Photo: REX USA/R WATSON
Yesterday, a murmur started on our Twitter account. Readers and friends starting telling us about a new website launched by entrepreneur Bryan Goldberg called Bustle, a site which aims to be "a women’s publication that puts world news and politics alongside beauty tips" and hopes "to completely transform women’s publishing." Goldberg has such a convincing pitch that he already raised $6.5 million dollars for Bustle in Seed and Series A funding. Awesome, we thought. Anything that aims to attract smart, thoughtful people by rethinking cultural reportage and blending celebrity coverage with more in-depth world issues is a really amazing step forward. Except, well, targeting an entire gender with ham-fisted attempts by assuming we need some kind of leg-up or affirmative-action-type privilege.
Look, Bryan Goldberg seems to have the best intentions in mind with Bustle, but to assume that there isn't a thinking-woman's website that also allows for superficial topics indicates a particular ignorance that comes with — well, running a specific type of website. See, Bryan Goldberg made his name by launching Bleacher Report, something that was so effective, because it was launched by four college buddies (Goldberg included) who cared a lot about sports. His effort to translate the success he found with Bleacher Report across genders isn't bad or worth the backlash he has received — it just feels, well, an awful lot like mansplaining. In fact, by announcing he is hoping to transform women's publishing because women's publishing has gone "stagnant," it sounds like Goldberg has a case of Men Who Explain Things. (This is further exacerbated by the fact that his investors all happen to be large media arms or athletic shorts companies — or 500 Startups, whose CEO called a woman a "lying b***h" mid-speech.)
As Sam Biddle, editor of Gawker's media site Valleywag, writes: "There are many, many titles already doing what he imagines, and doing it without a boor at the helm. Is it possible that Bryan Goldberg, on his quest to bring Internet to women like beads to the savages, has not read any of them? It does seem possible." Though calling Goldberg a "boor" feels a bit harsh, he brings up a point. For anyone who has obsessively read women's media over the last decade, even the name Bustle is particularly controversial due to its proximity to another influential feminist publication.
To be fair, interesting women's content only betters the entire industry. Finding a way to harmoniously mix a variety of things that are relevant to a female perspective — from politics and policy to fashion and beauty and everything in between (because there is so much more than just those things) — is something that a lot of women's (and not-just-for-women's) websites are dealing with thoughtfully and carefully every single day. Goldberg seems to think that he's filling a gap in the industry with a sweeping, game-changing addition. But really, he's just starting a site based on the same value proposition that has naturally evolved after the heavily debated, intelligent conversations that have taken place among the editors of numerous women's publications over the past few years.
Lastly, and most importantly, websites that are aimed at women don't have to be run by all women, but understanding sensitive, hot-button issues sure helps. Goldberg says, "My job, as CEO, is to hire the right people. My job is to know a lot of engineers, editors, venture capitalists, and salespeople — and to bring them together. Knowing the difference between mascara, concealer, and eye-liner is not my job." (We defer to The Hairpin if you want to unpack this sentence.) The fact that he's championing women's causes so blatantly while he's obviously so unfamiliar with female topics feels opportunistic at best — and tone-deaf, at the worst.
"Yes, we believe that a partner-track attorney can be passionate about world affairs and celebrity gossip," says Goldberg. "On the same day. During the same coffee break. And there is nothing wrong with that. Welcome to the year 2013." The bottom line is, the fact that this is news to Goldberg (in 2013), is the most troubling part of this entire venture. We are glad that he is at least thinking about women, and we hope that he (and venture capital start-ups everywhere) continue the conversation.