What Women Want Is Not Your Patronizing Website

A new media venture is counting on an outdated view of the role of women.

By + More
WideModern_nailpolish_130816.jpg
In this Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013 photo, a woman browses an O2M breathable nail polish display at an Inglot shop at the Galeria Mokotow shopping center in Warsaw, Poland. Inglot and some Muslims say the polish is the first of its kind because it lets air and moisture pass through to the nail. A craze has built up around it with Muslim women in recent months after an Islamic scholar in the United States tested its permeability and published an article saying that, in his view, it complies with Muslim law.

It's 2013. Really, aren't we long past the time of exasperated-looking men throwing up their hands and saying, "what do women want?"

Yet that is exactly what website publisher Bryan Goldberg is (still) doing. And what's worse, he imagines he knows the secret and can make a lot of money off of it.

Goldberg, sounding at once patronizing and self-congratulatory, announced he has raised $6.5 million to launch a new site aimed at women called "Bustle.com." Whether the site name is meant to be some cute retro thing or just a clueless insult is not clear. And neither is Goldberg's thinking as he skewers the current range of so-called women's magazines and websites. According to Goldberg:

Women's publishers have completely lost sight of which decade their readers are living in. This is a country where women out-graduate men. They are also closing the "income gap" quickly, and in many cities, they out-earn their male counterparts. But magazines like UsWeekly talk to women as though they were children, and they fail to connect popular culture with any form of social commentary.

And it's getting worse. This summer, there was a media feeding frenzy over the integrity of women's publishing, and whether it could be taken seriously at all.

Isn't it time for a women's publication that puts world news and politics alongside beauty tips? What about a site that takes an introspective look at the celebrity world, while also having a lot of fun covering it? How about a site that offers career advice and book reviews, while also reporting on fashion trends and popular memes?</blockquote>

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

Gee, there's a thought. News, analysis, travel, fashion, celebrity interviews. It sounds like virtually every women's magazine that's already out there, along with a lot of magazines and newspapers marketed to both sexes. In what century is Goldberg living? Does he imagine he's the first to figure out that women have a lot more on their minds than finding the perfect mascara and what to do to catch and keep a man?

You could write Goldberg's comments off as an aberration, but Forbes' Jeff Bercovici, in his online column, recounts a conversation he had with Goldberg in April. Goldberg mused:

What fascinates me as I spend a lot of time talking about women with what they want to read…I used to have this attitude of 'Oh, a woman who likes beauty probably likes fashion, probably likes interior design, probably loves pop culture, and health and whatnot.' But that's not accurate. My girlfriend is really into health and yoga and fitness but she's not into fashion. And I know women who are really into fashion but not into beauty. So, my cousin is obsessed with fashion but she's not one of these girls who spends an hour putting on her face. And yet I know women who spend an hour putting on their face but don't really care that much about yoga. And I know women who are really into interior design but don't care about fashion. And it seems crazy. You say, how can someone love interior design but not care at all about fashion? And that's what's awesome about it. If you can make a publication that's strong in all of these disparate areas and bring together all these interests no one else is doing, I think you have a winning idea there.

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Is There a Republican 'War on Women'?]

In my first job in journalism, which was delivering what was then called the Buffalo Evening News, the paper, like many, had a section called the "Women's Pages." Presumably, the editors thought women just couldn't get their heads around the stories about Congress and local crime and world affairs, so they had a special couple of pages dedicated to sewing tips, recipes and other topics important to those then called "housewives." The paper also had classified ads that were separated by the headings, "Help Wanted: Male," and "Help Wanted: Female."

One wonders if Goldberg is stuck in that era – not just because of the insulting and narrow view he appears to have of women, but because of the value he places on women's contributions – literally. Having raised an impressive $6.5 million to launch the site, Goldberg aims to pay his (mostly female, from his account) writers $100 a day, without benefits, to produce several postings. Does he think he can find such low-paid contributors by listing an ad in the "Help Wanted: Female" section of the newspaper?

Goldberg still appears to be wrestling with the question of what women want – perhaps because he never asked, or asked, but didn't listen closely to the answer. What do women want? Money and power, Mr. Goldberg. Same thing you want. And $100 a day to write for a site launched by someone with an offensive and wildly outdated view of women doesn't meet the standard.

  • Read Peter Roff: Obama’s Egypt Reaction Is Too Little, Too Late
  • Read Brad Bannon: Questions About Hillary Clinton, Rand Paul and the 2016 Presidential Field
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad