<< Front page News March 19, 2004

Off the Cuff: Lisa Jervis

Bitch calls itself a “feminist response to pop culture.” How did you decide to take on that project?

We had this real love/hate relationship with pop culture. We couldn’t stop reading or watching, so we had to respond.

This is an obvious one: the name?

We never really had any other names on the table. It was either Bitch or like, Women’s Media Critic. [We chose Bitch because] it is a word that is hurled at women who are loud, who are in your face and voice opinions. If that makes me a bitch, then okay. And if you are offended by the name, the magazine is probably not for you.

“Sex and Your Body”: That was an advice column in Seventeen; you spent one semester away from Oberlin interning there. Who wrote those answers? Did they have an actual boy writing the ask boy column?

Well, I don’t know if you would consider the managing editor of Rolling Stone a boy, but that’s who was writing it. As for most of the writers, they were freelancers holed up in their freelancer’s caves, so I didn’t see much of them. Seventeen was weird; it was interesting to watch the interaction between the article people and the fashion and beauty people.

How old were the people making the magazine?

The editors are really young. I think what happens is that the editors and assistants are really young because the hours are terrible and the pay is terrible. The work is really hard and you either move up really fast or you get out. The people I worked with were in their mid 20s, late 20s. But there is an [age] gap in the middle. The top editors are definitely a different generation.

Jane Pratt, the creator of the magazine Jane, is an Oberlin graduate, as is Kim France, the editor of Lucky Magazine. How do you think Bitch interacts with her fellow Oberlin out-products?

We are a counter discourse. Lucky’s tagline is ‘a magazine about shopping.’ It doesn’t pretend to tell you anything else, which is refreshingly honest. But basically, it’s the same as the other women’s magazines because it’s all about stuff. They are just being honest. Jane and all those other woman’s magazines pretend to be speaking to women on a deeper level. [They claim] this is what women want to be reading, but it’s really about selling stuff. We want to provide what you want to think about and read about. Food for thought, as opposed to stuff you want to buy. Sometimes we will write about products in our bitch list, which is basically stuff we like. But at the same time, we also list books, web-sites, people, thinkers. We try to stay away from pure consumerism.

Unlike Lucky, Jane and other mass media, Bitch does not subsist on corporate advertising. Yet I noticed that Showtime advertised its new lesbian situation comedy, “The L Word,” in Bitch. Did you have to adjust any of your content in order to place this ad?

That was our first big corporate ad. There was no discussion of content. They had hired this queer market consultant and he picked us out; placement was in the contract. But that was our first ad from Showtime and since then we have run some very pointed commentary on “The L Word” so we will see if we hear from them again. Too bad, because the money was good.

You mentioned that most of your revenue comes from the sale of subscriptions, rather than ads or grocery store check-out sales. Where do subscribers to Bitch live?

They are pretty spread out, national and even international. We are more urban than rural, but that’s to be expected.


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