn’t be taking this so personally. Maybe it’s just one of those slightly deflating moments, like when you run into a romanticized ex, and over a long coffee with him, you realize he’s not still that guy you were obsessed with when you were fifteen.



Filed under Ada

10 responses to “My Totally Unsolicited Site Critique

  1. It’s worse when “that guy” is the same, and he then breaks your heart, 15 years later. Believe me.
    I miss Sassy. I never got into Jane.

  2. The piece that made me wince was this one:

    Seriously? I get that you’re trying to be all hip and irreverent and ironic but … wow. Way to try too hard. Or something.

    • I agree with you, Adrienne. Between that and the rape story, it’s like the site is daring anyone to be anything but plucky and slapsticky, even if they’re talking about rape or mental illness. It’s like some sort of awful self-parody.

    • Lauren

      My bottom line is that Sassy was deliberately intelligent, and the new site seems deliberately glib. It’s wasted potential.

      (PS Hi, Ada! I wrote a few pieces for you when you were at Babble.)

    • Darling


      Dear Cat Marnell,

      Wow, you’re telling us you went to a private mental hospital in a glib manner that indicates you have health insurance or your parents paid for it… while attributing the visit to chic things like being a New York fashion editor. And not, you know, things like mental illness.

      Lots of things happen inside inpatient facilities that are funny, like when Amy your roommate uses a sheet to dress like Jesus to fuck with Steve the paranoid schizophrenic 7th day Adventist.

      But they’re funny because the situation is terrible, mental health crises are painful, and you lived through it.

      Not because you ended up fixing split ends. Way to piss on what could’ve been a great, poignant “It happened to me.” Maybe you got shot down in a staff meeting in favor of Terry Richardson seduction stories. Maybe it’s a little early for xojane to do some Back Stories-esque nitty gritty. Maybe you really do use your stint in the loony bin as a funny cocktail party story while you share your Xanax like a nice, sane New York fashion writer.

      But it was a vapid, infuriating blurb on par with “I went to jail and all I got was this (expensive, organic, salon-only) dropped soap! Tee-hee!”

      Cat, I’m sure you’re a better writer than this. Stop being tacky. It’s not cute.

      Gorgeous Watchdog

  3. Pingback: Young, Beautiful, Mentally Ill | My Blog

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  5. I wrote for this site briefly. I chose to stop for some reasons that should be self evident, and others that I dont feel discussing openly for fear of retribution.

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