Portland-based Bitch Media is coming to an end. The feminist media organization announced Tuesday that it’s closing up shop in June.
“We took a really clear-eyed look at things, like our strategic plans and our print margins, and we just didn’t see a viable path forward,” cofounder Andi Zeisler told OPB’s Think Out Loud.
Bitch started in 1996 as a 10-page zine distributed from the back of a station wagon in the Bay Area. It later became a nonprofit, publishing the magazine “Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture” — a collection of funny, sharp, and oftentimes biting criticisms of popular culture through a feminist lens.
“We really created the thing we wanted to read and to start the conversations we wanted to have,” Zeisler said. “Because we love pop culture, but we also believe that you can love something and still want it to be better.”
Bitch Media relocated to Portland in 2007, where it continued to publish the magazine, online articles, and later, podcasts. It also hosted speakers and workshops at campuses through its “Bitch on Campus” series.
Bitch was hit hard by the pandemic; it had to compete against other dire calls for fundraising amid a health and economic crisis, and opportunities to make money through campus workshops all but dried up. Even so, Bitch was never a stranger to financial challenges; Zeisler said the times just sort of changed.
“Money was always a struggle,” Zeisler said. “We never had a safety net, and we never really had any real traction in a media market that increasingly had made feminism into a commodity.”
Public conceptions of the word “feminist” have morphed since the 1990s. What was once a dirty word to many has been rebranded as something that can drive sales and boost brands. The media landscape, too, underwent its own changes.
“In the 90s and early 2000s, we were really coming up amidst people who valued independent media as a force and as something that worked collectively to platform different voices and underserved voices,” Ziegler said. “As more and more media became venture-capital-backed and expected to turn a profit in shorter and shorter timeframes, we realized that the landscape was just indelibly changed into one that was about headlines and blurbs and social media tags and less about the content itself.”
Even so, Zeisler said the end of Bitch Media is bittersweet.
“We’re closing up shop and that’s sad,” Zeisler said, “but at the same time, I feel pretty confident that in a lot of ways we accomplished what we set out to do, which was making a piece of media that people connected to and that became a really important part of their understanding of the world that they were living in.”