An issues-driven women's publication is a great idea, one with such a dismal track record that anyone who willingly takes up the mantle deserves applause. Add in a local San Francisco element and thousands of hip, socially-conscious Bay Area women should be lining up for copies. Such was my reaction to the recent arrival of The City Edition, self-described as "News, Health, Entertainment, and Reviews for San Francisco Women and Discerning Men." Yes, what a great idea.
But, ideas are slippery beasts. Like the rolls of shiny lottery tickets by the cash register that beckon to turn your midnight Slurpee run into the first day of the rest of your fabulously posh life, promising ideas often don't pan out. I love ideas and all their shiny indulgent promises. But, oh, how I hate it when good ideas go bad.
The scope of The City Edition certainly is ambitious, with sections on local and international news, culture, health, arts, and product reviews. But the energy behind the paper doesn't quite add up to a satisfying read, at least not yet. At its palpably sincere heart, The City Edition seems to be a hybrid between investigative report and academic journal. Articles written in the kind of excitable, big-eyed rambling commonly echoing around dorm halls are backed up with sources as diverse as mainstream media and obscure collegiate studies.
Issue One's cover story aims to shed light on the current cloud of stylish conspiracy surrounding Mary Magdalene and the nature of her relationship to Jesus and the founding of Christianity. Though the premise is compelling, the piece bounces from one hazy historical or biblical reference to another, never quite managing to flesh out a train of thought clearer than your average Pink Floyd track.
Yet, one inspired feature of The City Edition is its reprinting of classic fiction by women never given enough attention to rise out of the shadows of their famous male peers. Issue One features a recently-unearthed short story by writer Sarah Orne Jewett, once a household name in her late 1800's heyday. The piece is a classic wordy, overly detailed Victorian social parable -- complete with a Dickensian love of dialect and "such is my humble existence" monologues that plow along for paragraphs. But the story is an evocative choice, documenting the plight of an older woman who finds herself without the 19th century currency of a husband or children, consequently forced to abandon her home and fate to a shady male relative.
Yet, the feminist punch of this "discerning" women's interest paper was largely tame and dubious -- one reason being that the word "feminist" itself never quite made it onto the page. In the Arts and Entertainment review of the Donny and Marie Show DVD, passing reference is made to the duo's wholesomeness being a welcome change from today's sexually saturated entertainment, but the premise never goes deeper to address the obviously gendered roles of Donny as the tough rock Â‘n' roller, and Marie the domestic country sweetie pie. A lost opportunity, to be sure, but I nearly lost my temper over an ad placed in the paper by It's a Grind Coffee House. The spot announces they are hiring with this condescending incentive: "Because your boyfriend will eventually ask you for gas money." I expect such a line emblazoned on Abercrombie's latest T-shirt, but for a feminist paper to allow an ad to paint women as pampered leeches earning an income to repay their male supporters? Girls, you don't even have to take the gloves off to rip through that one. I'd also advise a paper aiming to reverse the trend of patronizing to women not to characterize its audience as "San Francisco's primary shoppers."
Shortcomings of conviction, and a few of copy editing, aside, The City Edition has tapped into a compelling notion -- a women's publication driven by thoughtful inquiry, local news, and the chance to tilt the cultural canon in favor of underrepresented women writers. Sure, Salon's Broadsheet already offers consistently exceptional commentary on this beat, but there's always room for more voices, and it'd be nice to have a form to take with me on the MUNI or pick up at a coffee shop (though preferably not at It's a Grind). Maybe, and very hopefully, this little paper with the big heart will embrace its potential and grow into its shoes to trail blaze a path for savvy feminist reporting in the city. I'd love to see all the great ideas that such a project would surely inspire.