In the early days of hyper-specialized blogs (aka the mid-aughts), my friends used to ask me what the big issue of the week was in the “fem-o-sphere,” or the “feminist blogosphere.” What were Feministing, Salon’s Broadsheet, and ladybloggers at places like Daily Kos fulminating about? Which celebrity had said she wasn’t a feminist this week? Which online personality had offended someone else in the comments sections of said blogs? Who was perpetuating rape culture? And which Republican politician was attacking abortion rights?
Now, of course, that kind of news doesn’t need to be relegated to feminist blogs because it dominates social media and then, in turn, gets attention from the mainstream media. Celebrity feminism, Twitter hashtags that showcase online activism and its discontents, setbacks for reproductive rights, sexism in various industries, rape culture — all these topics can be found getting an exhaustive, over-aggregated treatment everywhere from business websites to traditional lefty magazines to the women’s glossies that used to scorn such coverage in favor of makeup tips.
It’s into this climate that Vice, long known as a final bastion of dude-centric news coverage, launches its new channel for women, Broadly. Helmed by former Jezebel staffer Tracie Egan Morrisey, Broadly is exciting because it throws the same, substantial resources that fund Vice’s video content and original reporting behind issues that the newly feminist media world cares about. Articles in the first few days of the site have included a feature on black Riot Grrls, a profile of a transgender performance artist in London, a video interview with Rose McGowan about sexism, a piece about women with mental illness making up stories on online forums, and more.
Thanks to feminism’s popularity on the Internet, Morrissey tells Flavorwire, “people are no longer able to say, ‘These issues aren’t important.’ I think it’s great.” Broadly’s incubation period has been a long one, and gave Morrissey and her team a chance to make a number of impressive videos as well as hone their mission and their look. “We wanted to be unabashedly feminist. We did not want to do any aggregation. we wanted to go out in the world and report,” Morrissey says, comparing it to her previous blogging gigs, where she “sat on the couch.”
And there’s one more key decision they made — they won’t have a comments section. “I’ve always hated comments,” says Morrisey. “So why the fuck would I put something on my own site that I don’t like? Whenever you’re writing about being a woman online, having an opinion, you get it from all sides. You get it from feminists telling you you’re not doing feminism right, and then from MRAs, from just sexist jerks telling us we’re fat, ugly, stupid. It’s a very negative space in most cases.”
Eliminating comments is also a way of valuing her writers and reporters and their legwork. “My writers work too hard on their stories,” Morrissey says. “It’s like if someone put up a beautiful mural and some asshole just put his name on it in graffiti. I’m not going to allow people to talk down to women, and I hope that other women’s sites will do that too.” Although she acknowledges that some women’s sites have comment sections that foster community, she thinks those discussions could be moved to other fora to leave content comment-free.
One content area Broadly is seriously focusing on is reproductive rights, which is very much in the news at the moment, with the coordinated video and political attack on Planned Parenthood. Broadly released a video about the abortion pill which is hosted by Morrissey and takes her from the Rio Grande Valley (and across the border to Mexico), where abortion is under attack by Texas legislators, to the Poland-Germany border, where the first abortion drone was flown by Women on Waves.
This issue isn’t always as clickable or culture-friendly as subjects like body image, industry sexism, or even rape culture and sexual consent. But Broadly is committed to covering it. “It feels shitty if someone calls you fat, but if someone takes away your access to abortion it can actually kill you,” Morrissey says. “We should all be absolutely fucking furious. We should be protesting and voting and writing letters.” The urban audience that people associate with Vice might not be fully aware of what’s happening in American rural communities or abroad, she noted. “It’s one of the biggest human rights and social justice issues ever.”
The video is fairly riveting, including a classically Vice-y scene where Morrissey goes to Mexico and buys misoprostol over the counter, and another scene where she gets prayed for in a creepy anti-abortion chapel. This is how she hopes to focus attention on the issue. “If you’re reading about Taylor Swift, there’s an emotional component,” she says. “It’s about people. It’s important for us to talk about abortion and restricting access to it in a way that is also about people.”
One of the biggest questions around Broadly’s launch was Vice’s extremely male, even bro-y reputation. Could the company be trusted to give a women’s vertical the respect it needed? They began by launching a feature, “Ask a Bro,” with a Q&A with two Vice bros about whether VICE is bro-y. “We understand what the perception is about Vice,” Morrissey says. “We are poking fun about that a little bit because we have to.” But she jokes that that article was educational for her, as a feminist who knows a lot about various issues, but could benefit from “an anthropological study of younger guys.” Looking at men and masculinity will be part of their interest in “the spectrum of gender,” far beyond the binary.
I’m curious and eager to see whether the huge online audiences that tune in to topics like Taylor Swift vs. Nicki Minaj or racist, sexist comments from the ladies on The View will also be interested in a look at abortion access in the Rio Grande Valley at a mainstream site. Last week activist Lauren Rankin wrote a piece asking how we can channel the momentum from pop culture’s feminist victory to challenge the seriously on-the-ground backlash that is hurting women’s rights and gender equality. Whether or not Broadly has the answer, the fact that they are entering the breach is heartening.