Politics and the City

Beth Forrester
11 July 2008

Beth Forrester (Unlock Democracy): “Smart, successful, single young woman seeks intelligent, attractive and culturally relevant website to combine her interests in fashion, music, celebrity and most of all politics and current affairs. “

In the UK this has been a familiar plea for far too long. While our counterparts in the USA have long been actively reading, browsing and debating on Women on the Web, female focused British portals have remained rare. This is not to dispute their quality or popularity, with The F-Word, Feminist Fightback and Female First all very popular but relatively narrow in appeal.

Politics and the City hails itself as the site to appeal to a wider demographic with contributions from everyone from Shami Chakrabarti to Kylie Minogue. Inspiring, successful women will write for other successful women and create lively and intelligent debates. Or so I hoped.

As I enter the site the London skyline and a large pink lipstick hit me. Wow, most of my friends are immediately alienated. There is life outside London, intelligent life at that and despite the sites namesake, Sex and the City; some women can operate without cosmetics (but based on media propaganda this may be an urban myth). As I do live in London and am wearing lipstick (today), I persevere.

Two celebrity blogs are available; June Sarpong, the former T4 presenter and ex-girlfriend of David Lammy MP (after websites, when do women get independent identities I wonder?) and; Lily Cole, supermodel and perpetually deferring future Cambridge student. Both are pleasant but, how much I have in common with or, care about the daily life of an international model is questionable, so I move on.

Oh, look, another blog (nothing like a few blogs to fill out a website, eh?). This one is, by a dog. I imagine I’m intended to find this cute or funny but neither is forthcoming. I check it anyway. Much to my dismay it’s American, now even Londoners are alienated.

So I quickly move onto fashion, that’s universal, everyone has to wear something, right? A news piece about Matthew Williamson’s New York store, he’s excited, I am not, as the chances of me visiting, even if I won the lottery, are slim. This theme continues, with all the fashion being London and designer focused; out of my price range and before I lived in London; outside my regular shopping opportunities. This continues into the music and celebrity sections. All the music is very mainstream pop, where are the alternatives, the jazz, the classical and the country? The gossip section is a stream of information on who’s dating whom and having babies with someone else. Fine in itself but individual achievements anyone?

So onto the final sections, News and Politics, where, I hope, the best content resides. The news section is very female focused, which is either a pro, if you believe women are underrepresented in the mainstream media, or a con, if you want a more rounded view of current affairs. I fall into the latter and revert back to the BBC.

The politics section is what the site had been sold on, a place where women could make themselves informed on issues, which, affect all of us. The political news is fairly mainstream and international, both perhaps positives but, it explains terms no more and makes assumptions just as much as other sites. The same problem as with news is therefore present, the content is there but in less detail and a very similar format to existing sites. If I were interested in these issues, why would I go for a site that seems to only deal with them superficially? And if not currently interested, why would another site, using the same language, appeal to me any more?

Politics and the City is a brilliant and much needed idea. Unfortunately it’s one, which has been poorly executed. It is still in its infancy so maybe, hopefully, it will improve with age. In aiming for mass appeal, this site, like so many before it, has appealed to the lowest common denominator. Thus if you are very interested in fashion, the content here is insubstantial and narrow, if you are a political or news hack, the superficial reporting of complex issues will frustrate you and if you love music, you won’t find anything you haven’t heard before.

As a traditional women’s magazine, Politics and the City may have been a roaring success but it would also have been a much bigger financial risk. The problems are as much due to its media as its content. The Internet allows you to be specialised and narrow in your focus and the pages on any issue is continually increasing. You are also able to have many tabs open at once. Why then, would you compromise content when everything is so convenient? I for one won’t be and fear that unless the content and commentary on the Politics and the City site improves substantially neither will many of my peers. The site is an exciting concept and I hope that it has set the ball rolling for more feminists (and yes I count myself as one) to pick up the baton and run with it.

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