I read a lot of magazines by and for women in the 1990s. I think in the first half of the decade, it was because doing so gave me raw material for wrestling with the two questions that shaped my undergraduate sense of self: What does it mean to be a woman right now? and Why can I not walk away from journalism?
Exhibit A: Ruth Whitney had stocked the Glamour office with a lot of writers who did not consider feminism a dirty word, and I have distinct memories of sunning myself on the upper quad and noticing that the film critic a) referred to all thespians as "actors," regardless of gender, and b) took one look at Thelma and Louise, and wrote a delightfully bilious little essay about the banality of what she called "the vague, uplifting ballad," and the specific awfulness of Glen Frey. I love that kind of stuff.
The magazine also featured thorough and frequent reporting on reproductive rights, financial advice and career moves. I mean, it also had a ton of the usual consumerist crap but the front of the book treated women like thinking people with rights, and subtly conveyed the message that you could be smart, financially savvy, ambitious and really into a red lip. It was a sly rebuttal to the hairy-legged feminist trope out there.
Exhibit B: Sassy hit the scene, a publishing phenomenon roughly akin to letting the Riot Grrls into a cotillion. Like many other women in my cohort, I was thrilled by each issue. To this day, I regard the Twin Peaks fashion spread as a formative style influencer.
Exhibit C: Grunge, goth and thrift-store chic hit the mainstream, and everyone lost their damn minds. I went out of my way from 1993-1995 to buy issues of Mademoiselle magazine just because every single issue was basically a bad case of flop sweat in four-color printing and I wanted to see how bad it could get. At age 21 and 22, I had the feeling that I could learn as much from high-profile failures as I could from victories.
(It is not surprising the magazine folded after the disastrous rules of Gabe Doppelt and Elizabeth Crow. Cintra Wilson's piece on trying to write for Mlle only confirmed my suspicions about the magazine.)
But by age 22, I was really bored and disgusted by the general tenor of mainstream women's magazines. I had been an avid Washington City Paper reader since age 15 -- I used to beg for rides to the record store that kept a stack hidden by a register in the back and get my weekly fix all through high school -- and I loved the alternative culture feel of indy media. I wanted to read things like that, only by, for or about women.
Enter BUST. Less formidably analytical than Bitch, less macrame-earnest than the curated content of the Utne Reader, less dude-ish than most alt-media newspapers, BUST was basically every impassioned, tipsy conversation I've had with smart girlfriends. I loved it.
And I loved the BUST Magazine Fall/Winter 1996 issue, titled "Yo Mama." It was a roundup of features by, for and about motherhood in the 1990s. Kristin Hersh gave an interview where she was incredibly chill about producing awesome rock while raising a ten-year-old and a five-year-old and pregnant with another kid. You know, no big deal. Bjork talked about how she managed to be Bjork.
There was a funny, tender essay about being pregnant as a young professional in Brooklyn (the passage on drinking water was a comic set piece), a great piece on lesbian parenting, a defense of teen pregnancy (in that "it's not the end of the world and these people are not trash" has to be construed as defense and not, say, the baseline for discussion) and a roundup of books about abortion providers. Allison Anders talked about motherhood, as did Roseanne Barr and Chrissie Hynde(!).
I was nowhere near ready to be someone's girlfriend, much less someone's mother in 1996. But I remember reading this magazine and being so excited to get there. I had a volume of writing from people whose basic take on their lives was "It's fun, and meaningful, and fulfilling, and awesome, and I love who I am while I do everything I choose to do. Being a mother is an amazing, ongoing opportunity, and it's just one of a bunch I've got."
The Web's since exploded with a lot of people who write about being moms, but I have yet to find any site or blog that gives me the same sense of excitement and strength around motherhood that an eighteen-year-old magazine issue does.
There are blogs by people who seem to have suborned everything else to the infantalized descriptor "Mommy." There are blogs by people who seem to regard motherhood -- not parenthood, motherhood -- as one Sisyphean drag. There are blogs by people who are all, "Look at me! I'm constantly frazzled and incompetent! My kids have eaten my brain and made me a neurotic mess! I'm keepin' it real!" There are sites by people whose identity seems to be one sustained rebellion against the image of the "perfect" mom, and there are the exact opposites, by people who seem unnervingly eager to package and commodify every detail of domestic life.
But I am still looking for the Yo! Mama of blogs. For the women who write about how excited they are to be who they are, to be doing what they're doing in every facet of life, and to know the people they carried or adopted or came to raise in some other way. A lot of today's writing about being a person who happens to be raising a smaller person is no fun. There's no joy in it, no big-spirited humor.
Where did all the fun moms go? Did the Third Wave carry them out to some island somewhere? And if so, can I have a map?