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Man Repeller founder Leandra Medine Cohen is stepping back over criticisms about racial diversity

IMAGE VIA LEANDRA MEDINE COHEN/INSTAGRAM
WORDS BY ISABELLE SACKS

The latest development in the racial reckoning of women’s media.

Man Repeller’s Leandra Medine Cohen has announced that she will be stepping back from the fashion and lifestyle platform she founded following widespread criticism of the publication’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement.

This comes after a racial reckoning in women’s media over the last week, with Anna Wintour apologising for race-related mistakes during her 32-year tenure as editor-in-chief at American Vogue, and Refinery29’s editor-in-chief Christene Barberich resigning after current and former employees came forward about the racism they experienced while working at the online publication.

Leandra, who founded the popular women’s fashion blog in 2010, announced she would no longer be a part of Man Repeller’s day-to-day operations in a short Instagram post, although it is unclear whether she will still be involved in some capacity. The decision follows numerous highly criticised attempts by the blog to weigh in on the current conversations around race and inclusivity.

Her June 1 open letter ‘Where We Go From Here: A Message for the MR Community’, intended to be a commitment not to “remain silent in the face of police brutality and white supremacy”, was met with resistance from readers who pointed out the exclusivity and lack of diversity that the brand has represented over the years.

Her second attempt ‘I Owe You Better: A Commitment to the Future’ was similarly received, with readers calling for greater transparency, and evidence of the steps the publication was going to take to implement change, and many expressing their disappointment that she hadn’t apologised for the specific harms that Man Repeller had caused.

Readers also voiced their overall concerns with Man Repeller in the comments section underneath these articles, with some claiming that it only sought to represent the lived experience of “skinny white rich cis women”, spurring a debate over whether publications have an obligation to speak to everyone with their content.

Some commenters asserted that it could never be inclusive without a complete overhaul of the lifestyle that it seeks to promote, and that it would have to shift to championing more affordable brands. Others did not want it to reject the “the casual-wearing-of-Chanel-while cooking” lifestyle, but rather to ensure that if it was going to be depicting an aesthetic based on wealth that the BIPOC perspective was represented too.

Many readers were also frustrated by the loss of Black staff at the publication, including the site’s former operations and events manager Crystal Anderson, who was reportedly laid off at the start of the pandemic, while other white staff were reportedly kept on payroll during this time.

It’s important to note that despite the vagueness and poor execution of these open letters, Leandra and Man Repeller seem to have taken stock of their readers’ frustrations and turned them into actionable commitments. As one commenter stressed in response to the initial open letter “FIRST atonement, THEN reparations.”

While Man Repeller acknowledges that it still has a lot of work to do, it has begun the recruitment process for a diversity and inclusion expert to guide the company in implementing change and has announced a number of concrete initiatives to ensure a greater diversity of voices are represented. These include new hiring practices, donating 10 per cent of revenue from brand partnerships to charities supporting social justice, and un-freezing its freelance budget so that it can feature more BIPOC contributors in the short-term.

In the name of transparency, it has joined many other brands in the #PullUpOrShutUp initiative and has disclosed the demographic makeup of its 14 full-time staff, of which 72 per cent are white and 14 per cent are Black. It acknowledged that while its leadership team is 40 per cent POC, it does not have any Black leadership members and is committed to improving this.

While time will tell whether these actions will amount to an inclusive workplace and content that speaks to a more diverse experience of womanhood, Man Repeller and Leandra’s steps to hold themselves accountable are a move in the right direction. In Man Repeller’s words, which we can only hope it follows through with; “We won’t accept superficial diversity and non-intersectional feminism.”

manrepeller.com

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