by , May 24, 2006, 12:30 PM
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Launched as a one-shot insert in New York magazine in 1971, Ms. revolutionized journalism. Male commentators called it bitchy; women called it essential. Thirty-plus years later, it remains a key feminist advocate. Remember, Ms. (according to its Web site) enjoys a number of firsts in the magazine world: the first to demand the repeal of laws that criminalized abortion; to rate presidential candidates on women's issues; to put domestic violence on the cover of a women's magazine; to feature a national study on date rape.

Believe me, Elle and Allure aren't jumping on the feminist bandwagon. If there is ever a shortage of lipstick, I expect to see their readers in riot gear. Failing that, be grateful for Ms. Even an apolitical woman realizes that mega-orgasms, however pleasurable, are no substitute for equal pay and sexual-harassment laws. At least, I hope so.

And that's Ms. ' forte, trumpeting serious political subjects. Much like The Nation (or for that matter, National Review), it has a high degree of earnestness. The difference is that Ms. lambastes left and right alike when they fail to defend women's rights. Reminiscent of an old-style muckraker, Ms. relies on in-depth investigative reporting to uncover society's dark side.

For instance, the spring issue cover story, "Sex, Greed & Forced Abortions in Paradise," focuses on the deplorable garment-industry conditions in Saipan, a U.S. territory. Clothing labels read "Made in Saipan (USA) or "Made in USA," a lure for Americans who want to make a patriotic gesture. Instead, they unknowingly support indentured servitude, since minimum wage and labor laws aren't enforced here. And guess which dynamic duo has consistently opposed reforming these hellholes? Our poster boys for greed: Jack Abramoff and Tom Delay. Workers who can't make it in the sweatshop often turn to the nation's other burgeoning industry: sex tourism. Could that explain why 100 people connected to Congress traveled there on junkets? The island's Hyatt Regency can't be that compelling.

In short, Ms. is tough stuff--from stories on kidnapped Ugandan girls to four activists fighting sexist traditions in India that sanction torture and abuse. Stark and terrifying, the story is a bleak reminder that cultural relativism is not a viable option. Indeed, in a world of cheap sound bites and fear-mongering, Ms. is one of the few remaining bastions of legitimate outrage. The issue also contains a zippy piece on Mary Magdalene, she of "Da Vinci Code" fame, who comes off hotter and more important than church elders would ever allow.

If you prefer broad strokes, check out "Short Takes," a quick-hit of important news. It's like USA Today's state roundup. For instance, six women employees of a Wall Street securities firm filed a $1.4 billion sex-discrimination lawsuit. Aside from the offensive remarks they had to endure, they were excluded from meetings with clients that took place in strip clubs. One question: whatever happened to the power lunch? Other stories: Medicaid cuts that threaten family-planning; and a new study that found 69 percent of Italian Catholics favor legal status for same-sex couples. Somebody pinch the pope.

Published four times a year by the nonprofit Feminist Majority Foundation, Ms. relies on subscriptions rather than a strong ad base. There are a handful of ads, mostly partials promoting small presses or women's health initiatives. Occasionally, a full-page ad announces a summit. That the magazine survives relatively ad-free is no small achievement. And even when I don't agree with its positions, I respect its sincerity.

Mostly, Ms. provides an education in women's rights--a reasonable goal since women constitute 50 percent of the population. While it's true that the pub is informative, it isn't light or particularly easy reading. In other words, there's no chance of Ms. TV. But it should be required reading in schools and--dare I say it--the White House. I know President Bush likes his news filtered through advisors, but it's useful to consider other opinions, especially since women got the right to vote.

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