Why an Iconic Dutch Women’s Magazine Is Ditching ‘Feminist’ for ‘Feminine’

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AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — Feminist publications are navigating tricky waters. U.K.-based online magazine Feminist Times recently announced its shutdown only nine months after its launch, as its business model did not prove to be sustainable. On the other side of the channel, Holland’s most prominent feminist monthly magazine, Opzij (link in Dutch), which means “out of the way,” has been given another chance. After increasingly declining sales numbers, the print magazine has the opportunity to restart under the direction of a new publisher, Veen Media.

On May 20, Opzij’s new editor-in-chief, Irene de Bel, appeared on a daily talk show. During the interview, De Bel said, “I am repeatedly told that Opzij is harping on about feminism too much. We need to get rid of that [image] and be positive and inspiring.”

De Bel also said she wants Opzij to explore a new type of feminism. She argued that Dutch women are guaranteed equal opportunities by law and that it is time for them to exploit these advantages in practice. “The time of pointing fingers is over. Women have to seize the opportunities at hand. This fits with an Opzij writing from a feminine, and not by definition feminist, angle,” she said on Opzij’s website.

Publisher Leo Schaap told Student Reporter, “The magazine will not move away from feminism.” Instead, the magazine will focus on “a new generation of young women that, so to speak, don’t know better than everything being regulated well for them and that have the attitude to build on opportunities.”

Less feminism more readers

The decision to give Opzij a makeover is raising doubts and some controversy. The magazine was founded in 1972, during the Netherlands’ second feminist wave. Ever since, it has been at the forefront of the emancipation of Dutch society. “Opzij pushed ideas for combating women’s rights forward and took the lead as a feminist spokesperson,” said Ingrid Cramer, author of “Handboek Tijdschrift” (Guide to Magazines).

As women’s emancipation became rather commonplace in Dutch society, former Editor-in-Chief Cisca Dresselhuys, who led the publication from 1981 to 2008, transformed Opzij from an activist feminist magazine into an opinion periodical for women, with a focus on the emancipation debate. The magazine saw its circulation drop by half over the past 10 years, from around 88,000 copies in 2003 to some 44,000 in 2013, according to circulation figures from HOI, Institute for Media Auditing.

Anja Meulenbelt, a writer, politician and former Opzij contributor, said that with the pressure from declining sales numbers, Opzij tried to shake off ideology and took the word “feminism” off its cover. “For feminists, the magazine became less interesting, but for women that saw ‘feminism’ as a dirty word, it was not appealing either. This approach has not helped the sales, yet the new editor-in-chief will also take this direction. I think they make a mistake thinking they will get something out of a feminine, instead of feminist, magazine.”

Cramer agrees with Meulenbelt that magazines are better off serving a niche audience instead of a widespread one. To survive, therefore, Opzij should distinguish itself. “No magazine became a wild success by wanting to please everyone,” she said, adding that Opzij is not abandoning its feminist values but instead represents a contemporary interpretation of a feminist magazine.

The relevance of Dutch feminism

Jonathan Price, who wrote an opinion piece published in the Dutch newspaper NRC suggestively titled “Het keerpunt is bereikt: de emancipatie is niet uit, maar gewoon af” (The turning point is reached: emancipation is not out of fashion but simply finished), agrees with the way De Bel sees the status of feminism in the Netherlands. “Feminism is something that has worked its way through culture and society. Now we have to figure out what women can do with these freedoms,” he said.

But not everyone agrees with Price’s view on emancipation. Janneke van der Veer is the author of an article for Volzin magazine titled “Feminisme blijft actueel, ook voor jongeren” (Feminism is still relevant, also for youngsters). “The law tells us we are equal, but numbers demonstrate that in reality Dutch women don’t have the same opportunities as men,” she said.

“The Dutch suffer from the post-feminist illusion that feminism has reached its goals and that contemporary women nag about nothing,” said Lies Wesseling, director of the Centre for Gender and Diversity at Maastricht University. “In countries outside the Netherlands, like France, Sweden or the U.K., the debates on emancipation are vital and not strangled at birth. Of course, not everyone in those countries supports feminism, but at least arguments such as ‘we don’t want to nag’ are not considered. Opzij should not let itself be maneuvered in this defensive position.”

Wesseling noted that in her statement, De Bel implicitly pointed a finger at women. “In the last couple of years, the debate on the balance between work and child care solely focuses on women: They work too much and take care of the family too little, or vice versa. Yet women can’t emancipate by themselves. They need to cooperate with men, who remain persistently out of the picture. Men should be included in this debate.”

Van der Veer also agrees that Opzij’s feminism should be more inclusive. “Not every woman that takes care of the children is oppressed, and there are also men that don’t get equal opportunities,” she said. 

A more inclusive model

According to Jesse Rutters and Hugo van Dam, organizers of the event “Feminisme is ook een mannenzaak” (Feminism is a men’s business too), many men do not feel they should get involved in feminist debates, as they consider feminism a women’s subject. “Others think that if their partner, sister or mother doesn’t feel oppressed, what is there for them to do? The feeling that they can and should get involved has to be activated,” Rutters and Van Dam said.

Interviewing men on subjects that women are normally asked about, like combining work and child care, can be a game changer, Wesseling suggested. In fact, De Bel has already announced that more space for male writers will be available in Opzij, for instance on topics related to family life.

In her television appearance, De Bel, a married mother of two young children, identified “young working mums” as Opzij’s target group, leaving the viewers wondering about other target readers, such as housewives; working women without children; and single, lesbian or transgender people. Critics note that the traditional second wave feminist discourse from which Opzij originates is very much a debate among upper-middle-class whites.

Joyce Outshoorn, a professor of women’s studies at Leiden University, contributed to Opzij at the time Dresselhuys was editor-in-chief. “There was little attention paid to immigrants, globalization and other countries than the Netherlands. After she left, this has slightly improved,” she said. “However, it is a backwards-looking policy not to take the world into account.”

According to Meulenbelt, feminism lives on in a younger generation of granddaughters, as well as in migrant daughters and black women in the Netherlands. “The question if Islam and feminism are compatible is a current topic too,” she said.

These and many other issues, which remain unresolved, are matters Opzij could touch upon. “Feminism is still alive in the Dutch society. Issues from the ’70s are still actual—for instance, the female body, sexualization, wages, work and family life,” Outshoorn said. This is also evident in a new generation of women.

De Bel’s first Opzij issue is expected in September or October. Although the feminist magazine may not be selling well at the moment, many readers will eagerly await this release for a critical review.

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