The first question the founders of The Riveter, a one-year-old longform magazine, are often asked about their creation is: Why? Why, when you can’t read more than 500 words in the paper without seeing a eulogy for print media, when there exist hundreds of other publications that specialize in longform journalism, when the economy is still sputtering and stalling as it struggles to recover and journalism graduates are repeatedly told how little they’ll make in comparison to their STEM-field friends; why would you ever create a magazine? And why would you create one many would be quick to brush off as merely “niche,” one with a stated aim of “inject(ing) the industry with more female voices and chang(ing) the conversation about gender in publishing?”
Two months ago, the New York Times fired executive editor Jill Abramson. The New Yorker ran a series of three articles, the first of which was published just hours after her termination was announced and speculated the cause of her firing. Allegedly, it was Abramson’s perceived “brusque” and “pushy” nature and a dispute over pay inequality. Public outcry and social media clamor — “Would you say the same thing about a male journalist?” — ensued.
In that moment, we were all Jill. Whether we were young or old, in our first year at the School of Journalism or in our third decade as a professional, covering breaking news or arts and entertainment, we could relate. Whether we’d been fired by a sexist boss or hit on by a leery male source while on the job, we knew what it was like to be a woman and a journalist.
While subsequent articles in other publications (including The Gray Lady herself) refuted the New Yorker’s claims, countless more women were galvanized by this collective snub. Even if Abramson was fired over something entirely unrelated, the public outcry that ensued highlighted a broader ugly truth: it’s hard out here for a female journalist.
Think of the last time you read (okay, clicked) through The Atlantic, Harper’s Bazaar, The New Yorker or the New Republic. According to a study by VIDA, an organization that seeks to “address the need for female writers of literature to engage in conversations regarding the critical reception of women’s creative writing in our current culture,” in 2013, The Atlantic published 113 stories by male writers and 61 by female writers. In the same year, Harper’s published 82 stories with men’s bylines and just 25 with women’s. The New Yorker’s ratio? Five hundred fifty-five to 253. The New Republic? Two hundred and thirty-five to 81.
Now, think of the last time you looked at a “women’s magazine.” More bylines featured female names, right? But recall the topics of many of those articles — how to lose ten pounds by stressing, how to make leather skirts office-appropriate, a home decorating feature, a blurb on the hottest superfood (this month, it’s air), a haircut that’ll change your life and flatter your cheekbones.
When female writers are given the chance to write, they’re often pigeonholed and shoved into a tiny, unassuming, polite pink box.
“Sure, I can answer a few questions for a pretty girl like you,” said the man in the blue polo and khakis.
“Excuse me?” I wanted to scream as I focused all my energy on keeping my cool. I could feel my blood boiling. My face was getting hot. I was angry, appalled and hurt. Angry, because he said it so casually, as if sexism was merely a verbal tick. Appalled, because I was conducting myself respectfully and professionally and was foolish enough to expect my respectfulness to be reciprocated. Hurt, because it wasn’t the first time I’d gotten remarks like that while just trying to do my job.
Journalists are conditioned to take the utmost care to avoid bias and causing tension. At the Missouri School of Journalism, students are required to take an entire course, Cross-Cultural Journalism, on how to consider “faultlines” when reporting — that is, “differences that, without relief from their pressures, can fracture our relationships and social structures,” as the Society of Professional Journalists explains. One of these five potential areas of tensions is gender. Journalists are trained to use caution and ensure that their stories reflect no gender bias or traces of sexism.
But unfortunately for many female journalists, sources are given no such training. My story was not unique. A quick scroll through blogs like Said to Lady Journos gives a harrowing account of some of the things people have thought it acceptable to say to women in the media, simply because they’re women: “If you could just use some of your natural charm and gifts on him, I’m sure he’d be willing to say what you need him to;" “I figured you were too pretty to be a print journalist;" “So, this writing this is just something to keep you busy while your husband works, right?”.
From the trenches of rookie reporting to the executive editorial level, sometimes the profession based on truth and fairness just isn’t fair.
Enter The Riveter.
Launched in 2013 by MU journalism alumnae Joanna “Yanna” Demkiewicz and Kaylen Ralph, also a former Maneater editor, The Riveter aims to increase the number of female voices in longform. After nearly a year, the publication is slowly but surely chipping away at the underrepresentation of women in narrative journalism.
It’s early June, and the duo is preparing for the opening of The Riveter’s collaboration with Columbia’s PS: Gallery, which will run through late July. With two issues of the magazine under their belt, Ralph and Demkiewicz are getting ready to launch a month-and-a-half long exhibit at the gallery featuring seven women, five of whom were featured in the magazine’s second issue, in a feature entitled “Here are the Women in Visual Arts.”
Over the phone, the two explain their thought process behind the exhibition.
Demkiewicz explains, “Our goal is to share the work of women with different stories to tell.”
She and Ralph talk excitedly about the collaboration and the kickoff event, scheduled for that weekend. Their synchronicity is obvious — they’re clearly on the same creative wavelength, finishing each other’s sentences, a testament to their longstanding friendship.
It’s a match made in heaven, really: both the magazine and the gallery curate articles and pieces that tell stories. Both aim to make their work accessible and inclusive. The Riveter publishes longform features by women, whose voices are often underrepresented in the media. PS:Gallery showcases artwork from both locally and nationally known artists without even a hint of elitism or pretense. It’s art for everyone, explains Ralph.
— excerpt of MOVE’s preview of The Riveter’s collaboration with PS: Gallery
Sexism and the underrepresentation of women in the media is a "systemic problem," but publications like The Riveter that are dedicated to increasing the number of female voices are one part of what needs to be a "multi-faceted solution,” says Ann Friedman, the former executive editor of GOOD magazine and a member of the “Mizzou Mafia,” as MU journalism grads are affectionately called.
In addition to contributing to ELLE, The New Republic, The Guardian and Newsweek and various other publications, Friedman maintains the blog Lady Journos, which links to “the work of journalists who happen to be women” in an effort to “help close the byline gender gap.”
One challenge, Friedman says, for young women in the media is "getting them to own their opinions" and to eschew "put-upon professionalism” — that polite pink box.
"(It's) important to have women who … write for a variety of outlets” and on a variety of topics, says Friedman.
Indeed, part of The Riveter’s goal is to give different views on typical “women’s issues.”
“For example: If you think women write too much about motherhood, we want to offer a different motherhood perspective,” says Demkiewicz.
Friedman encourages young female journalists to “Have confidence in (their) point(s) of view. … Your point of view is an asset. Your personal opinions are relevant,” she says.
And no two points of view are alike. There’s no one “women’s view,” says Ralph. “A story written by a woman is often stamped with the qualifier of being from a ‘woman’s perspective.’ Duh!” The two hope that, with their magazine, they can “demonstrate how unnecessary that kind of qualification is.”
Yes, The Riveter declares, all women are different, and all women’s voices deserve to be heard.
It’s late summer 2013. After a successful campaign on crowdfunding site indiegogo, Ralph and Demkiewicz’s dream has become a reality.
On July 14, Issue 01 is launched. The cover of the first issue is decorated in sketches of rivets, the tiny tools used to join materials together. It’s a nod to the publication’s name as well as a metaphor for its purpose.
“Rivets hold objects together, and we believe our work can help overcome the dissonance and imbalance in the publishing world,” says Demkiewicz.
It’s also a reference to the iconic Rosie the Riveter image, the World War II-era woman that’s become a common motif in feminist artwork and a symbol of female equality, of women being capable of doing the same work as men.
“But Rosie as an icon is obviously more complex than that. We wanted The Riveter to be similarly complex. It’s open to interpretation,” says Demkiewicz. Rosie, while said to be modeled after Michigan factory worker Geraldine Hoff Doyle, is for all women.
Demkiewicz credits friend and fellow MU ’13 grad Mike Pottebaum with officially coming up with the name of the publication. Pottebaum’s aunt paints pictures of “contemporary Rosie,” explains Demkiewicz, a testament to the timelessness of the iconic image. Whether alive in the ‘40s, as Doyle was, or barely even halfway to 40, like many of The Riveter’s readers, women continue to relate, at least on some level, to the 70-year-old image.
After one year, two issues and countless views and ideas shared, what’s next for The Riveter?
In short: a lot.
While editing The Riveter is currently something the two do in their free time — both Ralph and Demkiewicz work day jobs as researchers and editorial assistants in the Minneapolis area — the two hope to eventually make it their full-time job.
Demkiewicz and Ralph also hope to make the publication more than “just a magazine.” The two want to make longform not just something one reads on a lazy Sunday afternoon, but a lifestyle — “(an) element on par with health, beauty and fashion,” says Demkiewicz, adding that The Riveter’s readers are just as diverse as its writers.
A recent website redesign courtesy of fellow MU journalism grad Theresa Berens, who serves as the magazine’s creative director, has helped The Riveter accomplish this goal, allowing readers to access the magazine from anywhere and at any time. In addition to new web-exclusive content, the stunning site gives readers a way to interact with the magazine and acts as a forum for discussions on a range of issues. The magazine maintains an active presence on social media, connecting with readers and exchanging ideas.
The Riveter is more than a collection of articles; it’s a hub for carefully curated content and a forum for discussion. It’s a haven for female writers who might get slighted elsewhere. Behind every article is a woman with a story to tell. The publication challenges traditional notions of “women’s magazines” with thought-provoking articles on a range of topics.
With each story it shares, The Riveter is, at least metaphorically, dropping the mic –– and shattering the “polite pink box” in the process.