Before there was Jezebel, there was Jane, and before there was Jane, there was Sassy.
I've always felt Jezebel owed a lot to the path blazed by Jane Pratt. Whatever your personal feelings on Pratt might be (personally, I respect the work she's done but find her fairly insufferable), she was one of the first mainstream women's magazine publishers to call bullshit on the rest of women's magazines. I was an older teen (15? 16?) when Sassy premiered, and I was an original subscriber. Later, a creative writing teacher in college who'd found a Sassy at his doctor's office, rightfully accused me of stealing my writerly voice from the pages of Pratt's first mag. Even now, Persephone Magazine pays homage to Pratt's 25-year editorial history. By homage, I mean the title of at least one of our categories is ripped straight from their pages. Thankfully, we've never gotten a letter. (Thanks for not suing us, Jane! I still think you're kind of insufferable, but that is kinda your brand. No hard feelings! Let's take a selfie!)
When I found an old issue (conveniently the April issue) of Jane mag from 2001, I couldn't keep it to myself. Let's hop in the wayback machine and visit a time when super low-rise pants were new, websites were still pretty much a novelty, and future ladyblog commenters were writing letters to the editor instead of leaving comments. These are scans, so the image quality is wonky and covered in copy-protecting polka dots.
Liv Tyler is luminous, even with a giant, orange, all-caps JANE on her forehead.
2001, the halcyon days of pickles, floral flip-flops, and Johnny Depp.
Jane Pratt could make a grocery list sound self-congratulatory. On the other hand, she did reinvent print media for women and girls. On the other other hand, she's a bit of a poster child for "white feminism." Here we see Jane also invented the selfie. I am so conflicted. But hey, there's a detailed doodle of the male reproductive organs. With hair! I miss the early aughts.
I thought about running these as a separate piece. "Jane Letter to the Editor or Jezebel Comment?" Please note I say that with nothing but affection.
Can we blame the post-recession hirsute hipster craze on Jane mag?
Back hair, breast-feeding, and domain name prices. This is the part of Sassy/Jane I always loved the most, the blurbs about oddball shit that had nothing to do with tips to drive your lover wild or admonishments to dress in black, because it's slimming.
When I was thirteen, I had a huge, huge crush on TV teen heartthrob-turned-bananavangelist, Kirk Cameron. Until, that is, I read an interview with him in Tiger Beat, or Bop, or Adorable Teenage Boy magazine, in which he sounded dumb as a bag of hammers. I can only judge Mr. Hall by this interview, the only one I've ever read with him, but I'm afraid he and Mr. Cameron have some things in common. Still, he's awfully pretty.
I had forgotten almost all of these artists existed.
For a cheap fashion spread, these are some damn pricey flip-flops.
While leaps and bounds more diverse than other mainstream publications marketed to women at the time, Jane's attempts at being diverse still frequently bordered on tacky exoticism and seemed to be seeking validation instead of actually being diverse.
What have we learned from our trip through lady media history?
- Even groundbreaking feminist media has historically excluded or exoticized women who don't check off the white, cis, hetero, and financially stable boxes. While Jane, along with Sassy before it and all the Jane-esque websites for women on the web today, certainly try harder than traditional women's media, this issue illustrates that a lot of the issues we're discussing today have deep roots.
- Fashion likes putting women in weird poses holding fruit.
- 2001 was a long damn time ago, especially as someone who was a grown-ass adult that year.
- Jane Pratt is a fixed point in time.
A version of this post appeared on Persephone Magazine.