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Ladies Last: 3 Years Later

422239_4399433988246_1518247820_nThree years ago, I was working as the editor-in-chief for Twin Cities METRO, a now-defunct arts/food/lifestyle magazine here in Minneapolis. While I loved that job, loved our readers and loved my staff, what I really loved was that I had a lot of freedom to push boundaries. I could do things that were absurd like write horoscopes (I’m totally unqualified, mind you); conduct dream interviews with underrated innovators like John Waters and Wanda Jackson; and, best of all, introduce readers to important people and issues in the Twin Cities: the food deserts that plague our neighborhoods, the refugees leading humanitarian efforts in Minnesota and in their home countries; the little-known musicians, salt-of-the-earth chefs, and artists of color whom you would never—at least not at that time—see in other local magazines. (They were busy putting The Real Housewives of the Twin Cities on their covers. Seriously.)

One of those important issues no one was touching was gender inequality. After reading a report called Status of Women & Girls released by the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota in the winter of 2012, I was taken aback. The status in question was not good—at least not for those who were non-white, non-affluent or non-suburban. It was 2012 and women in Minnesota were still earning, on average, 80 cents on the dollar compared with Minnesota men doing the same jobs. The FBI had ranked Minneapolis among the top 13 U.S. cities for child prostitution and sex trafficking. The unintended-pregnancy rate for low-income women had increased 50% over the last decade. My senior editor, David Doody, and I started kicking around the idea of a feature that would not only highlight these injustices, disparities and inequities, it would hopefully make those who were somewhat oblivious (like I had been, despite identifying as a feminist) uncomfortable enough to want to do something about it. We decided to run it on the cover of the August issue, and I drafted my friend Holly Hilgenberg to help me sift through piles of statistics, interview notes and articles (immortalized here), and to co-write it.

As I mentioned, we had a lot of creative autonomy, and most people at our company were all for the article. It wasn’t a battle to get the feature in the magazine; getting it on the cover, however, was a veritable Battle Royale of wills. Food deserts, elderly country singers and humanitarians don’t sell magazines, even if those who do buy them love it—and apparently neither did feminism back in 2012.

In the name of respect and professionalism, I’ll spare you all the gory details, but let’s just say it took a lot to get feminism on the cover of what was actually a pretty progressive magazine. Office gender dynamics were not the only issue at play (the future of the magazine was tentative at this time, and things were overall very tense), but there were power struggles I honestly don’t think would have existed had the magazine been led by two men instead of two (non-doormat) women: myself, and our art director, Liz Gardner. It took a lot of proverbial blood and sweat, and plenty of literal tears, yelling, throwing things, a little dishonesty, cigarettes, temper tantrums, whiskey and exhaustion to get the simple suggestion that women might not be equal after all—complete with hot-pink cover—on newsstands alongside Edina’s Best Pet Stylists and Gawdy Kenwood Mansions No One Would Ever Want Even if They Could Afford It.

But we did it, and I’m glad we did because that issue turned out to be our second-to-last one. By the time the article was halfway written, we were defeated and knew the end was near, but we kept going. And people got it! After the issue came out, my inbox and Twitter mentions were flooded with support. A little bird also told me the company sold out of reprints of that issue and had to reorder (that never happens).

Little did Holly​ and I know, in subsequent years riot grrrl would become cool again, hardworking female musicians would start getting some majorly overdue attention from local media, and celebs would be clamoring to be the poster child for feminism. Sally and I would launch the Girl Germs events to a captive, supportive audience and sell out venues with a scrappy brand of feminism that includes Kitten Forever deconstructing Beyonce, a sweaty mosh pit made up of mostly women, and indie-rock dudes paying heartfelt tributes to the women who helped shape their lives.

As we start planning the next GG tribute night (yep!), I can’t help but reflect on that struggle three years ago and where we are now. Culturally, things are pretty good. But I like to think that article serves as a reminder that being a feminist doesn’t just mean you love Bikini Kill, follow Lena Dunham on Twitter, and read Jezebel or BUST. It means you care about the day-to-day lives of women—yourself, the ones you live and work with, the ones you might never meet. It means you are disgusted at—and unsatisfied with—the fact that you STILL don’t make as much as a man in your exact same job does. That your art, efforts and opinions don’t carry the same weight or clout as a man’s do. That you get shamed for putting your kids in daycare (which, btw, who can even afford) but get shamed if you choose to stay home with them. That you get shamed for choosing not to have kids in the first place, or shamed for having them when society doesn’t feel you should. That you can’t take a walk or go to a party without being prepared to fight off a sexual predator (and it’s on you to prevent attacks, not on men to stop attacking, of course). That women and children are still bought and sold in our own backyards. That if you are a woman of color or who comes from poverty, you are often automatically at even more of a disadvantage.

You care about all that, and you are going to do something about it.

I’ve uploaded a PDF of the article here if you’d like to read it.

xo Dana

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