Jezebel published an original picture of Lena Dunham before she was photoshopped. Photograph: Jezebel
Jezebels influence also lingers in more negative ways.
I definitely think we contributed to a knee-jerk tendency in digital media (or people who are on digital media) to react to things in a performative way without taking everything into consideration, admits Holmes. There was a certain tone that I think became addictive to the writers of the site and also to the readers of it, that when applied to social media, became [problematic].
Most prominently, in January 2014 Jezebel published a photo of Lena Dunham before it was touched up and put on the cover of Vogue. But the touch-ups were relatively minor, and Dunham had already responded to critics about her acquiescence to being Photoshopped. The exercise felt like an unnecessary stunt that compounded anger at the editors call.
For Holmes, the response to the drunken Egan-Tkacik interview was revealing. It was the beginning of my awareness of what a circular firing squad the feminist blogosphere could be it was really intense, she says. If I had known how much infighting there was in the feminist blogosphere before I started that site, I might not have started it, because it was exhausting, just the fighting between writers and sites. She adds: Now it all plays out on Twitter, which is actually worse.
With any kind of media with women as the target audience, its incredibly hard not to be exploitative in how you try and capture that audience, observes Emily Gould, a Gawker staffer when Jezebel was created. It became stressful to write anything even a little bit unorthodox or nuanced about rape or abortion without having all these daggers thrown at you, says Tkacik.
Jezebel has been so successful in transmitting its perspective that the site is now less distinct from its competitors than it once was. Its a double-edged sword: when you trail-blaze in media, people want to catch up to you, says Emma Carmichael, Jezebels current editor. Its not a new problem: Jessica Coen, the editor-in-chief who took the sites reins after Holmess departure in 2010, says that at a certain point, it became clear that womens media was taking its cues from Jezebel.
Coen moved to make the site more accessible to wider audiences, doing more substantive reporting and hiring fewer people like Egan and Tkacik, who delighted in debauchery and defying establishment feminism. Carmichaels strategy has been to accentuate the sites podcasts, personal essays, videos, and news. She wants to push back against the dilution of feminism that has celebrities embracing the term even as they drop its insurgent leanings. And Jezebel continues to be incubator of top talent recent writers Katie JM Baker and Jia Tolentino are now at BuzzFeed and the New Yorker respectively.
But however popular those attributes are the site still traffics well they are ones now familiar to the industry. That seems less exciting and groundbreaking, but thats only because Jezebel broke the ground so strongly 10 years ago. Thanks to Jezebel, womens magazines have come around to be much more inclusive and feminist-y, says Dodai Stewart, a Jezebel editor for seven years. The flip side is that things you could only get there once upon a time you can now get in other places. Its a more crowded atmosphere.
Inevitably, Jezebels transition to an institution has left it without the manic, experimental feel of the early days. The bomb-throwing at the liberal establishment Egan had a soft spot for Ann Coulter is gone.
I really despise mainstream feminism, Tkacik says. But Jezebel was part of bringing feminism into the mainstream.