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Then there is the matter of Bust, the hip magazine of the moment. Created by Debbie Stoller, a 35-year-old who holds a doctorate in women's studies from Yale, and Marcelle Karp, a 34-year-old TV producer, Bust is a magazine intentionally written in teenspeak but meant for female readers in their late 20s and early 30s. It was developed as an antidote to magazines like Cosmopolitan, which present female sexuality so cartoonishly. However noble the intent, the message is often lost in the magazine's adolescent tone: read about an adult woman's first-time vibrator discoveries or a scintillating account of lust for delivery men in an article titled "Sex with the UPS Guy." Of the magazine's purposely immature tone, Stoller says, "Women have been forced into roles as women and now they're rebelling." But in the end, Bust offers a peekaboo view of the world of sex that leaves one feeling not like an empowered adult but more like a 12-year-old sneaking in some sexy reading behind her parents' back.
Bust, which began as a photocopied 'zine, is essentially a product of alternative culture's Riot Grrrl movement, an effort by new female bands in the early '90s to reclaim the brash, bratty sense of self-control that psychologists claim girls lose just before puberty. And in many ways, the movement succeeded, as any fan of Sleater-Kinney and even the Spice Girls will tell you. But even in the world of pop music, with the spirit of girl power behind it, the concept of feminism is often misapplied. Look how the label is tossed about: female singers like Meredith Brooks and Alanis Morissette are installed as icons of woman power (alongside real artist-activists like Tori Amos) simply because they sing about bad moods or boyfriends who have dumped them. In the late '60s, when the label was applied more sparingly, no one thought to call Nancy Sinatra a feminist, and yet if she recorded These Boots Are Made for Walkin' in 1998, she'd probably find herself headlining the Lilith Fair.
Part of the reason for Riot Grrrl's impact is that it often focused on the issue of childhood sexual abuse. Not only did the songs relate harrowing personal experiences but the band members started 'zines and websites through which teenagers who had been molested could communicate with one another. Riot Grrrl's concerns paralleled those of feminists in the grownup world who, around the same time, also became preoccupied with sexual abuse and self-help (even Steinem got in on the act with her 1992 book, Revolution from Within). But many of those grownups, who called themselves feminist therapists, ended up attaching themselves to the bizarre fringes of the sexual-recovery movement. "Women weren't looking at their lives and saying, 'I'm stressed because I'm getting no help at home,' they were saying, 'I'm stressed out because my family molested me in the crib,'"explains social psychologist Carol Tavris. "The feelings of powerlessness many women continued to have in the early '90s got attached to sex-abuse-survivor syndrome." When Tavris debunked self-help books on incest-survivor syndrome in the New York Times Book Review in 1993, she received a flood of letters from feminist therapists calling her a betrayer.