Anti-Vaxxers Are Making a Play for the Hearts, Minds, and Wombs of Young Women

Marketers of “classical” femininity are also promoting a particular brand of COVID denialism and misinformation.
A pregnant person in a white top is seen holding their stomach. Their face is not visible. A second person stands behind them and clasps their hips. There's a hazy sunset in the background.
Photo via Getty Images.

Scrolling through Evie Magazine’s Facebook page, everything seems almost normal. In a recent post titled “The Danger of Shows Like Netflix’s You,” a writer blogs about the streaming service’s third-season hit. An article about the “5 Signs You’re Dating A Man Child” is surely of interest to plenty of women in their 20s and 30s, Evie’s target audience.

But then it gets weird: From “We Should Teach About The Dangers Of Pornography In Sex-Ed” to “Feminism Doesn’t Help Sexual Violence Survivors. It Just Perpetuates Victimhood” to “Hey CDC, Get Your Hands Off Our Pregnant Bodies,” Evie Magazine is clearly less an average women’s magazine than an exercise in a very specific type of right-wing messaging, wrapped in a strained and often slipping imitation of the way those magazines talk to their audiences.  And lately, the most interesting thing about Evie is the precise message it wishes to impart to that audience about the coronavirus pandemic and the safety of COVID vaccines.

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Attempting to scare women out of getting vaccinated against COVID by appealing to concerns over fertility has been a common theme among vaccine opponents for most of the pandemic. The Federalist, for instance, has published story after story suggesting that pregnant people should be frightened of getting the vaccines, that vaccine mandates as a whole are little short of a violation of the Nuremberg laws, and that it’s disgusting liberal oppression to suggest otherwise. Dr. Christiane Northrup, an actual OB-GYN, has recently taken on a lot of new market share by promoting mask skepticism and COVID denial, as well as re-sharing content on her Telegram channel falsely claiming that COVID vaccines are linked to an increase in miscarriages.

Nor is this kind of rhetoric limited to the U.S. The recently launched and blandly named “World Council for Health” has claimed that pregnant and breastfeeding people should be wary of COVID vaccines. “There is evidence from a Pfizer research document that was released under a freedom of information request (FOIA) that Covid-19 vaccines do not remain at the injection site in the arm muscle,” the site wrote, “but instead spread throughout the body including to the brain and ovaries.” (The idea that COVID vaccines somehow cluster in, and cause harm to, the ovaries, is an oft-repeated anti-vaccine talking point. It is false.)

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The World Council’s steering committee is a coalition of fringe figures who have been critical of vaccines. These include Mark Trozzi, a Canadian physician who was recently barred from issuing “medical exemptions for COVID-19 vaccines, masking requirements and testing,” CBC reported, as well as Dr. Tess Lawrie, a member of the BIRD Group, which has promoted ivermectin, an unproven COVID “treatment,” and raised unfounded questions about vaccine safety. (The organization also lists Robert F. Kennedy’s Children’s Health Defense, an anti-vaccine group, as one of its affiliates.) And women are, of course, like everyone else, also buffeted with anti-vax, fertility-scare bullshit from all sides of the political and social spectrum: One commonly-cited example is Yolande Norris-Clark, a writer and freebirth advocate who’s made many approving comments about QAnon and derided coronavirus as a hoax and a psyop.  

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The particular wares on display at Evie, though, are a bit different: They attempt to fit vaccine skepticism and outright COVID denial into what’s represented as a “classical” and “traditional” worldview. For months, the publication has been working in some extremely ham-fisted anti-vaccine takes, purporting to address the many imaginary harms caused to women from COVID vaccines. While they are, in and of themselves, nothing especially original, Evie’s anti-vax blogs provide a neat little window into how COVID denialism and misinformation are being marketed in one particularly cynical corner of right-wing women’s media. 

Evie’s founder and editor-in-chief is a former model turned would-be Catholic lifestyle influencer named Brittany Martinez. (She goes by Brittany Hugoboom, her married name, on TikTok, where she has 270,000 followers.) Martinez has written that the publication is an attempted conservative response to Cosmo and other similarly positioned women’s publications. As such, it has a few obvious goals. The main one is promoting a socially conservative view of how young women should act (casual sex is bad) and the proper order of the world (hookup culture is worse, transgender people the most sinister of all), combined with some SEO-friendly nods to lifestyle stuff. (Fun looks for fall, skincare tips for acne, flirty scarves to wear while not engaging in casual sex or being transgender.) Soon after founding the magazine in February 2019, Martinez wrote in Quillette that the impetus had been to fill a “more honest” niche in the women’s mag business: “For decades, women’s publications have tried to convince women they can be just like men, instead of celebrating femininity and what makes women wonderfully unique,” she wrote. “It was this gap in the market that made me and my colleagues wonder: “What if there were a conservative Cosmo?” (No one at Evie responded to an email from Motherboard requesting comment.) 

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While Martinez is the main driver behind Evie, her husband Gabriel is listed as the CEO of Evie Media Group, a company which appears to comprise Evie and nothing else. (The company, according to a reader survey, does appear to be weighing whether to start a “clean beauty” brand, a “classically feminine” lingerie brand, or a fitness platform for women “based on your natural cycle.”) Evie began enjoying a bit of main character status on Twitter recently for a bouquet of truly bad blogs, in both form and content, including one claiming that the titular conflict in the Korean Netflix drama Squid Game is a metaphor for communism (no) and a recycled piece of obvious outrage bait about how “ethnic” people actually enjoy it when you wear their culture as a Halloween costume (almost punitively dumb, not worth linking to). It wasn’t long, however, before some of their far wackier blogs came to light, like one from a woman claiming she’d been driven to believe in QAnon due to the howling of censorious liberals. “[T]he concerted and coordinated effort to scrub traces of QAnon activities from social media seems a bit extreme,” the author pontificated. “It makes me wonder why I’m not allowed to be exposed to these ideas. Naturally, I can’t help but ask, was ‘Q’ actually right after all?” (Again, no, but also: Listen to yourself.) 

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Martinez and the publication have begun promoting ever more numerous and overtly anti-vax takes, most of them focused on the false idea that vaccination hurts pregnant people and children. (“Many medical professionals have advised their pregnant patients against getting vaccinated, and for good reason,” one article from December 2020 claimed. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has since definitively said that they support vaccination for all patients 12 and up, including pregnant and lactating people.) An October post decried what the author called “vaccine coercion aimed at children.” 

Yet another post claims that women are at increased risk of miscarriages if they get vaccinated against COVID before their third trimester, which numerous studies have found is not the case; the overwhelming weight of medical evidence to date suggests that COVID vaccines are safe for pregnant people. Another post correctly states that the National Institutes of Health is investigating a link between COVID vaccines and irregular periods, which is half-right: The NIH is in fact giving $1.67 million in grants to five academic institutions to study whether some people’s reported menstrual changes post-vaccination are actually caused by the vaccines, how long they last, and why they might be happening. Evie’s blog on the subject, though, closes with a non-sequitur that gives the game away, declaring, “Based on the lack of transparency and disregard for concerns of individual medical rights, it’s no wonder so many people are still skeptical about taking this unprecedented vaccine.” And in a daily news roundup called The Glance, the publication often links to stories in right-wing publications like the New York Post which seem meant to suggest that COVID-19 originated in a Chinese lab, still a highly disputed theory of the pandemic’s origins. Another recent share in the Glance was a Los Angeles Times story about an Orange County woman who was charged with trespassing for not wearing a mask in a Costa Mesa supermarket. An Evie staffer editorialized that the charges “could establish precedent that non-mask wearers are trespassing when in public spaces,” which is not even close to what happened here. (Private businesses are not “public spaces,” and words have meanings.) 

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Vaccination is also depicted as part of what’s breaking down the larger fabric of society, as in a June article about “vaccine alienation” in which surely real Evie readers decried the indignities forced on them by their vaccine-brainwashed friends and family: being asked to wear a mask indoors, not being invited to a wedding, quitting jobs where vaccines are required. 

“​​Is a virus with a very low mortality rate, a virus that the vast majority of people recover from, really worth treating the people we love with such disdain, exclusion, and aggression?” the author bewailed. “I’m inclined to say it’s not.” (Evie’s worldview, like that of many COVID denialist publications, doesn’t acknowledge the existence of things like long COVID, and persistently describes the disease as far less serious than it actually is.)

On the whole, the emerging view of Evie seems to be that women, particularly conservative women, are being victimized by vaccine requirements. (This is a kind of “victimhood mindset,” ironically, that Evie has specifically mocked.) The broader right-leaning women’s ecosystem is filled with horror stories of “forced” vaccinations and social ostracizations, that, in another light, look a lot more like personal choice. A Tik Toker named Isabella DeLuca, for instance, has garnered 10,000 followers by dancing in a tennis skirt behind graphics that say things like “Pro tip: do the opposite of what the CDC says” and expressing her desire to be a wife and full-time maker of sandwiches for her husband. Recently, she posted a clip of herself strolling in a park, alongside the words “When you get withdrawn mid semester from all six of your classes for not getting the [needle emoji].”

“Guess I’m not graduating in the spring,” the caption read. (Not getting an education due to bad information and a blinkered idea of what women can be, is, in the bleakest way possible, just about as traditional as you can get.)

Evie, for its part, is newly concerned with yet another way it claims the vaccine is destroying the fabric of human relationships. Men on dating apps are, it claimed in a recent post, getting vaccinated solely in order to have sex with women. “Ladies, no matter what, you can never change a man using sex because it’ll be an epic failure, and it’ll backfire,” the author declared. “I wouldn’t even go there.” Attempting to change women through a fulsome mix of misinformation, scare tactics, and wooden imitations of girl talk, though, should be fine.