The Vagenda, an anonymous online magazine, has come a long way from two skint girls getting pissed and reading women’s magazines. Rhiannon and Holly started the blog, and now have another on the New Statesman website (The V Spot), a book in the pipeline and a lot of people talking about their refreshing approach to women in the media.
Their recent article ‘In Defence of Caitlin Moran and Populist Feminism’ has had a wide variety of responses to say the least. I spoke to them to find out about their quest to confront the elitist attitudes of many ‘feminist’ thinkers, and to eliminate the myth of the hairy armpit.
When I was younger I was abhorred by the term ‘Feminism’. I hated it. In fact I’d go as far to say I was repulsed by it. And not because I thought that boys wouldn’t fancy me if they found out I was one, because I didn’t think it applied to all women who wanted equality. This is exactly what Rhiannon and Holly wish to change. Both the daughters of working class, single mothers, they found themselves becoming not only angry at the portrayal of girls in the media, but also of the only form of opposition to this; the alienating tactics of those who they refer to as “armed with an MA in Gender Studies”.
The girls have been hounded for their recent article on the New Statesman website, they have been attacked by other feminists, and some have gone as far to suggest that the article insulted their intelligence. However, this is difficult to believe, especially considering what The Vagenda and their other projects set out to do, so it was frustrating for Rhiannon and Holly to read the comments: “For the New Statesman article, we got a lot of abuse, but it wasn’t really from our twitter followers, it was probably about 20 of them kicking off and then all of their mates. How useful is going over and over it to our readers? Most of our readers can’t give a fuck”.
And, as a Vagenda follower, even I got a bit tired of some of the reactions, with one person expressing anger towards the way the girls offended their ‘working class brain’. Yet the girls are from working class backgrounds themselves, and were aiming at reducing the way feminism could patronize women. And it seems I’m not alone, the girls tell me that they received support, albeit private, from many other journalists: “We were getting a lot of private messages from people in the media saying ‘I agree with what you’re saying but I don’t want to say it publicly’ because of the aggressive backlash we experienced”.
The Vagenda aims to satirise and embarrass sexist or misogynist slip ups in media or advertising, rather than make a serious attack. They tell me that this has been much more effective then a more academic approach: “If you laugh at a person and embarrass them thats much more powerful”. One of their favourite magazines to talk about is Grazia, as a hugely popular women’s magazine, they are no stranger to the faux pas, recently professing how feminists made them so angry they wanted to “tug at their armpit hair”, cue hilarious reply from the Vagenda. However, the girls say they have seen an improvement in the magazine, since they’ve been publicly shamed by the Vagenda: “Grazia’s still full of shit but has become much better recently”. And even though the girls don’t boast this is there work, it seems they are certainly having an effect.
This is because the editors of the Vagenda are honest, and genuinely passionate about what they are writing. They don’t want feminism or debate to be exclusive, and they really are practicing what they preach.
“My mum’s a big feminist, yesterday she sent me something on a wikipedia article on a gender studies term and asked me if I understood it, because she didn’t. And I didn’t. I didn’t understand it. I have a university education and I’m not ashamed to say that sometimes people speak in a way thats alienating. It doesn’t mean we’re criticizing people’s intelligence, we’re just saying that if you want to appeal to people you have to be clear and you have to make sense. I think its true for many types of politics”.
The girls are part of a new branch of Feminism it seems, their approach is thoroughly inclusive and understanding, they don’t want it to only be accessible to a certain type of woman. And to stop other girls thinking they can’t be part of change, they have established that they are not part of anything elaborate or elitist: “there are a lot of feminists out there, on the internet, that do kind of say ‘you’re not a feminist’. We don’t do that, we’ve even been told we’re not feminists, apparently Caitlin Moran (who they were seen as defending) isn’t a feminist”. And this is the problem. The tendency to use feminism as a definitive term, only applying it to be people who live in a certain way. We are reminded of the endless debate over the role of motherhood in today’s society, and the way in which mothers have begun to feel excluded by feminism. The Vagenda aim to simplify this: “Theres feminists in term of the movement, who campaign and March and write blogs, and theres feminism as a belief, the belief that men and women should be equal [...] whether you want to go down the traditional gender role route or not, you have the same opportunities”.
Holly and Rhiannon tell me that they aim to be a “private eye for women”. They don’t want to be famous for introducing theories and terminology, but would rather enlighten all girls as to how the media and even the education system can often lead them down the garden path. “We started writing about women’s magazines because we were reading them”. It started with the girls, both students at UCL, living together with no money, and staying in “getting pissed and reading women’s magazines”. They realised that the only way to challenge these ideas was to show people they didn’t need to believe or empathise with what they were reading, and not only that, they could react the way they liked.
“Our aim was not to get involved in some massive gender discussion, but change these magazines that are read and absorbed by so many girls, just like this, if we can do that its so much more effective than writing another in depth text on sexuality.”
I think that when it comes to any types of politics or debate, there is always the element of shame or humiliation, in appearing wrong or misguided or even stupid. But the more we think about things in these terms the more ridiculous this becomes. Its an old fashioned approach. And The Vagenda avoids this approach at all costs. They don’t have an image to live up to, they don’t need to impress anyone with alienating theories or vocabularies. Their aim is purely to shed light on the problems girls and women face today, and to give them confidence in however they wish to react, whether it would be to study an MA in gender studies, or as Holly puts it: “go ‘this is bullshit I’m gonna go to my nearest tesco and put stickers on all the lads mags’”.
I have a friend who studies History of Art, and once when somebody said in a lecture that her favourite part of a gallery was the gift shop, she was disgraced by the course rep. I think thats unreasonable. The gift shop is still part of the gallery. And me, Holly, Rhiannon, Caitlin Moran and my mum are all part of feminism. The ‘vagenda’ is to shout this loud and clear. Big up the gift shop.
BY RACHEL RIGBY