A Bustle.com Writer Responds to Its Critics

After Flavorwire Editorial Director Elizabeth Spiers published a piece criticizing Bustle.com and its founder, Bryan Goldberg, one of the site’s contributors, Ana Defillo, took to Twitter to voice her disagreement. We invited her to tell her side of the story. Here it is, with Defillo’s caveat that she is not speaking on behalf of Bustle as a whole, but simply providing her perspective as a freelance writer for the site.

I started writing for Bustle after my friend, fellow feminist, and queer ally — one of the site’s founding editors — approached me with the opportunity. I checked out the website and saw its tagline: Redefining women’s interests. Though I am not a journalist, I’m a feminist and Venezuelan-Dominican immigrant, and was excited by the opportunity to bring these underrepresented perspectives into the online feminist scene. But my excitement about contributing to the site was compromised the day Bryan Goldberg, founder of Bustle and Bleacher Report, officially announced Bustle on PandoDaily. His press release rightfully incited an immediate backlash. However, the response quickly devolved into vitriol, instead of constructive criticism.

Just a few days before the “Bustle Kerfuffle,” a writer at Feministing featured my piece on America’s broken immigration system on the blog’s Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet. Three days after the press release, that same writer published a post called “Seven mansplaining pitches for Bustle.” And Feministing wasn’t the only site that was taking Bustle seriously before Bryan’s post became an Internet-wide joke. Prior to Bryan’s announcement, my other original articles had been featured or retweeted by NPR, National Council for Research on Women, the editors of of Al Jazeera America, the New York Times’ Foreign/National Desk, and Racialicious, as well as by many prominent feminists of color.

Most of the adverse reactions to the launch were directed towards Bryan, which means that most opinions about the site are influenced by someone who isn’t even writing for or editing it. Critics pulled headlines exclusively from the Fashion and Beauty vertical as though they represented the entire site, while the News and Books verticals were either completely ignored or called “obligatory.” That was a shame. An assemblage of extremely talented, experienced feminist writers and editors witnessed their work – which had been deemed noteworthy just the day before — become completely overshadowed by one press release.

I am not defending what Bryan said. I think the fact that he was able to raise $6.5 million dollars for a feminist site without really understanding what that means is indicative of a larger systemic issue within the tech and media worlds that has been rightfully pointed out by Elizabeth Spiers, Anna Holmes, Rachel Sklar, and many others. It’s not fair that a 30-year-old white dude has access to this much start-up money when there are so many more qualified women in the same field with significantly less access to capital. Thankfully, Bryan understands this and has continued to hire an incredible editorial staff from such top publications as Huffington Post, Entertainment Weekly, Glamour, The Daily Beast, and Seventeen. However, I understand that he put himself in a position to be compared to other founders of feminist sites by issuing an announcement that capitalized on his Bleacher Report success and made him – not the site’s largely female staff — the face of Bustle.

Bustle is not perfect. But, as recent conversation over the hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen has reminded us, none of the publications Bryan’s critics pointed to as examples of successful, widely read feminist sites is perfect, either. #solidarityisforwhitewomen began out of a moment of frustration from prominent feminist of color Mikki Kendall. In the Guardian, she explained that the hashtag is meant to demonstrate how white feminists are continuing to dismiss “women of color (WOC) in favor of a brand of solidarity that centers on the safety and comfort of white women.” The hashtag was used to criticize, in particular, the founders and certain editors of Feministing, Feministe, and Jezebel. #solidarityisforwhitewomen resonated with thousands of women all over the world, and on August 12 it spread like wildfire on Twitter.

That was the day before the PandoDaily Bustle launch. And yet, Jezebel managed to publish its thoughts on Bustle before it published anything on #solidarityisforwhitewomen. When it finally did address the hashtag, it conveniently omitted Mikki Kendall. The Internet suddenly forgot about #solidarityisforwhitewomen and focused on Bryan and Bustle – a safer topic of outrage for the white feminist establishment. After a moment of silence on Twitter for feminists of color, it was business as usual.

There’s a bigger conversation to be had, in a much longer piece than this, about whether Bustle attracted such disdain because certain publications and writers are more concerned with their brand than promoting the cause of feminism. Media critics, experts, and feminists quickly jumped on the “I hate Bustle” bandwagon without looking beyond Bryan’s press release. No one researched the founding editors or writers. No one reached out to the editors. (No one even bothered to ask us what it feels like to be used as a desk!)

Bustle is just a few months old; yet, comparatively, it’s already made significant progress in incorporating diverse perspectives into its editorial and writing staff, not just as far as race and ethnicity are concerned, but also in terms of gender identity, sexual orientation, and body image. Bustle can definitely do more towards this goal – and I believe, if given the chance, it will — but at least its editors are not undervaluing or flat-out ignoring diverse perspectives.

It’s a tragedy that, because of all the negative press it’s received, Bustle might not make it past tomorrow. Instead of supporting an outlet that has the potential to fill the void expressed by #solidarityisforwhitewomen by bringing more broadly underrepresented perspectives to the conversation, established feminists and publications would rather focus solely on one misinformed dude’s press release. I hope they realize their snarky headlines might well cost us not only $6.5 million but also an amazing team of feminists.