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Venus's Next Wave

The feminist magazine's new owner hopes to raise it to new heights by rejecting its past.

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Why was I skeptical? A little knowledge can be dangerous, and I knew one or two things about Venus already: Women who were familiar with Venus tended to be fiercely loyal to it, readers and writers both. (I once had the young editor of a community paper in Chicago tell me how exasperating it was that she couldn't afford to pay the same writers who wrote for Venus for free because they shared its vision.) So I wondered if Beardsley, in going after big numbers, was putting something vital at risk. What's more, I'd heard from one of those loyalists who'd interviewed for the job of editor in chief, and when she found out what Beardsley had in mind, she ran the other way. "There are people out there who see this as being one of the few places where women making music can get a fair shot," the writer (who asked not to be named) told me. "There aren't a lot of magazines like that. And she seems hell-bent on changing the magazine to something else. She told me she's not a feminist and feminism is what hindered the magazine in the past. It's fundamentally a feminist music magazine [but] she wanted stuff more mainstream. One of the things that made Venus cool was that it was a female staff and things were written from an understated feminist perspective. It wasn't overt, it wasn't political—but it knew its history. And it came from the knowledge there are inherent struggles to women making art.

"She wants to make it more broad-based," the loyalist continued. "If she wants to make it an Oprah magazine for hipster ladies, maybe all power to her." The editor Beardsley eventually hired is Jill Russell, who'd been an associate editor of Martha Stewart's Body + Soul magazine in New York. Schroeder has talked to her and says "she seems great."

I asked Beardsley about Venus and its commitment to feminism. "That's such a word fraught with interpretation and meaning," she said. "We don't use that particular F word around here. It just doesn't seem relevant." She called feminism "an old-fashioned concept" and explained that "it doesn't enter into our discussions about what we're going to cover and what have you." She said, "We're much more into discovering trends, talent, whatever they are, and they can come in all shapes, sizes, genders, and forms."

Feminism has crashed across America in what are today called waves. These waves have been largely generational, and women who rode one wave might think they disagree fundamentally with women who rode another. But has feminism, like liberalism, become a set of values that dare not speak its name? I called Schroeder back.

"That's the unfortunate thing about feminism," she said. "People are scared of the F word. I think when a lot of people nowadays think of feminism they think of sort of the 1970s version of feminist women burning bras and being very intense and setting up lots of rules and structures. I have a great deal of respect for all the feminism movements. It was a very strong political movement and a lot of good came out of it and it took years and years for that good to occur. But I don't know that people make a direct correlation between that and their doing feminist things—like working." She laughed. "And getting an education. Today more women are getting educations than their male counterparts.

"In my time at Venus, my goal was to make feminism acceptable. When there's a day when women get the recognition they deserve in the arts that will be a wonderful day and maybe Venus will no longer need to exist. But until then Venus does need to exist."

Would it be accurate, I asked, to say that Venus still needs to exist, but not necessarily as the old Venus?

"That's good!" Schroeder said. "Maybe we're getting closer to the day when Venus doesn't need to exist."

To Schroeder, that's progress. To Beardsley, it's a message she has no intention of sending to the 140,000 or so readers she doesn't have yet. Schroeder says she began Venus as a "niche publication," and feminism was the niche. Beardsley will be marketing Venus as a vital enhancement of its readers' already rich and vibrant lives; and to those readers feminism—which it goes without saying will go without saying—is a done deal. There's no going back to the magazine's roots, when it was created to be essential.   v

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