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Webchat with Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter, co-founders of The Vagenda, TONIGHT (Tuesday 6 May) between 9 and 10pm

(39 Posts)
RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Thu 01-May-14 14:56:50

We're running a webchat with The Vagenda co-founders Rhiannon and Holly on Tuesday (6 May) evening between 9 and 10pm. Have a look at the video below to get an idea of what their new book The Vagenda: a Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media is all about.

Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett and Holly Baxter co-founded The Vagenda site in February 2012. It was a viral sensation - perceived as spearheading a resurgence of feminism aimed at younger women - and received over 7 million views in its first year. Caitlin Moran described it as "Really funny. Like, really funny".

Their recently published book The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media asks the question: 'why can't we have a media that reflects who we actually are?'. It's been described as 'a brilliantly bolshy rallying call to girls and women of all ages' - come and join the discussion and chat to Holly and Rhiannon on Tuesday evening between 9 and 10pm. For those who can't join us, feel free to post up a question ahead of the webchat on this thread.

YesAnastasia Fri 02-May-14 19:43:54

Hey girls, I love a lot of things about your site. I have not read your book yet but have unfortunately read some bad reviews.

How would you respond to criticism that you believe your readership is stupid and that you regularly 'have a go' at other women? Also, if you 'claim to be a feminist' do you have to agree with the behaviour & opinions of all other women?

Gingermum Fri 02-May-14 20:19:03

Hi - I love your website - it's exactly what feminism means. But why don't you credit your writers properly, instead of just posting their initials? Especially when you DO credit famous writers. Unfair.

emmasfabulous Sun 04-May-14 21:19:26

I'm 39 and like many women like the idea of switching off by enjoying a mag in the bath or with a tea but have definitely seen mags dumb down and become worse over the years. Some like Heat that used to be for both sexes and talk about film and fashion interestingly are now unreadable and join the ranks of those telling us how fat/thin "celebrities" are. I feel too old for most weekly glossies, that assume we're all on diet/the piss/the pull as of course no-one marries or has children until we're at least 45. Then there are the mumsy mags that assume once you've married and utilised your womb you just want recipes, cleaning tips and sensationalist stories about people having had dreadful things happen to them. I dread when shows like Towie or Big Brother are on as there are pages and pages devoted to non-entities. The particular fashion seems to be the Kardashians at the moment, when they are not even on mainstream British TV. Some of the 'celebs' are nobodies to me. Do they pay the mags to feature them? I want to read about women who work for a living, and my stars to actually be stars of stage and screen or the music industry. I adore fashion but don't want to dress like a tart or a pensioner. Am I alone? (P.s. next can you target mens' mags as my husband would like to read something that doesn't assume he wants to knock one out every half an hour. He says he's only safe with car mags!) Phew. I'm done. :-)

Darkesteyes Sun 04-May-14 22:13:44

emma im pmsl at your last 2 lines. Im almost 41 and grew up on Just Seventeen and Smash Hits. Then More New Woman Scarlet Eve Easy Living Red and Psychologies. Still buy the last two but I have noticed that lately Red have the Red120FitClub which is disguised fitspiration and not very well disguised at that.
Last month I bought Good Housekeeping and was disappointed to find that even they had included a section on celebrity diets. Which brings me to the point I want to make. The amount of pressure on older women that seems to have got worse in recent years. I attend a slimming world group. And even their mag once mentioned how much sexier a woman would look once she is slimmer and "doesn't have to hold her boobs when she runs" (I lost 10 stone 12 years ago and only went down one cup size Im naturally big there Should women like me have to apologise for it.) The mainstream media AND the diet industry media seem to have trouble getting to grips with the fact that women are individuals. And the diet industry media seem to operate under the radar because they hide under the banner of health.

Physically my health has improved since last summer. But mentally its got worse. Its taken me since last August to lose 2 stone and yet SW INSIST that staying to class will help you. I think this ADDS to pressure rather than decreases it. I sit there listening to other ppls quicker losses compared to mine (which is crawling off) and I really don't see how that's helpful. Yet I stick to plan and have only had 2 takeaways in 9 months.

Mentally I feel very pressured. You are asked what target you want to set for the following week and ive always REFUSED to set one. How the hell can you control what comes off confused In my opinion slimming consultants should be made to take medical qualifications in the same way drug and alcohol counsellors have to. Those counsellors HAVE to treat people as individuals so I don't see why the diet industry AND their media shoud"nt have to do the same. The diet industry LOVES this celebrity culture that we live in today and are only too happy to reap the rewards it brings.

merrymouse Mon 05-May-14 11:14:28

Agree with everything you are saying - but how relevant are magazines nowadays?

Is a 14 year old more influenced by what she walks past in the newsagent or what she reads or sees on social media/blogs/forums?

scallopsrgreat Tue 06-May-14 11:12:07

Can I ask whether the cover to your book was your idea? And don't you think it plays into the trope that you are fighting against (white, thin flawless skin, only a body - no head)?

CailinDana Tue 06-May-14 11:41:58

To me, your message comes across as finger-pointing at silly women who can't see the blatantly obvious misogynistic messages they're being fed. There are plenty of women in the world (I'm not one of them by the way) who enjoy these magazines for one reason or another. Making them feel a bit stupid for not realising they were being fed a cookie with shit chips instead of chocolate chips isn't the best way to go about changing people's minds IMO.

My question: why is it necessary to refer to Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown's "hand on the helm" as "perfectly manicured"? I wonder if you need to examine your own sexism before writing in a slightly mocking tone about other women and their sexism?

Mignonette Tue 06-May-14 13:45:33

Emmas

slight derail but 'The Gentlewoman' is a good magazine as is 'Kinfolk' You might like those.

youspeakbecauseyoucan Tue 06-May-14 17:28:51

Dear Rhiannon and Holly,

You've already pioneered a hugely successful and hilarious website for people to access feminism from, and now there's a book - what's next for the Vagenda, or is it just more of the same?

Ruby

ezinma Tue 06-May-14 20:44:12

The mainstream media took quickly to you and to Vagenda. Is that evidence that within the MSM new spaces are opening up to a feminist message? Do you ever think: "why us?" Do you feel you have responsibilities as the "voices of young feminism" in the MSM? And how can you expand and improve the representation of women and women's issues in the media that employ you?

RachelMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 06-May-14 21:01:49

Holly and Rhiannon are at Mumsnet HQ and ready to answer your questions. Welcome to mumsnet...

Darkesteyes Tue 06-May-14 21:05:40

Just signing in Im the one who has mentioned the diet industry media upthread.

Hi Holly and Rhiannon, thanks for coming to chat to us.

I have a 7-year-old daughter. What advice would you give your 7-year-old self (or what would you like your mum to have told you then)?

HollyBaxter Tue 06-May-14 21:08:10

Gingermum

Hi - I love your website - it's exactly what feminism means. But why don't you credit your writers properly, instead of just posting their initials? Especially when you DO credit famous writers. Unfair.

Hello! So glad you love the website.

We started off the blog with a style where all writers were credited with initials, and found that worked out for us and our contributors. This was mainly because people who wrote for the Vagenda wanted to preserve some semblance of anonymity, so that they could be completely honest about their experiences (especially in the case of our 'TMI' series, where people have written about everything from multiple abortions to the treatment of genital warts.)

As the blog grew bigger, some people wanted to have their names or Twitter handles added to their posts, which is completely fine. Whenever someone requests it, we add them in. So what you're seeing right now is a reflection of what the contributors themselves have asked for - if you look closely, you'll see many full names, Twitter handles and website links, alongside the standard initialled pieces.

You're right in saying that famous people have been some of those to request full names.

Hope that clears it up for you!

RhiannonLucyCosslett Tue 06-May-14 21:08:55

YesAnastasia

Hey girls, I love a lot of things about your site. I have not read your book yet but have unfortunately read some bad reviews.

How would you respond to criticism that you believe your readership is stupid and that you regularly 'have a go' at other women? Also, if you 'claim to be a feminist' do you have to agree with the behaviour & opinions of all other women?

Hi YesAnastasia
Thanks for popping over.
I think we would be very surprised if someone came away from our book feeling patronised or as though we were saying they were stupid. The reason we set up the blog was because we were readers of women's magazines ourselves and were shocked at how ingrained certain ideas had become. In fact, we had got so used to the body shaming and the dieting and the strange relationship advice that we had all but stopped noticing it. I don't really think it is a question of intelligence - I think the norms that we are being fed are so pervasive that it's difficult for many of us to resist them. In fact, one of our writers wrote a piece today about how she's fed up of being told she's 'too smart' to fall for body fascism: vagendamagazine.com/2014/05/im-fed-up-of-being-told-im-too-smart-to-fall-for-body-fascism/.

Women enjoy magazines and that's cool, but it's a stronger woman than us who can come away from pages and pages of anti ageing and fat shaming talk and still feel good about herself! I have no doubt these women exist, but our blog exists for those who are annoyed by magazines/feel like they warrant a mick-taking.

As for your other question about having to agree with all other women - oh my God, can you imagine? What a boring world it would be, not to mention exhausting!

NitramAtTheKrap Tue 06-May-14 21:13:51

Just wanted to say I love the vagenda. I would love to contribute, and I can write, but I am just not witty enough. Some fabulous writing. Thanks. smile

RhiannonLucyCosslett Tue 06-May-14 21:14:31

emmasfabulous

I'm 39 and like many women like the idea of switching off by enjoying a mag in the bath or with a tea but have definitely seen mags dumb down and become worse over the years. Some like Heat that used to be for both sexes and talk about film and fashion interestingly are now unreadable and join the ranks of those telling us how fat/thin "celebrities" are. I feel too old for most weekly glossies, that assume we're all on diet/the piss/the pull as of course no-one marries or has children until we're at least 45. Then there are the mumsy mags that assume once you've married and utilised your womb you just want recipes, cleaning tips and sensationalist stories about people having had dreadful things happen to them. I dread when shows like Towie or Big Brother are on as there are pages and pages devoted to non-entities. The particular fashion seems to be the Kardashians at the moment, when they are not even on mainstream British TV. Some of the 'celebs' are nobodies to me. Do they pay the mags to feature them? I want to read about women who work for a living, and my stars to actually be stars of stage and screen or the music industry. I adore fashion but don't want to dress like a tart or a pensioner. Am I alone? (P.s. next can you target mens' mags as my husband would like to read something that doesn't assume he wants to knock one out every half an hour. He says he's only safe with car mags!) Phew. I'm done. :-)

YOU ARE NOT ALONE!!! I definitely think you're right, emmasfabulous, they have dumbed down over the years. One magazine editor said that the average article length for a glossy mag was now less than 300 words. It's a shame because we enjoy reading magazines and don't want them to disappear - we just wish that they were better.

My mum (57) has the same problem finding any of it interesting - she says she really doesn't feel as though there is a magazine for her age group, at least not a women's magazines.

As for the celeb stuff - I don't think the celebrities pay the magazines but there is certainly a PR machine going on behind the scenes. I've heard on the grapevine that those weight loss/gain stories that dominate the pages of the gossip rags are often engineered - a celebrity will gain a few pounds simply for the purposes of getting a cover story, then a few months later do a 'miracle diet' double page spread. It's really toxic.

And as for the men's mags - there is a chapter dedicated to them in our book, but we'll definitely do more too.

HollyBaxter Tue 06-May-14 21:17:25

Darkesteyes

emma im pmsl at your last 2 lines. Im almost 41 and grew up on Just Seventeen and Smash Hits. Then More New Woman Scarlet Eve Easy Living Red and Psychologies. Still buy the last two but I have noticed that lately Red have the Red120FitClub which is disguised fitspiration and not very well disguised at that.
Last month I bought Good Housekeeping and was disappointed to find that even they had included a section on celebrity diets. Which brings me to the point I want to make. The amount of pressure on older women that seems to have got worse in recent years. I attend a slimming world group. And even their mag once mentioned how much sexier a woman would look once she is slimmer and "doesn't have to hold her boobs when she runs" (I lost 10 stone 12 years ago and only went down one cup size Im naturally big there Should women like me have to apologise for it.) The mainstream media AND the diet industry media seem to have trouble getting to grips with the fact that women are individuals. And the diet industry media seem to operate under the radar because they hide under the banner of health.

Physically my health has improved since last summer. But mentally its got worse. Its taken me since last August to lose 2 stone and yet SW INSIST that staying to class will help you. I think this ADDS to pressure rather than decreases it. I sit there listening to other ppls quicker losses compared to mine (which is crawling off) and I really don't see how that's helpful. Yet I stick to plan and have only had 2 takeaways in 9 months.

Mentally I feel very pressured. You are asked what target you want to set for the following week and ive always REFUSED to set one. How the hell can you control what comes off confused In my opinion slimming consultants should be made to take medical qualifications in the same way drug and alcohol counsellors have to. Those counsellors HAVE to treat people as individuals so I don't see why the diet industry AND their media shoud"nt have to do the same. The diet industry LOVES this celebrity culture that we live in today and are only too happy to reap the rewards it brings.

Gosh, it sounds like they're definitely running a tight ship over there at Slimming World! I agree totally with what you're saying - these people are essentially giving you health recommendations, so it makes sense that they should have some form of qualification.

We definitely noticed while doing the Vagenda that, as you said, so many more magazines are running diet sections nowadays as compared to in the past. Funnily enough, most of the mags from the 1920s that we came across were running adverts on how to put on weight (one featured a forlorn woman saying: 'Men would never talk to me when I was skinny!') Now we've got some really dangerous 'weight loss' tips in magazines across the board (including one we came across that suggested you leave the windows open at night because your shivering would burn calories.)

There are some publications, like Stylist, that refuse to run diets, and I think that's a real step forward. In a world of relentless Photoshopping and plastic-surgery-pushing (just count how many plastic surgery ads are at the back or interspersed around your latest copy of Cosmo), it's hard not to be affected by the message that your body is inadequate. We feel really passionately that women's magazines should be a safe place for women where they don't feel under pressure to conform to such impossible standards.

RhiannonLucyCosslett Tue 06-May-14 21:17:44

merrymouse

Agree with everything you are saying - but how relevant are magazines nowadays?

Is a 14 year old more influenced by what she walks past in the newsagent or what she reads or sees on social media/blogs/forums?

Really interesting question, merrymouse. We certainly get emails from teenagers who feel sad and bewildered by this glimpse of 'womanhood' that they are getting from women's magazines, and from the work that we have done in schools we can definitely see that Cosmo, Glamour et al still wield their influences. That doesn't mean that social media and the internet isn't having an effect though - as magazine circulations dwindle, they are going to become more influential, so it's particularly important we keep an eye on them now. From our perspective we're most worried about thinspiration, or pro-anorexia, websites, as well as internet porn and the pressures of sexting. It's literally coming at teenagers from all angles!

HollyBaxter Tue 06-May-14 21:21:24

scallopsrgreat

Can I ask whether the cover to your book was your idea? And don't you think it plays into the trope that you are fighting against (white, thin flawless skin, only a body - no head)?

The cover for the book actually was our idea. We wanted it to be a powerful image, illustrating the media that we were satirising and then ripping a section out of it, showing 'the Vagenda' underneath.

We see this in the trope of subvertising, and as part of our commentary. A lot of what we do in the book concerns showing up the mainstream media for what it is: all too often generic, insulting, and unrepresentative. We wanted our book cover to have that in the backdrop, with our title in the foreground to draw attention to the satire.

RhiannonLucyCosslett Tue 06-May-14 21:23:10

CailinDana

To me, your message comes across as finger-pointing at silly women who can't see the blatantly obvious misogynistic messages they're being fed. There are plenty of women in the world (I'm not one of them by the way) who enjoy these magazines for one reason or another. Making them feel a bit stupid for not realising they were being fed a cookie with shit chips instead of chocolate chips isn't the best way to go about changing people's minds IMO.

My question: why is it necessary to refer to Cosmo editor Helen Gurley Brown's "hand on the helm" as "perfectly manicured"? I wonder if you need to examine your own sexism before writing in a slightly mocking tone about other women and their sexism?

Hi CailinDana

They may be obvious to you, but they certainly weren't obvious to us! Or to our readers, and we were reading magazines religiously. I think if you enjoy these magazines, fair enough - it's more about being able to critically analyse the media that you're presented with, important tools, we feel, for the next generation of young women. That's not to say that we don't enjoy devouring a copy of Vogue in the bath now and again. The narrative of magazines has gone unchallenged for so long that we wanted to show a different perspective.

As for HGB (if she'll forgive the familiarity), she was in many ways an incredible woman and I don't think we've been at all sexist towards her in the book. It is well known that she always took great pride in her appearance and indeed, if you read her 1962 tract 'Sex and the Single Girl' you'll see that a lot of her tips are to do with grooming. I don't think it's sexist to refer to that!

Darkesteyes Tue 06-May-14 21:24:48

Thankyou Holly. Another reason the slimming magazines need to be more responsible and focus less on looks and more on health is because ppl are now being referred to these slimming clubs by GPs .
The focus should be completely on health and not on looks at all but I suspect Slimming World/Weight Watchers et al would be too scared that their publications wouldn't sell.
I once saw a programme on BBC3 several years ago about slimming clubs and a young woman admitted she had started making herself throw up before weigh in because she couldn't face being patronized.

Darkesteyes Tue 06-May-14 21:26:55

Holly and Rhiannon have you ever seen an old copy of (now defunct) Scarlet magazine Their policy was no diets. It was a raunchy mag for women complete with an erotic fiction section in the middle.

RhiannonLucyCosslett Tue 06-May-14 21:27:38

youspeakbecauseyoucan

Dear Rhiannon and Holly,

You've already pioneered a hugely successful and hilarious website for people to access feminism from, and now there's a book - what's next for the Vagenda, or is it just more of the same?

Ruby

Hi Ruby
Good to meet you, and glad you like the website.
It's been so busy with the book that we haven't given an enormous amount of thought to our next moves. We both write for the Guardian and will continue to do that, as well as scrutinise the media via the blog of course, and giving a platform to other writers. Other than that, we're really keen to go into more schools and talk to teenage girls - it really has been the best and most rewarding part of the Vagenda's success.

As for the more distant future - there was talk of maybe writing for TV, or maybe doing another book - who knows! I think first of all we need to get ourselves A LOT of sleep

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