When Men Manage Women - At Women’s Websites


When men are at the helm of a woman's site, strange things can happen. In today's click-hungry climate, it can get even weirder. Rather than focusing on "empowerment," which many of these digital communities claim to be doing, they are seeking "viral" click bait, often at a woman's expense (think: 10 Ways Women Can Snag A Man). I write this piece because not long ago I found myself rebuked by male superiors for standing my ground, letting them know I didn't feel comfortable writing a story that put women in a shameful light, and they weren't too happy about it.

Think back to when Bryan Goldberg founded Bustle in 2013, the Internet was replete with commentary — and, for the most part, with good reason. Here was a man who saw major success with his money-making sports site Bleacher Report, tapping into the women’s audience by claiming Bustle was doing something different, something innovative. Because he said so. And because he knew so much about women’s media. In his words, Bustle was: “Creating an amazing blend of content — one that puts news and politics right beside fashion tips is what will set us apart.”

It’s safe to say we can all say haha to that. Plenty of women’s sites had actually been doing that for a while, but because a man said it — well — his word is gold.

Simply put, Bustle became fantastic publication run by intelligent, creative, clever women. They’ve published me a few times — and they’ve published almost all of my incredible colleagues, women who write beautifully and with heart. I am proud to say I’ve published with Bustle.

Still, there’s something that irks me (and I’m not alone) about men running women’s publications — even if Time Warner (which is women-run) invested in Bustle. It isn’t that a man isn’t capable, creative or interested in parity — there are plenty of fantastic men out there whose digital media savvy cannot be denied — but I’m not talking about the bigger picture; I’m talking about the real day to day. What happens when men literally manage women at a women’s website? What happens when men aren’t just up in the high tower, and instead are making the micro decisions that affect headlines, images and column themes? What happens when they’re in the room with you on Slack throwing out opinions — without listening to your point of view ... about women’s content ... despite you being a woman. And they being a man.

In short, if men aren’t aware of the awkward issue here, it’s going to cause a problem — an imbalance that can hurt the brand — whether women want to speak up or not.

So who am I to say so? Working as an editor for a women’s lifestyle website has always been part of my wheelhouse. I feel a responsibility toward creating original content that women need and want — content that shows women aren’t just token consumers or aren’t summarized easily with a brushstroke buzzwords.

Mostly, I just want to work on writing that means something and pushes for more. This is why when I signed on as an editor at a woman’s website during its relaunch — headed up by two men, one directly ‘managing’ me — I found myself wondering exactly what my place was. I was asked to help build the brand, to hire writers, to create empowering content for women. I’d previously edited at Hearst, where I worked closely with the editors of their digital brands: Marie Claire, Woman’s Day, Cosmopolitan, etc. So, I’d learned a lot about women’s content and I’d seen what worked, what didn’t and learned what I could do better as an editor and curator of voices.

But in my new role, there was very little in the way of strategy, and the strategy that was in place was built by a man. This would have been a welcome challenge — strategy excites me — but there was also very little dialogue around how we — the women on staff — could really add to the direction. There was no real space for our input, despite the elephant in the room: we were working for a women’s website.

The concerns expressed through the brand’s Facebook page and on post comments told a clear story, too: maybe the readers were a bit sentimental about change, but they wanted something that inspired them. They didn’t want a replica of what worked somewhere else, where women weren’t the predominant readership.

I mean, the Internet may have a formula, but people aren’t robots. Women aren’t robots! If a man wants to bring his experience to a woman’s brand, awesome. But he has a responsibility to ask women staffers what they think. How they feel. What they’d do differently.

...the Internet may have a formula, but people aren’t robots. Women aren’t robots!

So when I was asked — by my male boss — to write an article for women (about men) that I felt was dis-empowering and predatory, I said no. I asked if I could write said article from a satirical point of view, but I was told no again. I offered my insight, but it was disregarded. I later saw that someone wrote the article — which, of course, did not perform well.

In short, I was seen as anti-authoritarian in my attempt to open dialogue. After all, the editor managing me hadn’t worked in women’s content, but he was taking orders from the guy above him (who had not either). It was comedic, actually.
I believe that we need to encourage an equal exchange in order to balance the playing field, but it’s no secret that power, oppression and internal bias figures into gender dynamics, especially in the workplace, where you can’t simply say “no.” “No” comes with plenty of consequences: you can be fired or you can ruin your reputation.

I also talked about this with Joanna C. Valente, who is an editorial assistant for kveller.com — a women’s website. Valente said that she thrives under female leadership. “It's not that men can't work and write for women's magazines, but I do believe women should be taking charge of the content management and editorial direction. I don't think it's discrimination if men are still hired in both junior and executive positions, but I also do believe with any organization with a mission, that mission should be driven by people who understand and live it.”

The company and I parted ways — and I’m grateful for that painful dose of reality. I can now speak with other women about my experiences and warn them about the signs of a sexist workplace. I can now see what to avoid in my future. If men want to head up a women’s publication, then women must be encouraged to help steer the brand. It is our experiences, our voices and our ideas that will ultimately connect with readership. Not to mention, teams with women are shown to thrive.

And while Goldberg might have caused a loud stir on the Internet, Bustle is largely headed up by incredible women who built something amazing. So, there’s no perfect formula. There’s no perfect anything. But a good first step is to let women take the ropes.

It isn’t a threat. It isn’t a declaration of war. It isn’t even that men can’t work in women’s spaces. But we must be louder participants — not props for the men who call the shots. After all, as our friends at The New York Times said, “having a seat at the table is very different from having a voice.”
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Do 2020 Presidential Candidates Still Have Rules to Play By?

Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.

When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.

2016: What rules?

Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.

Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.

And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.

And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?

Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.

Digital policies for 2020 and beyond

While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.

Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy

Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:

  • If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
  • While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
  • If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
  • Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
  • Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?

Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.

Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply

The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:

  1. Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
  2. Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
  3. Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
  4. Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
  5. Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
  6. Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
  7. Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
  8. Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.

Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles

Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.