In the pilot episode of The Bold Type, the dramedy that premiered this month on Freeform, Kat Edison, the social media director for the women’s magazine Scarlet, tries to convince an edgy artist to participate in a story highlighting her work. The artist, Adena El-Amin, is also a feminist, and she initially scoffs at the idea of collaborating with the Cosmo-esque publication: Adena has no interest, she tells Kat, in having her work featured in an outlet devoted to informing women “about clothes and makeup and how to get boys.”
Kat nods knowingly. She’s heard this objection before. And she knows exactly what to say in reply to this “common misconception.” When Jacqueline, the magazine’s current editor-in-chief, took over its leadership, Kat tells Adena, “she shifted the magazine” in its focus and, indeed, in its feminism. “It’s no longer about how to please your man—or woman—in bed,” Kat insists. “It’s about how to please yourself.” Scarlet, she explains, despite and because of its reputation, embraces what Jacqueline calls “stealth feminism.”
This is one of the many ideas The Bold Type and its vaguely fictionalized lady-mag have ported, wholesale, from the world of actual magazines and actual politics. “Stealth feminism,” of course, was not coined by a fictional person atop a fictional masthead; it has long been a topic of conversation—and controversy—both within and about the very types of publications Scarlet magazine is meant to evoke: magazines aimed at women in general and at Millennial women in particular. Magazines that sell, on the whole, a very particular brand of commercialized “empowerment.” Magazines in whose pages, paper or digital, the logic of feminism often chafes against the logic of capitalism: You go, girl, but you’d probably go a little harder if you were wearing a bold shade of CoverGirl Outlast All-Day Lip Color.