Feb
08
2013

At Beliefnet, 'Everyone' Doesn't Include Feminists

The religious-themed website Beliefnet bills itself as "the most comprehensive online resource for inspiration and spirituality":

BN Media directors

BN Media's "fearless and determined" leadership.

With a mission to help people find and walk a spiritual path that instills comfort, hope, strength and happiness for people who are exploring their own faith or are curious about others, Beliefnet is the leading source of information spiritual information presented without a defined editorial point-of-view. Whether you're looking for spirituality, health and wellness, entertainment or more, Beliefnet has something for everyone.

This "something for everyone" theme is echoed by the site's corporate owner, BN Media: "Presented with a broad editorial point of view, Beliefnet's online content continues to appeal to a diverse readership."

Unfortunately, that "broad editorial point of view" has a distinct limit: Apparently, in Beliefnet's eyes, "everyone" does not include feminists.

As reported by the journalism blog Romenesko (2/7/13), Kristine Holmgren, a Minnesota-based Presbyterian pastor, playwright and feminist, was asked to contribute a blog to Beliefnet. The snag came when she was asked to provide a title for the blog. The site's marketing and business analyst Sharon Kirk sent Holmgren an email:

I believe you and Jana previously tossed around a few title possibilities including Feminist Pulpit Notes.

While I agree that title is certainly straight forward, I think it would resonate with our readers more if the title was a bit "softer." Our readers are looking for editorial that’s uplifting, motivational, inspirational, etc. and I think your blog will perform better if the title speaks to that aspect of your blog. Do you have any ideas along those lines?

When Holmgren proposed as an alternative Sweet Truth–Thoughts of a Faithful Feminist, Kirk objected to that as well:

I love Sweet Truth, however I would suggest changing the tag line or deleting all together, as I'm concerned about the negative connotation that our readers may associate with the word feminism. In addition, we'll want this blog to focus more on Christianity/spirituality as opposed to issues related to feminism. What do you think of simply Sweet Truths With Kristine Holmgren?

Holmgren told blogger Jim Romenesko that Kirk said on the phone that while she had no problem with feminism, "we know our readers are offended by the word." Holmgren recounted:

I asked, Why did you contract with me? I made it very clear who I am. I said, I'm afraid this is a dealbreaker. I said was I stunned. I felt like I was talking to somebody from 1955.

Not only couldn't "feminist" be in her blog title, Holmgren says she was told, she couldn't even use the word in her blog, because "the word offends so many people." When told to come up with a word that was softer, Holmgren says, "I told her I didn’t think there was anything 'softer' than feminism, a word that denotes equality for men and women and respect for children and families."

The playwright says she was told, "We can conclude this without rancor." To which she retorted: "Oh, no we can't"!

So how to square this "concern…about the negative connotation that our readers may associate with the word feminism" with the site's professed "broad editorial point of view" that offers "something for everyone"? Well, maybe the site's point of view isn't so broad to begin with. 

When you look at BN Media's page for "Our Leaders" (whom it describes as "fearless and determined"), you see a group of men (all but one white) who seem to represent a pretty narrow set of perspectives: There's three board members who seem to be there for their business experience, including two who are associated with "Epic Secure Solutions, a leading software technology provider battling pornography on the Internet." Then there's two directors who represent different strains of conservative Christianity: Jay Sekulow, chief counsel for Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice, and T.D. Jakes, a minister who preaches the "prosperity gospel."

Could it be that these men don't see anything strange about setting up a website that promises to be a "comprehensive online resource for inspiration and spirituality"–but tells feminists that they aren't welcome?

Beliefnet can be contacted via this form.

About Jim Naureckas

Extra! Magazine Editor Since 1990, Jim Naureckas has been the editor of Extra!, FAIR's monthly journal of media criticism. He is the co-author of The Way Things Aren't: Rush Limbaugh's Reign of Error, and co-editor of The FAIR Reader: An Extra! Review of Press and Politics in the '90s. He is also the co-manager of FAIR's website. He has worked as an investigative reporter for the newspaper In These Times, where he covered the Iran-Contra scandal, and was managing editor of the Washington Report on the Hemisphere, a newsletter on Latin America. Jim was born in Libertyville, Illinois, in 1964, and graduated from Stanford University in 1985 with a bachelor's degree in political science. Since 1997 he has been married to Janine Jackson, FAIR's program director. You can follow Jim on Twitter at @JNaureckas.