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 importantly, 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 comment 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.