Recently while reading the feminist magazine Bitch, I came across an interview with Leila Cohan-Miccio and Caitlin Tegart, creators of the web series Vag Magazine. The series focuses on three women who buy a fashion magazine and recreate it as a feminist magazine, a la Bitch or Bust. The young women, Bethany, Fennel, and Sylvie, are stereotypical third-wave feminists. The series pokes fun at them specifically and third-wave feminism in general, highlighting the differences between a vision of feminism as empowering women as a group (Meghan, the “normal” character used to ground the viewer, defines feminism as the idea that men and women should be equal) and the idea that empowerment means individual women are free to do “whatever they want” and “have fun”:
The series reveals some of the limitations of “catch-phrase feminism” (to use a term from Brittany Shoot’s Bitch article). These catchphrases echo throughout American culture: “You go girl!” “It’s about choice!” Vag Magazine’s theme song informs the audience, “A girl is a girl, because she is power. Power is power because it’s a girl.” Another prominent pop culture feminist, Lisa Simpson, sums up this vision of feminism: “Well, as a feminist, virtually anything a woman does is empowering” (“The Blue and the Gray,” originally aired February 13, 2011). A viewpoint like this is inclusive, but can also shut down meaningful conversation. For example, the young women have trouble getting anything done (Fennel hires an intern because “We don’t believe in hierarchies, but we also don’t have time to get our own coffee.”) In another instance, Bethany, Fennel, and Sylvie tell Meghan that the skirts she wants to write about aren’t feminist enough, but are unable to clearly articulate what a feminist skirt would be.
Third-wave feminism is sometimes viewed with disdain because it can seem empty: if any choice a woman makes can be construed as feminist, then perhaps no act can be truly called feminist. At the same time, third-wave feminists can be more inclusive than previous generations: stay-at-home moms, working mothers, sex workers, and scientists are all embraced. However, there can be less of an emphasis on organizing and fighting for equality (though recent efforts to support Planned Parenthood and organize Slut Walks shows that third-wave feminists are interested in more than mere slogans).
Various episodes also address the available media options for those looking for a feminist perspective. The main rival to Vag Magazine is Cunt, a magazine staffed by more stereotypically aggressive feminists. The series shows how often women can feel like they are stuck with only two images of feminism: New Age-y “I honor you as a woman” feminists who seem spacey and ineffectual, or the stereotype of the radical man-hater. Episode 4, “Feminist Sweepstakes,” delves into this dichotomy . The episode starts with Fennel wanting to read her poem; she is asked to wait until the designated poetry hour; these women feel so much that they must have an entire poetry hour. Later, the audience is introduced to Jaybird, the editor of Cunt. Jaybird and her followers wear leather vests and jeans, which contrasts with the dresses, pastel colors, and feathers favored by the Vag staff. Only Meghan, the audience stand-in, gets to be “normal” – that is, reasonable. During the two magazines’ confrontation, Jaybird yells and talks about the patriarchy; Bethany and Fennel use poetry and talk about honoring Cunt’s place. Meghan is the only one who can speak clearly and without rhetoric, transcending common feminist stereotypes, doing so by being clever and critical.
But Vag Magazine is not about putting women down or just laughing at them or feminism. Indeed, there is a lot of love in this series, and a lot to celebrate. The cast is all-female, and all funny. The women are able to buy the magazine thanks to their efforts at selling crafts on Etsy. They do publish an issue of their magazine: they are, ultimately, successful. Indeed, the women of Vag Magazine act out the inner turmoil about how to present themselves as feminists to the world. The series humorously highlights the bind modern feminists often find themselves in: how to be inclusive without embracing everything, how to be forthright and challenging of inequality but not bullying.
The rest of the series is after the jump. (more…)