Celebrating Bitch Magazine: A Reading List

A writer traces her own feminist journey as she reflects on the forthcoming shutdown of Bitch Media.

By A. H. Reaume

 

My first subscription to Bitch Magazine was a gift. I was in my second year of university and couldn’t afford to subscribe. So, when my sister asked what I wanted for my birthday, the answer was easy. 

I’d attended Catholic schools my whole life. By the time I was 19, I wanted nothing to do with the church because of its stance on abortion and queer rights. 

But I wasn’t exactly sure what my politics were. 

I was definitely a feminist — that much I knew. I was interested in social justice, but I didn’t really know what was possible to believe politically. Growing up, all I had been exposed to were conservative and right-leaning liberal views. But I knew I wanted more. More rights for women, more rights for LGTBQIA+ folks, more rights for disabled people, more rights for racialized people, and more economic equality. 

Enter Bitch

I’d heard about the magazine on feminist blogs like Feministing and Pandagon, both of which I read avidly, trying to map and shape my own politics. I searched for Bitch on the magazine racks of every bookstore I visited, and I couldn’t believe it when I finally saw a physical copy of the magazine, on a shelf in a women’s bookstore in Vancouver, British Columbia. 

My breath caught. 

I remember approaching it with reverence, and being absorbed in its pages before buying it along with two back issues. There was something seductive about holding these magazines, written for feminists, in my hands.

At home, I consumed them, front to back, in one sitting. Everything the magazine represented went against what I’d learned growing up. 

I felt exhilarated. 

I was already on a feminist journey when I encountered Bitch, but the magazine sparked new thoughts. It deepened my analysis. For a women’s studies class in my third year, I did a creative project, inspired by an article in Bitch, that examined the ways my Catholic school education had harmed me. The publication introduced me to books and musicians that have since shaped me. But, perhaps more importantly, it showed me the power of media. 

“What if we started a magazine?” I asked my friend Kristen three years after becoming a Bitch subscriber. 

We had been talking about a female politician who’d recently been called a bimbo in the media because she had long blonde hair. It felt to us like women couldn’t win when it came to power — and we were discussing how angry that made us and how we both felt powerless to change it. 

“Oh, I like that idea,” Kristen responded. “A magazine to talk about feminism and the challenges women face in relation to power.” 

That was how Antigone Magazine was born. 

We recruited a number of other feminists we knew and together we named the publication Antigone, inspired by the Greek figure’s courage and determination to do what she thought was right. Through the magazine, we wanted to help young women express and do what they thought was right — even in the face of opposition or punishment, simply because they were women. 

We wanted to embody that kind of defiance. Like Bitch, we wanted to reclaim the identity of the troublemaker. 

We published Antigone Magazine on our campus and periodically on other campuses. It had an international subscription base. We even started an art project called Dreams for Women, curating and posting collaged postcards from around the world with people’s secret hopes for women on them. The project was featured in the International Museum of Women. 

The group of women that became involved with Antigone over the years organized women’s forums and a national conference on childcare and post-secondary education. In 2008, I was invited by the Governor General of Canada to speak about women and politics in Ottawa and in 2009 was also part of a Canadian delegation to a United Nations meeting on the status of women. The magazine was even mentioned in a textbook on women’s history. 

We’re no longer publishing Antigone — but it’s still making an impact. A few years ago, one of our subscribers ran for office and told me Antigone inspired her. Recently, one of our writers published a book about foreign policy. Another person is the managing editor of a national news agency. Some of us became teachers. Others academics. Still more activists. We haven’t stopped demanding more for women. 

Bitch will soon join Antigone in the graveyard of feminist publications. Started in 1996 by Andi Zeisler, Benjamin Shaykin, and Lisa Jervis, Bitch Media announced on April 12, 2022, that it would cease operations in June. The announcement hit many of its loyal readers hard

My own feminist journey, along with those of the phenomenal women who collaborated with me on Antigone, are the types of stories you hear when people talk about Bitch. The publication sparked awakenings. Activism. Community. Change. It was loved for its resolutely queer perspectives, its intersectional coverage, its engagement with disability justice, and its integration of economic justice. The magazine talked about things no other outlets were talking about — and pushed the conversation forward. Many even credit Bitch with making space for other popular feminist media like Jezebel and Teen Vogue

But as people appraise the media organization’s legacy, it is not without criticism — including the contention that, for all their coverage of labor rights, the magazine worked its editors and writers to exhaustion.

What those criticisms show is that even as the magazine is shuttering, the people who made Bitch great are still leading important conversations that will help make culture, work, and feminist media better. 

Despite its organizational challenges, Bitch gave voice to so many amazing writers — it’s their work I want to celebrate. In this reading list, I’ve compiled 10 recommended longreads that represent (some of) the best of Bitch Magazine over the years. And since the organization’s archives will remain online for the foreseeable future, you can dig into and (re)discover your own favorites from the publication, too.   

What’s Very Likely to Happen: The ‘Roe v. Wade’ Endgame Comes to SCOTUS (Bitch HQ, December 2021)

In light of the recent leak of Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.’s draft opinion that the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has voted internally to overturn Roe v. Wade, one thing that I keep returning to is how much feminist labor went into trying to ensure this day never came. Much of that labor was covered or inspired by Bitch. So while SCOTUS could still choose to let Roe v. Wade stand, there is something deeply tragic about the shutdown of Bitch in a time when we urgently need feminist media. I want to recognize the work the magazine has done in the past on reproductive justice, including looking at how abortion rights were co-opted by white feminists, and the assault on the reproductive rights of refugees and immigrants. This particular piece rounds up great coverage on the arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson from when the case went before the courts in December 2021 — and what action you can take. 

If you’re someone who cares about protecting the right to bodily autonomy in general and abortion access in particular, you’re already aware that this morning’s oral arguments to the Supreme Court in Dobbs v. Jackson are the culmination of a decades-long conservative strategy to overturn 1973’s historic Roe v. Wade decision. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t profoundly unsettling to watch the nation’s most powerful legal body debate questions that should be easy to answer: Does the U.S. government have the right to force a person to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term? Even if that pregnancy poses a serious health risk? Even if the pregnancy isn’t viable? Even if the pregnancy itself is the result of a crime? Even if the outcome is guaranteed to be bad for the humans involved?

The Physics of Melanin: Science and the Chaotic Social Construct of Race (Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, December 2016) 

Dr. Chandra Prescod-Weinstein’s 2021 book, The Disordered Cosmos: A Journey into Dark Matter, Spacetime, and Dreams Deferred, took the world by storm. In it, Prescod-Weinstein explores the physics of melanin in skin and gives an overview of the racism and misogyny of the scientific community. She first wrote about the topic in Bitch Magazine. This piece shows how the publication offered many writers their first chance to explore topics that would later create significant impact. 

Hundreds of years after the advent of chattel slavery, it’s easy to see why race is defined by skin color. Skin color offers a highly visible cue that makes sorting easy—at least until rape proliferates. The variation in human skin tones is due to a pigment called melanin, which comes from the Greek word melas, “black, dark.” Melanin is found in most living creatures, and when it is studied scientifically, researchers usually use the ink of Sepia officinalis, the common cuttlefish. Our social sorting by skin color can be put in more technical terms as a question of how much melanin our bodies produce and maintain as part of our epidermic structure.

Love Sick: It’s Time to Uncouple Care Work From Romantic Love (Oliver Haug, February 2021)

As a disabled person who spent the first four years of their recovery from a debilitating injury single and who has many beloved single disabled friends, I am obsessed with articles that explore care work outside romantic relationships. I’ve read Caleb Luna’s iconic essay Romantic Love is Killing Us: Who Takes Care of Us When We’re Single? more times than I can count and about 10 books on the future of care. In 2021, Oliver Haug added to the conversation in this critical essay that explores this important issue in light of the pandemic.  

After a year that’s laid painfully bare inequities and oppressions that have always been there, the systemic change that’s at the core of rewriting love still feels far out of reach. … The way out offered by Luna and Kim, as well as many others working in this field, is a deeper understanding of the necessity of interdependence in relationships beyond our romantic ones: “With a restructuring of romantic love as comparable to community/platonic/self-love, we begin to prioritize the care and livelihood of entire larger groups of people as equally important as our romantic partner/s,” writes Luna.

Even During a Pandemic, Fatphobia Won’t Take a Day Off (Claudia Cortese, April 2020)

There are few outlets that cover fatphobia as well as Bitch Magazine did. But then, a feminist magazine that purports to engage in cultural criticism that didn’t respond to fatphobia wouldn’t be doing its job well. Claudia Cortese’s essay tackles the widespread effort by public health officials to restrict or prohibit fat or disabled people from accessing the limited supply of ventilators during COVID-19 waves. The piece does the important work of exploring the deadly impact of fatphobia. 

Some doctors not only have an aversion to patients of size, but they assume a fat body is inherently a sick body; this mode of thinking encourages health professionals to overlook symptoms of disease, not offer treatment, and focus solely on ridding the body of fat. For example, a 2015 study of medical students found they were nearly four times more likely to prescribe medication to thin patients than to fat patients, though both groups had the same symptoms. The supposed relationship between fatness and health concerns likely exists due to widespread weight bias.

Rewriting the Future: Using Science Fiction to Re-Envision Justice (Walidah Imarisha, February 2015)

While it seems that more people know about prison abolitionism these days, in 2015, that wasn’t the case. This article by Walidah Imarisha, one of the co-editors of Octavia’s Brood: Science Fiction Stories from Social Justice Movements, explores Octavia Butler’s legacy and the ability of radical science fiction to create change. Imarisha gives an overview of the power of science fiction while weaving in the visionary words of Ursula K. Le Guin, Arundhati Roy, Audre Lorde, and others. It is an inspiring essay that makes you rethink both what social justice organizing and speculative fiction are and do.

We started the anthology with the belief that all organizing is science fiction. When we talk about a world without prisons; a world without police violence; a world where everyone has food, clothing, shelter, quality education; a world free of white supremacy, patriarchy, capitalism, heterosexism; we are talking about a world that doesn’t currently exist. But collectively dreaming up one that does means we can begin building it into existence.

Anonymous Instagrams Are Unionizing Staffs From Capitol Hill to Hollywood (Sophie Hayssen, April 2022) 

These days, everything’s coming up labor rights. Part of what’s fueling the renewed move toward unionism is social media. Sophie Hayssen explores the ways Instagram accounts are functioning like second-wave feminist consciousness-raising groups by talking about things many people don’t feel comfortable broaching to coworkers — unfair hiring, unsafe work conditions, and overwork. Bitch Magazine’s coverage of labor helped tell the stories of people struggling for justice in industries as diverse as the film industry, the service sector, nonprofits, and politics.

But these accounts aren’t going anywhere, says Lingel. According to Gallup, labor unions’ popularity has increased seven points since 2017. In October 2021, Time reported that the COVID pandemic has highlighted the stark contrast between soaring corporate profits and stagnant low wages and galvanized workers to organize. In these new labor movements, technology is at the forefront: As tech writer Nicolás Rivero, explained in a December 2020 Quartz article, everything from encrypted apps to shareable Google sheets to digital petitions “[help] people to find far-flung peers, share grievances, and coordinate action.”

30 Years After the ADA, It’s Time to Imagine a More Accessible Future (Anna Hamilton, July 2020)

Anna Hamilton’s piece is a studied exploration of the successes and gaps of the American Disabilities Act (ADA) on the occasion of its 30th anniversary. She explores what it has done and what it could not do — and how the world should orient itself toward accessibility in the future. It’s a great essay that adds helpful context to the issue to better understand the current state of disability justice. 

s.e. smith echoes McGee’s concerns: “There’s a real failure to understand that while disability is a shared lived experience, other aspects of life can interact with it profoundly. The gunshot survivor in the Bronx fighting with Medicaid for a replacement wheelchair is not experiencing disability like the wealthy celebrity with multiple sclerosis. It’s not all ‘one of our people!’ when that experiential gap is so wide.” smith points out that the disability justice movement—started by a group of queer disabled people and disabled people of color including Patty Berne, the late Stacey Park Milbern, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Mia Mingus, Eli Clare, Leroy Moore, and Sebastian Margaret— offers a more intersectional approach.

What I Learned About Gender and Power From Sailor Moon (Soleil Ho, May 2013) 

I grew up watching Sailor Moon. I loved that she was awkward like me, and that she presented a very different example of a girl than what I was used to seeing in cartoons. I also loved that she wanted to “right wrongs” and understood her desire to make the world a better place. I really love this piece by Soleil Ho, who writes about her own ambivalent feelings about girlhood and Girl Power, and her turn to Sailor Moon for a glimpse into a beautifully imperfect heroine. 

I realize now that being a girl (or identifying as one) is one of the hardest roles to inhabit in this world. A girl is supposed to be so many things — attractive, graceful, polite, quiet, valuable, valueless — but none of those traits guarantee that she’ll be taken seriously as a thinking and feeling human being. On the other hand, the absence of those traits can often invite violence or, at the very least, judgment.

When we say that all girls are powerful, we often refrain from explaining just what kind of power we’re talking about. The power that I want girls to have certainly includes the power to govern their own bodies, but also something else entirely.

Sailor Moon isn’t just fighting aliens, but a world of adults who want to destroy everything beautiful in girls. In order to save the people she loves, she fights and gets hurt and breaks down and even completely fails at times. And when she can manage it, she tries to save the monsters, too.

Know and Tell: The Literary Renaissance of Trans Women Writers (Katherine Cross, November 2014) 

In this powerful exploration of trans women’s writing, Katherine Cross discusses how work emerging at the time the piece was written was full of “joy, love, laughter, sex, and deep wells of human flourishing amid the gloom.” It highlights writers like Casey Plett, Sybil Lamb, and Olympia Perez, and talks about writing that paints a picture of the everyday experiences of trans women that isn’t “inspiration porn” or a “feel-good story of triumph over lone bigots.” Just read the piece. Then read the works it cites.   

This is trans women’s moment in modern literature, and amid the many currents of transgender existence today, it is singular. So much discourse around trans women’s existence has been spun by everyone but us: cisgender male psychologists, cis feminist academics, trans men and queer cis people. All have had their say about our lives and what they supposedly signify to them: protean radicalism, a crypto-conservative conspiracy, a tangle of pathology. But it is very rare that trans women themselves are heard when we speak about who we are and what we mean.

What emerges from all of these works is a clear picture of trans women as human beings, thinkers, and artists, with mastery and control over the kinds of stories they wish to tell. Neither genderfucking superheroines nor the nightmare of queer radicalism, we are, at last, human.

It’s Time to End the Long History of Feminism Failing Transgender Women (Tina Vasquez, May 2016)

At a time when trans-exclusionary radical feminists are resurging, I wanted to return to this article by Tina Vasquez, which talks about the history of trans exclusion in feminist movements and calls on cisgender feminists to take more responsibility for fighting transphobia. That’s the thing about Bitch: It wasn’t just a magazine that asked us to think only of our own liberation — it asked its readers to think about how we could fight for each other’s freedom. The magazine made all its readers better feminists by teaching us how to be better allies to each other. 

Trans women have been saddled with the responsibility of taking on trans-exclusionary feminists for far too long—but it’s not their issue to deal with alone. Cisgender feminists, such as myself, have to make it clear that our feminism loves and supports trans women and that we will fight against transphobia. As Williams said, it’s time to expose trans-exclusionary feminists for who they really are.

***

A. H. Reaume is a disabled writer whose work has appeared in the anthology Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories From the Twenty-First Century. Reaume is a guest columnist at Open Book and is currently working on a memoir and a novel. She can be found on Twitter at @a_h_reaume

Editor: Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Copy Editor: Krista Stevens


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