Rebel With A Cause—New Feminist Magazine Launches In Chicago
By Tony Peregrin in Arts & Entertainment on May 2, 2012 3:00PM
Rebellious editor Karen Hawkins at the website launch party.
“I was working Saturdays at the time, and he told me I was being ‘rebellious’ when I asked for ‘too many’ weekends off in a row—four, to be exact. I was stunned,” said Hawkins, 36, of West Rogers Park. “Why would you ever use that word in the workplace? And would he have said it to a man? Or to anyone who wasn’t a woman of color who’s younger than he is? I don’t think so.”
“I’ve always wanted to start a women’s magazine, and the name—and the way it came about—is perfect,” added Hawkins. “The name Rebellious is meant to appeal to women who don’t always do things the way their bosses, parents, and society tell them they ‘should.’ My hope is that the name signals to readers that we’re a unique kind of women’s magazine that speaks to the voice inside all of us that tells us not to take anyone’s crap,” explained Hawkins, who is also a business consultant.
Rebellious' content covers a wide spectrum of topics, from fashion to finance, parenting to politics, and food to film—to borrow slightly from the website’s alliterative ‘About’ page.
Rolled out on March 8 (International Women’s Day), Rebellious features a core team of about a dozen writers and columnists. There are no plans for a print version of the magazine—and with the exception of occasional meetings conducted around the kitchen table—Rebellious follows a virtual, Web-based office model.
When Venus magazine—the Chicago-based pub that focused on music, and later, general interest topics from a women’s perspective—shuttered its print operations and laid off editorial staff in December 2010, Chicago lost its highly respected and popular feminist ‘zine. With the local media landscape virtually devoid of women-centered content (no, Today’s Chicago Woman doesn’t count), Rebellious is filling an important niche.
“I want Rebellious to serve as a place that reminds people that the women’s movement is not over. We’re not done,” said Hawkins.
Chicagoist: You were a Chicago-based AP reporter for just over six years. From the outside looking in that sounds like a great gig. Why give it up to start Rebellious?
Karen Hawkins: It was an amazing learning experience, and I got to work with some of the most talented journalists in the country. But I always knew that the mainstream media wasn’t for me. Big media outlets that churn out stories on quick deadlines and have to appeal to broad audiences tend to fall back on certain ways of telling stories that I was never comfortable with. There’s one narrative that’s told about poor people, people of color, immigrants, the incarcerated, members of the GLBT community, single moms, people with disabilities—anyone who isn’t a white, married, middle-class reader of a certain age. There are always exceptions, of course, and I have colleagues fighting to change all of that, but for the most part, that’s what happens. I want to show the complexities of people’s lives and give an outlet for all kinds of people to tell their stories in their own way.
Chicagoist: Crain’s Chicago Business published a brief write-up on Rebellious, and I noticed the writer quoted you by first name only.
KH: At the time we launched, I was still working for the AP, and I was getting wildly conflicting advice from co-workers, former co-workers and union folks about whether the magazine was something I was allowed to do. While I felt like starting a women’s magazine without telling management was oh-so-rebellious, getting fired without a backup plan really wasn’t something I was prepared for. So, I was hoping to lay low until I figured that part out, and then Crain’s e-mailed me literally the day we went live. Whoa. So, I winged it. Now I’m out, so to speak, and it feels amazing to reclaim my byline.
Chicagoist: There are countless lifestyle sites on the interwebs. What does the reader get from Rebellious that they can’t get anywhere else?
KH: Even with such a crowded online media landscape, there still aren’t many options for women readers in the Chicago area, especially not feminist women in Chicago, who want to read about what local women are doing and connect with like-minded people. That’s the niche we fill. One of our missions is to profile local women and organizations from our own unique perspective. And we’re working on a directory of women-owned businesses so we can better support each other. To me, this isn’t just about launching a magazine, it’s about building community.
Chicagoist: Working alongside you at Windy City Times many years ago, I know that you have always wanted to start your own publication. It’s always been your dream. Why now?
KH: Yes, I’ve always wanted to start my own publication. Part of working toward that was getting a master’s in magazine publishing at Medill a few years back after working at Windy City. Then I really fell in love with breaking news reporting, got the internship at AP, and stayed there for six years. Now is a great time for many reasons, including the fact that I can take what I learned at Medill and couple it with what I learned at AP and at Windy City Times. I couldn’t tell you the exact moment I decided to launch Rebellious, but it was probably one Saturday afternoon when I was at work while the rest of my friends were at brunch drinking mimosas.
Chicagoist: You’re an out LGBT person, Karen. Does Rebellious also highlight LGBT issues?
KH: Absolutely! My goal is to be a place for all women to share their stories and see themselves reflected [in the work.] Which is a tricky thing, and I’m not saying it’s going to be easy, but part of the fun will be putting together a diverse group of writers who can pull it off.
Chicagoist: Talk a little about your submission process and how writers can go about pitching ideas or columns to you.
KH: We have both a formal submission process and an informal one. Formally, writers can send an email to email@example.com or fill out a submission form on the website with a traditional pitch of what they’d like to write about and why it’s relevant for us. Or they can just send me a full manuscript.
Informally, if you’re a woman who tells me a fantastic story at a party about some bad-ass woman you know or something interesting you’ve done, chances are I’m going to ask you to write about it for me. So be warned.
Chicagoist: What can male readers expect to find at the site that might be of interest to them? Are male contributors/writers encouraged to pitch you story ideas?
KH: There will definitely be something for everyone, and I think smart, thoughtful writing is of interest to all readers, no matter their gender. We’re definitely skewing toward having more female writers than male—this is about women’s voices, after all—but men with good stories to tell that are relevant to our readers should definitely pitch to us. We don’t have any male writers yet, but we’re planning an “Ask a Dude” column. And our Godsend of a web designer is a man.
Chicagoist: Each issue is built around a central idea or question, right?
KH: The monthly themes are built around questions that have come from brainstorming sessions with my friends and contributors. It started with March, when the theme was “What Makes You Rebellious?” For this first year, many of the themes are tied to holidays/events each month, and they’re meant to get both readers—and our writers—thinking. May is “Who’s Your Momma?” June is “What Are You Proud Of?” and July is “Are You Independent?”
Chicagoist: Where do you see Rebellious a year from now? Five years?
KH: My family likes to joke that I’m starting a media empire, and while I laugh, I really kinda want it to be true. In a year, I’d like us to have a diverse and robust staff of writers (who we’ll be able to pay by then, I hope!) and to be on the local media radar. We get an impressive number of clicks right now, considering that we’re less than two months old, but I obviously want to see that grow. I want more Chicago women who are doing amazing work to know that we’re a place where they can share their stories and get the word out about what they’re doing.
In five years? Three words: Rebellious: The Network.