Self-confessed feminists Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett got the idea for their satirical blog The Vagenda in a tiny attic flat above a pub in North London. Like many of us dissatisfied with the media aimed at women (hey, that was our reasoning for starting SheRa Mag), they “decided then and there that the women’s press is a large hadron collider of bullshit and that something had to be done.” They launched their pink-tinged website in February 2012, and through their weapon of choice—humor—have been questioning, criticizing, and analyzing the media’s portrayal of women ever since. Even their tagline is biting: “Like King Lear but for girls” is a quote they stole from Grazia’s cringe-worthy description of the film The Iron Lady.
Why did you decide to start The Vagenda?
We decided to start The Vagenda because we were dedicated Cosmo readers who were getting bored of their sex tips and jaded with the product pushing! We decided to bite back at the marketers of insecurity in women’s magazines and try to offer an alternative through satire.
Can you tell me a bit about yourselves. What is your background/interests/pet peeves?
Holly: I’m the previous resident of an airing cupboard who can’t pull off yellow and likes reading things out in a sarcastic voice. I’ve told my delivery is too deadpan. I come from Newcastle and I’m a cat person.
Rhiannon: I am also a cat person and owner of the airing cupboard Holly inhabited. I am Welsh. I have been on a diet for two years and that’s partly why I got fed up with women’s magazines. They were affecting my enjoyment of cheese.
You have also written a book. Is this a continuation of what you want to achieve with The Vagenda? How has it been received?
We wrote the book together dividing it into chapters representing what we’d heard about most on the blog: sex, beauty, body, lad culture, etc. By then we’d done a lot of work in schools with young people and we’d had loads of submissions to the blog from around the world by a vast diversity of women and men. As expected, the book has had an excellent reception with our readers and a frostier one from the people in the media who we ran through the mill (especially Grazia!)
Since you have launched, do you think the outlook on magazines aimed at women (that we don’t all want to “match our knickers with our nailpolish”) has improved, or do you think there’s still a long way to go?
The landscape has certainly changed. We’ve seen political coverage appear in Grazia and we were asked to come and work with Elle on their campaign about rebranding feminism. We’ve also seen magazines like Stylist make a commitment to not running diets or slagging off celebrities. There’s a lot to be positive about, but there’s also a lot to keep on fighting for!
Your website looks great. Did you come up with the design yourselves?
Rhiannon designed the original website around a template—we had a clear vision of what we wanted it to look like, which was pink, with a little bit of a retro style to it. We thought using 50s housewife imagery and sugary colors in a tongue-and-cheek way would reflect the tone of the website. Then we got a Kickstarter going for a redesign and the amazing Kate Watkiss listened to our ideas and produced a fantastic design for us. We’re really happy with it.
Do you have regular writers on board? Do you accept contributions?
We have an open-door submissions policy and if it’s good, it’ll definitely get published. At the time of our book deal Holly and I were writing around 80–90% of the content but the emails asking to contribute came in thick and fast and we’ve had some amazing pieces of writing on the blog as a result.
What have been some of your favorite stories that you have published?
What’s next for The Vagenda? Any long-term plans?
Well, the paperback of The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media is coming out early next year, and after a summer of events surrounding the book, I think we’re both planning to take a well-deserved break!