When HuffPost Women launched a year ago today, I meant to have a blog post up about our vision for the site and why in that moment The Huffington Post needed a women's section.
That never happened, mainly because I'd been up for 24 hours trying to bring the site into being. As it turns out, this was probably for the best.
I had planned to peg our manifesto -- which I thought was a prerequisite for launching a site -- to a debate then preoccupying the female blogosphere. Jane Pratt, creator of the beloved print magazines Sassy and Jane, had just started XOJane.com, a site targeting women ages 12 to 48 whose mission statement described it as a place "where women go when they are being selfish, and where their selfishness is applauded." Around the same time, the adorkable triumvirate of Zooey Deschanel, Molly McAleer and Sophia Rossi launched Hello Giggles, which professed to be "the ultimate entertainment destination for smart, independent and creative females" and featured content under the headings "He Haw," "BFFs" and "Cuteness." There were -- and are -- lots of bunnies.
Some female media critics were not happy about these sites. The Daily Beast's Tricia Romano wrote of both, "If two new women's websites are to be believed, women want to read about boys, cute animals, their periods, and they want to read it in a Valley Girl accent." Anna Holmes, founder of Jezebel, suggested to Romano that the new sites "talked down" to women.
The "seemingly permanent state of girlishness" Romano wrote, was one "any professional woman over the age of 30 should cringe at."
The critics thereby earned their own critics, who cringed at the attacks for three main reasons, which blogger Gynomite articulated so beautifully:
1. Why the negativity? "It's so easy to attack people for trying to be positive. And that's all these sites are trying to do- be not snarky and not self-hatey."
2. The critiques reinforced one of the most pervasive myths about women, that they are always out to undermine one another. Would men do the same? Why not just support each other? Gynomite noted, "I don't ever see intelligent bloggermen bashing Men's Health -- they just see it as one more color in the spectrum that is manhood."
3. No one acts like an adult all the time. "We want what the Beta Males have -- the ability to be dudes and men at the same time," Gynomite wrote.
Looking back, I think it's probably good that I was too sleep-deprived to comment. Not having run a women's site before -- I'd only worked at one -- I wasn't apprised of all the challenges involved.
If I and the rest of the HuffPost Women gang have learned anything in the past year, it's what a profoundly tricky project a women's section is. There are pretty good arguments against having women's sites at all -- are we creating a separate-but-equal situation for ourselves?
Here's our answer: We have a women's section because we really like identifying as female. Because we like its particular concerns. Because we like other women. Because while being a woman/girl is at times, well, a bitch, it's also enormously rich and endlessly interesting.
Our particular approach to demonstrating that richness is two-fold:
1. We curate. Over the last ten years sites like Jezebel, TheGloss, XOJane, Hello Giggles, The Mary Sue, The Frisky, Forbes Women, Betty Confidential, The Daily Muse and many more have created thriving forums for feverishly smart women to discuss money, politics, work, media, feminism, health, technology, body image, nail art, sex, aging, heartbreak, books, street harassment and rompers. The Huffington Post gets criticized for its commitment to aggregation, but I won't apologize for pointing readers to the best content from women around the web.
2. We feature at least one essay every day from a woman, told in her own words, about her own life. In a world where it can seem like there are approximately three acceptable ways to be female (virgin, sexpot, wife), we think having women tell their own stories is the only way to accurately represent the wide diversity of female experience. The essays aren't always perfect, and we like it that way.
A year in, our central operating philosophy can be summed up in a question Agapi Stassinopoulos posed in her book "Unbinding the Heart": "How would you live your life ... if you knew your story mattered?"
Because it does matter. Send it to us. And thank you, thank you for reading.
Follow Margaret Wheeler Johnson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/mwjohnso