The November 9 news that Jezebel will shut down left me feeling unexpectedly heartbroken. Unexpectedly, because this is hardly the first beloved, groundbreaking feminist publication to suddenly close up shop. I had no hand in creating the site. I never even worked there (not that I never applied). The only part I played in Jezebel’s history was in the comments, where I was a minor but devoted participant.
The impact that Jezebel had on me, however, was monumental. In many ways I owe my career to that website (a mixed blessing to be sure, and hardly a unique experience). More important, it permanently influenced the way I think, argue, craft a joke, and even the way I vote, for all of which I will be eternally grateful.
I started reading Jezebel back in its early days, when I was in college and still in the beginning stages of my conservative deprogramming. It may come as a shock to anyone who met me after 2009 or so, but I was once staunchly right wing, and there was no cause that got me more fired up than abortion. (I know, I know. This can happen when you grow up with Republican parents.)
Many media analysts who have covered Jezebel, which was founded in 2007, assume that a person like me at that time—a confused almost-adult with right-wing leanings—would have found the site alienating. I found it instructive.
It was the Photoshop Fails that first drew me in. (I may have been a Republican, but I was still a teenage girl in the 2000s, an era in which Bridget Jones was considered fat.) At that time, ads and magazines were still photoshopping women’s bodies into physically impossible proportions, and Jezebel found the most absurd examples—an extra limb here, a mysteriously absent kneecap there—and meticulously picked them apart. Photoshop Fails made me laugh. They made me feel better.
Writers covered sexual assault, celebrity gossip, where to find jeans that won’t make you feel bad about yourself—all things that concerned me personally—and introduced me to some basic tenets of feminism that I’d never encountered before. (Republican parents!) The comments board, meanwhile, gave me a forum to debate and digest all of these new ideas I was absorbing. I had never had my ideas challenged so thoroughly or so unyieldingly. My friends, being nice people who didn’t want to make me feel bad, tended to step carefully when we disagreed. In the comments section, I was just an avatar with a baffling obsession with other people’s wombs, and they tore my arguments to shreds. Thank God.
Of all the feminist blogs that have come and gone in the digital media age, The Hairpin, Feministing, Bitch, xoJane—there are so many—Jezebel casts the largest shadow. This is where I read Jia Tolentino on bullying, abortion, and Britney Spears. It’s where Lindy West published her perfect and hilarious Love Actually takedown. Jezebel reported on sexism at The Daily Show a good seven years before #MeToo. An op-ed in The New York Times has just credited it (perhaps dubiously) with ushering in the social media culture of today. But Jezebel’s influence wasn’t just “the discourse,” and it wasn’t an echo chamber. At least not for me. It’s not like I was hanging out in the comments to validate opinions I already had. Jezebel’s tone has been called many things, but it was never once patronizing, and that was a fucking balm to me.
The site’s immediate popularity encouraged other women’s websites and magazines to loosen their style guides and expand their coverage. Do you think I’d be able to write the word fucking in a national publication without Jezebel’s legacy? Would I get to write an entire essay comparing Shiv Roy to Ivanka Trump in a pre-Jezebel world? Or snark on Kendall Jenner’s odd gas station photo shoot? Or the weirdos trolling the US Women’s National Soccer Team? I couldn’t say for sure. But I doubt it.
For years I checked Jezebel daily. I became familiar with its writers, who became my parasocial mentors. When I commented, which was often, I wanted to make them proud. Or at least smile. My writing got tighter. My jokes got sharper. I mastered their ironic but authoritative voice. I found critical points and I made them. I became, God help me, a professional writer.
Jezebel really did change my heart and mind, and I hubristically wanted to do the same for someone else. Despite everything, it’s why I still believe in the political power of persuasion.
Jezebel had become more difficult to read lately. Not because of the content or anything. I mean literally more difficult to read because the site has been stuffed to the gills with animated ads under G/O’s ownership. The company, which bought Jezebel and its many sister publications in 2019, had faced scandal after scandal by the time Laura Bassett, Jezebel's editor in chief, resigned in August, citing poor working conditions.
“If I’m not allowed to replace my deputy editor, give any of my writers raises or promotions ever for the great work they do, or fill any of the half dozen open writer slots I’ve had for a year, it’s clear that any pathway for growth I had here has been deliberately cut off and that I’ve done all I can do to make this site what it could be given reasonable resources,” she wrote in her statement, per The Daily Beast. This was the latest in a string of public disasters for G/O and its many properties. Perhaps the writing was on the wall. Still, I’m sad.
Jezebel’s critics accused it of crafting deliberately inflammatory headlines to generate rage clicks and of fostering bedlam in the comments. But that’s not what I found there at all.
Originally Appeared on Glamour