Asked if there were any posts that she felt had unexpectedly taken off with readers, Coen mentioned Lindy West’s “How to Make a Rape Joke,” published last year. Prompted by comedian Daniel Tosh’s crude response to a female heckler, West explained why most rape jokes weren’t funny and demonstrated how to tell one properly. Coen said West’s post not only challenged the stereotype that rape was a dirty word, unfit for comedy, but also helped bring feminist conversation on the topic to a more mainstream audience.

Harding was also interested in how the editors balanced commerce with advocacy. Callahan admitted that Clutch featured both posts on natural hair and ads for perms, to the annoyance of some readers. Leibovich was resigned to the fact that The Huffington Post’s right rail—auto-populated with the most popular stories on the site—would occasionally feature a post on dieting, inappropriately close to a thoughtful Lifestyle piece on body image.

But Coen said she rarely had to worry about ads, because Gawker’s sales department understood Jezebel’s content. “What the problem is is when we put up content that advertisers are not pleased with, and they’ve already bought the site for the day. Our content stays. We don’t take anything down. So the advertisers will want their logos down,” she said.

Once Harding invited questions from the audience, the conversation inevitably turned to controversial Bleacher Report-mogul Bryan Goldberg and his new women’s site, Bustle. McDonell-Parry said she respected the women who worked at Bustle, but also dryly offered them her sympathies.

Holmes was even more blunt. Goldberg’s manner of launching Bustle “showed that he was self-aggrandizing, naive, [and] obnoxious,” and “was insulting to the dozens of women who I know who have been pioneering in that space for a very, very long time,” she said.

“It was the six-million-dollar mansplain,” Harding added.

Edith Zimmerman, founder of The Hairpin, said Goldberg seemed so out of touch that she wasn’t so much irritated as amused by his behavior, and that she felt sorry for him. Holmes replied that she had pitied him too, until she saw a photograph in the New Yorker in which he appeared to be using a woman as a table.

Another audience member asked about the role of humor in ladyblogs, particularly as an entry point into feminism for people who might not respond to more earnest advocacy.

“We were really explicit about using humor at Feministing,” Mukhopadhyay said, “because of the really annoying rumor that feminists are all unfunny. I think that irreverence is really important, because the day-to-day issues that we’re working on are so serious and so intense that it does require an ounce of humor to get through,” she said.

Holmes referred to Daily Caller columnist Mark Judge’s review of The Book of Jezebel, in which he blamed the writers’ jaundiced view of the world on ‘daddy issues,’ even as he acknowledged that the book was funny. “What I think is under a lot of the best humor is anger,” Holmes said. “There’s a lot to be angry about and annoyed about and frustrated by, particularly with regards to women’s status in the world, whether here or abroad. And that is where the humor comes from.”

 

Edirin Oputu is an assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @EdirinOputu