When I launched Kazoo: A Magazine for Girls who Aren’t Afraid to Make Some Noise a year and a half ago, my colleagues were skeptical.
Starting a new print magazine in an economy where big publishing houses, including my former employer, Condé Nast, can’t keep major titles afloat seemed unwise, if not completely insane. But after a visit to the newsstand with my then 5-year-old daughter, I was determined to make it work.
I wanted to give my daughter — and all girls — something better, a magazine where they would be celebrated for being strong, smart, fierce and above all, true to themselves. It’s hard to believe this is still a radical notion, but if you read the stacks and stacks of research on gender bias in the media — or, a quicker option, take a critical glimpse at the toy aisle, clothing aisle, television, movie screen or bookstore — you’ll see why it is.
I crowdfunded Kazoo to ensure we’d have enough interest, and did we ever. With the support of luminaries like Roxane Gay and Neil Gaiman, we raised $171,215 in 30 days, which at the time made us the highest funded journalism campaign in Kickstarter’s history.
Our promise was simple. We would work with top women in their fields, including scientists, artists, athletes, engineers, chefs, and writers, among others, on every story. There would be no photoshopped images of girls in our pages, but instead we’d illustrate all of our experts as they were as girls, so our reader can more easily see themselves in these positions of power.
Our pages would be ad-free and chock full of fun, including science experiments, building projects, comics about powerful women, original fiction by major authors, and activities, including mazes, search-and-finds and secret codes. We’d be like the lovechild of Highlights and Sassy — fun and woke.
By the time we published our second issue, our circulation had more than tripled, and Hillary Clinton was trouncing Donald Trump in the polls. On Election Day, my family, each of us clad in white, went the polls to vote. Then we walked to the corners of President and Clinton streets in Brooklyn and tied white roses to the streetlamp to honor the women who fought so hard to give us the right to vote.
And for the next issue of Kazoo, we’d planned an illustrated maze, where our readers could lead Hillary Clinton to the White House and learn about her achievements along the way. The headline was “Welcome, Madam President.”
You already know what happened next.
At my daughter’s public school in Brooklyn, they preach the Four Bs: Be kind, be respectful, be prepared and be safe. Even my kindergartener could see that our new president violated these basic tenets. His victory was hard to explain to her and even harder to make sense of myself. We considered pulling our Clinton maze, but after her powerful concession speech, we decided to change it from a celebration of her victory into a rallying cry.
Truthfully, I hope not. Our readers are 5 to 10-years-old, and if we have to wait at least 25 years to see a woman in the Oval Office, we’re in big trouble. The world is now getting harder, not easier, for girls and women.
While our president brags about assaulting women, our Congress, led by an by an anti-equality, anti-choice Republican party, is assaulting our rights. Meanwhile, too many of our workplaces have become backdrops of #metoo stories. White supremacists and Nazis are marching in the streets, emboldened by Trump, who calls them “very fine people.” What kind of future is this for our kids?
I remember our first post-election issue planning meeting, when I met with Kazoo’s art director and photo editor, both women, at my kitchen table. It was a clarifying moment for me, as we traded stories of heartbreak, fear and anger. We were a magazine for young girls, founded, in part, to help correct gender bias in the media. Already that mission felt too small. We did not have the luxury of being the periodical version of a “girl power” T-shirt.
For me, on that night, Kazoo’s mission became bigger and even more important. We planned not only our usual search-and-finds, mazes and dot-to-dots, but also stories on standing up to bullies, telling fact from opinion and cultivating hope. Without sounding too grandiose, we want nothing less than to change the world.
We want to give young girls not only the tools to shatter any of the glass ceilings we can’t get to first, but also the foundation to challenge the assumptions that put them there in the first place. We want to do what we can to help bring up girls who’ll be able to stand up for themselves and claim their space and power in Trump’s America.
For our next cover, we decided to hold our own torch-lit parade in response to Charlottesville. Our young readers, most of whom are blissfully unaware of today’s current events, will simply see three happy girls, linked arm in arm, raising colorful flashlights into the air. Their parents, who are watching the world change before their eyes, will see more.