Why Indonesia needs feminist platform Magdalene

Why would you start your own media business in a time where it’s hard to survive as media entrepreneurs? People nowadays are used to the fact that content is for free and the influence of social media companies makes it challenging to let your content stand out. The ‘why’ of feminist media platform Magdalene, however, isn’t called into question.

Schermafbeelding 2020-03-08 om 10.09.16

The “women-focused publication with a feminist perspective” wants to empower females in Indonesia’s patriarchal society. Founders and journalists Hera Diani and Devi Asmarani tell me over an early morning breakfast in Jakarta that their ‘why’ is their DNA, it hasn’t changed since they started the platform six and a half years ago.

An inclusive experience
Devi: ‘When we started we knew there was a lack of media organizations who offer stories through a gender lens. A lot of women-focused media weren’t really serving women from a perspective that was needed. They’d publish about lifestyle and fashion topics and mainstream media would still be very masculine. We wanted to offer an inclusive experience that is empowering for female.’
Magdalene focuses on a millennial audience, age 18–35, so the tone of their writing also made a difference compared to other media. Hera explains: ‘We wanted to be accessible in a popular language that youngster would understand. We noticed other media would write more academic, heavy stuff. Besides that, we wanted to break through stereotypes. In cases of sexual violence, for example, the tone of mainstream media would imply victim blaming and sexualization. If there’d be a victim of violence, the writing would be about the fact that she was found in her underwear, with a condom beside her. Or in the case of woman CEO’s, it’s still about the physical appearance instead of the business qualities. It’s insulting.’

Pushing back the wave of conservatism
As female startup founders, Devi and Hera are amongst the few visible women entrepreneurs out there. Hera believes women are less confident than men: ‘The society still is very masculine and as a young woman you have to compete with mostly men. At a certain age, you want to build a family maybe, when that becomes a priority, it’s harder to keep the business going.’ Devi adds a key point: ‘People have more confidence in men as well, so male entrepreneurs get more access to find funding.’
Both ladies were present at the Splice Beta conference in Chiang Mai in May this year. One of the panel discussions existed of three investors who emphasized the importance of female startup founders. If women entrepreneurs need one thing, it is to have role models as examples to lead the way. Hera and Devi definitely are.
As two experienced journalists, they feel their key to success is the quality of content. Startups always think about the problem they’re solving for their audience. In the case of Magdalene, there’s enough to be solved. Devi: ‘We live in a patriarchal society where women’s position is still below that of men. There are problems in gender relationships, in inequality. Through Magdalene we enlighten people, we inform, encourage and empower them, to let them feel they’re not alone.’ The platform brings news reports and opinions and publishes essays and columns. The main focus obviously lies on gender subjects, especially those related to Islam, politics and health. ‘Another problem is the increased religious conservatism that puts women in the domestic realm. There are campaigns for early marriages and for wearing hijabs. We’re trying to push back the wave of conservatism.’

Blocked Facebook adds
Although the lens through which they view the topics is feminist, around thirty per cent of their highly educated urban audience is men. ‘Possibly because of the high amount of LGBTQ+ — articles’, the journalists say. Social media is the way to reach their tribe and Facebook is a hugely popular platform in Indonesia too. Instagram is catching up and the Indonesian youth still likes Twitter very much as well, which is an advantage for media platforms in terms of direct conversion to their websites. Magdalene has mainly written content and it works very well. Even long form articles sometimes have a lot of clicks, you’d maybe think a younger audience wants short-form video content. Devi and Hera explain it’s primarily a budget reason why the video content hasn’t taken off yet. ‘We experimented with a Youtube talk show, with ten-minute episodes about sexuality. Luckily it didn’t get blocked’, Hera says laughing. Adds to promote their content on Facebook have been rejected over and over again because of words like ‘sex’ in them. ‘But all our content is educational, so it doesn’t make sense to block it. I really hate the dependence of social media platforms’.
The reality is though that as a media startup you need to play the social media game, in order to widen the reach and ultimately survive. Devi: ‘You just need to keep going and consistently keep growing. Widening our reach to expand our niche and make our content more accessible. And coming up with events that we can monetize, that we can claim originality from. A couple of months ago we showcased standup women comedians where we also talked about religious topics because the event was during the fasting month. Another initiative we’re part of is the Feminist Film review app that we launched. Those kind of collaborations that really fit our core are important to us.’ Their next plan is to go to university campuses to organize talk shows with influencers. Finding sponsors for such a project isn’t easy. But the collaboration with the academic institutions is worth the try. Advertisers aren’t easy to find for the topics Magdalene covers. ‘Their idea of what women media should be is very conventional and rooted in the past. It’s all about their brand protection, they don’t want to be associated with feminism and LGBTQ+.’

Consistency is key
Magdalene isn’t dependent on only advertisers though, they have several revenue streams. ‘Our own creative house with consultancy and training in content creation and writing is another one. We’re trying to boost our events and we sell merchandise and books through our e-shop. We thought about a membership model but for our target audience it won’t bring in a lot of revenue. Some of the things we’ve planned were never materialized because of lack of funding. To juggle this business with our other jobs sometimes means we lose momentum.’
Both women are confident about the future of Magdalene: ‘There’s no competition for us. Since we’ve started there were one or two the same kind of blog-style websites about feminism but they weren’t journalists and they didn’t have the endurance to stay in the game. A more activist and academic platform isn’t our competition either. Mainstream media starts to publish more about our topics, they steal our content and rewrite it. Even though they create content about issues that we covered five years ago, which is awkward, their package is visually very appealing because they have the budget to make it look great. We survive by just keep on going and keep growing. Consistency is key.’