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Charlotte Cooper, from Subtext Magazine, talks us through a project to support feminist magazines over ‘women’s’ mags

subtextcover.gifThe Femagazinist Initiative gleefully caught my eye this week when I noticed it’s Facebook group was using a cover from an issue of Subtext as it’s image. Roused with joy and excitement I went on to head-noddingly agree with everything the page was saying,

Fed up with seeing the same old women’s magazines in doctors and dentist surgeries?

We’re encouraging women to buy and subscribe to feminist magazines and zines such as Subtext, Bitch, Bust and Ms.

Then when you’ve read your magazine we want you to leave it in a public place for others to read it.

When we launched Subtext in 2006 and can remember hoping we’d hang in there, but I was never sure. Making magazines is hard business, and the magazine death watch has been going on since 2001. The recent economic squeeze has seen countless big titles crash and burn, and feminist magazines have even more stacked against them.

Money is a big issue: feminist magazines are very likely to be independent prints, it’s hard to sell adverts because you don’t want to compromise your copy and the companies that you do want to support don’t often stretch to a marketing budget, or can’t grasp the magazine’s ideals or audience.

Britain’s most prolific feminist magazine was probably Spare Rib, launched in 1972, it produced an aesthetically pleasing cover to rival women’s titles of the time, and tied up the information in a news style layout that added weight to its exploration of gender roles. When it folded in ‘84 it left a whole in the British market unfilled until, well, I’d like to think until Subtext graced the magazine race with its presence in 2006.

cover of latest makeshift issueThe US’s longest running feminist title Ms. Magazine launched in ‘71, and still produces interesting, engaging and wonderfully relevant work today. The other main titles in the terms of US feminist publishing come in the form of Bust, founded in ’93, Bitch, founded in ’96. Bust is well sustained with advertising and franchising, including editor Debbie’s fantastically popular Stitch n Bitch line. Bitch however plays much the same field as Subtext, self sustaining, reader supported publishing, but with lots of experience and time under it’s belt Bitch is proving to be the ideal model (if we can all get our readers to empty their pockets to fill the odd $40,000 deficit when it arises). One of the most recent additions is make/shift, which “creates and documents contemporary feminist culture and action by publishing journalism, critical analysis, and visual and text art”.

Feminist magazine’s need readers support. Though not blacklisted, we all fall into a funny gray area where we go almost unnoticed by the mainstream, put off by the initial hail to feminism and the fact that we can’t afford to get stacked on WHSmith’s shelves, or have the vocal clout to get heard by Border’s.

And so, to the point. Buying a copy of your favourite feminist magazine, or even better subscribing to their yearly output, is a great way to share the love and support the production of magazine’s which build confidence and speak directly to women who want more than diet fads and vacuous comment. Leaving them in surgeries, dentists, hairdressers, your cousins bedroom is a great way to surreptitiously spread the good word once you’re finished, and one we’d highly recommend if you can tear yourself away from the read. If the market is going to flourish, if these magazine’s and the new one’s arising all the time are to survive we need to support them or, sadly, revert to whatever form the big publishing companies sell us.