Coming onto the hipster scene in Germany just one year ago, Missy Magazine looks at pop culture, fashion, art, sex, and music through a feminist lens. Missy is being called the "little sister" of Emma, the country's leading feminist magazine known for its serious journalism (think Ms.), but Missy doesn't need anyone to watch over her; she's standing on her own two feet, out of the shadow of her so-called older sibling.
After a rapid sell out of its initial 15,000 print run and winning €25,000 from the Hobnox Evolution competition, editors Sonja Eismann, Stefanie Lohaus, and Chris Köves upped the ante on their ambitious plans for this newly emerging girlie mag. I had the exciting honor of conducting their first-ever interview with an American publication, so this, my friends, is a Bitch exclusive!
Tell me a little about Missy's editorial trio. How did you all meet?
Chris: Steffi and I met in a Applied Cultural Sciences Program at the University of Lüneburg, a small town in the north of Germany close to Hamburg, and have been really good friends for a few years now. Sonja and I met a few years back at a Ladyfest here in Hamburg. She was working as an editor for INTRO (one of the biggest German pop culture magazines) at the time and did a workshop on the representation of women in pop journalism. I was researching for my Master's thesis and held a workshop on gender roles in TV series. So the organizers stuck us together. After that we stayed in touch. Actually, the community of people in Germany and Austria working at the intersection of feminism and pop culture is pretty small. So if you do research in that area you are destined to meet again and again.
How did the idea for Missy come about?
Chris: Sonja and I had been reading BUST for years and had been talking for a while about how great it would be to have something similar to it in Germany, but it was mostly just talk. We thought since there was no way to finance a magazine that there was no way we could pull it off. Then New Years of 2008 I gave Steffi some copies of BUST I had lying around. She basically freaked out and instantly convinced me that we had to do something similar in Germany. So we called up Sonja and a month later we had founded a publishing company.
It was kind of a crazy idea because we all had other full-time jobs at the time, but we knew that if we didn't do this instantly, we'd be too discouraged by the risks later. So we just did it. The plan was to keep our jobs and have Missy as a very time consuming hobby on the side. A month later, however, we won €25,000 in the Hobnox Evolution competition, kind of by accident. The money had to be spent within a year, so things started speeding up a lot.
How did it feel to learn you won enough money to bankroll your first issue?
Sonja: We like to joke that it was like being at the Oscars and hearing that you just won that stupid little golden statue. We were all already quite drunk with excitement anyway, but when our names were called out and we had to enter the stage and do an acceptance speech, we were simply overwhelmed. The feeling was the exhilaration of winning, of course, but there was also knowing that other people shared our dream of a feminist magazine--and deemed it a necessity, just like we did.
How is Missy different from other German magazines?
Sonja: I think it is safe to say that we are the only German language publication that offers articles on pop culture from a decidedly feminist perspective. On a broader scale there are smaller publications—like Fiber in Austria—that are also very enthusiastic on the topic, but operate on a much smaller scale, more like fanzines. We offer a feminist, woman-centric view on pop culture that puts women—who are too often marginalized in similar, boy-driven magazines—up front and center. I think what people like about us is that we are quite "hip" or "trendy" (a.k.a. "in the know" regarding cool, subversive pop culture and theory) without being apolitical, and always tongue-in-cheek.
How long did it take you to put together the first issue?
Sonja: It took a pretty long time, almost a year. The process was made even more complicated by the fact that we did and do not live in the same city (Chris and Steffi in Hamburg and myself between Zurich and Vienna, sometimes Berlin). We talked a lot via Skype, tried to meet in person whenever that was possible and just brainstormed. I think we all had a pretty clear vision of what the magazine should be like, thanks to our avid reading of American magazines like Bitch and VenusZine. And since we had all been working in journalism and alternative culture before, we had pretty good networks of people who we could ask to contribute. That's not to say it wasn't hard and that there weren't quite a few points where we had different opinions—but even if it is not easy, it is always fruitful to discuss these points and find a suitable solution together.
Most US magazines have to become more established before talking to film stars. How did you get such great interviews and articles from the jump?
Sonja: Well, thank you for this wonderful compliment! Fortunately, we had quite a bit of experience under our belts and a very good feminist network. And when you have been dreaming of publishing your own feminist pop culture magazine for so many years (as was definitely the case with me), the ideas just come pouring out. There is so much you want to see realized that you can hardly wait.
Where is Missy sold?
Chris: Missy is sold at all airports and train stations in Germany, Autria, and Switzerland. In the bigger cities (Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, Vienna) it is also at regular newsstands. We also offer subscriptions and have about 1,500 subscribers by now, which is still rapidly growing. Most subscribers are in Germany and Austria, of course, but there are also a few overseas—from the US to Japan to Australia.
Were you surprised the first issue sold out so quickly?
Chris: Yes! Surprised and thrilled. Of course we had hoped there would be a market for this kind of thing in Germany while we were working on the first issue, but to see that confirmed was still really great.
What kind of feedback have you received so far?
Chris: It totally depends on the perspective of the reader: Everything from "You guys are so great. I have been longing for the longest time for something like this. Thank you, you make my day." to "You are a lesbian magazine and we want nothing to do with you." The latter mostly came from old men in advertising, who were offended by our non-heteronormative ways. But hey, you can't please everybody, right? (laughs)
A lot of people, especially other younger women, have critiqued us for "not being political" or not going far enough. In Germany the perception of feminism is mostly connected to Emma. So when we came out with claims of being a new feminist magazine a lot of people had hoped we'd be "the new voice of young feminists today." When they realized we were a pop culture magazine and not the spokespeople for the new feminist agenda of our generation, they were disappointed and claimed we were apolitical, which actually isn't true at all. We see what we do as deeply political; we just think that representing women differently is politics too.
What do you think about Missy being called Emma's "little sister"?
Chris: We can relate to that, as we see ourselves in a feminist tradition and want to be perceived that way too. We also have a lot respect for feminists of the second and first waves; without them, we couldn't do what we do today. So we try to give them as much credit as we can. The only problem we have with Emma and Alice Schwarzer is that they make it seem like Emma is the only kind of feminism in Germany when, in fact, feminism has always been a very diverse movement with a lot of different opinions. So we are happy to be called "Emma's little sister," but we don't want to dominate the feminist discourse in Germany in the way Emma had done before us. If you've got a different opinion, make your own feminist magazine! We'd like to have as many different feminist magazines as possible, so people can realize how diverse feminism is.