Article – Feminism and self-publishing

For Same Heartbeats #3 zine:

SELF-PUBLISHING & FEMINISM

This text deals with paper media such as zines and their link with feminism. I’m going to try to mix examples from different countries and avoid focussing only on American feminism and American zines because they already get covered a lot in research and alternative press.

Feminist media such as zines didn’t come from nowhere, appearing all of the sudden from a void. Feminists have always written down their ideas and published their writings. If they couldn’t find a publishing company they did it themselves. In the second wave of feminism which took place between the 1960s and the 1980s, feminists even started their own publishing companies and edited their own books, magazines and pamphlets. Examples of Dutch-speaking publishing companies were De Bonte Was and Feministische Uitgeverij Sarah. A section of the left-feminist group Dolle Mina made their own “Red Booklet” Of The Woman/Women and cheaply self-published magazines called De Grote Kuis around 1970 (it’s remarkable how much they’re alike today’s zines!). Also feminist book shops started to flourish, but unfortunately most of them are gone today. Some examples of contemporary feminist magazines include Scum Grrrls (Belgium), Emma (Germany), Bitch (US) and Lover (Netherlands). Often, feminist organisations publish their own newsletter or magazine, such as the Belgian organisations Gynaika (magazine under the same name), De Madam (newsletter under the same name), RoSa (magazine called Uitgelezen, RoSa is a feminist archive and library with lots of feminist magazines and other publications), De Vrouwenraad (Vrouwenraad) and Vie Féminine (Axelle). A Dutch publishing company run by women that’s been active for a few decades is Atalanta. They focus on anarchist, philosophical and ecological books and booklets and have also published some feminist publications. There are others as well such as Virago Press.

In the 1960s feminists and other revolutionaries already practiced the “DIY” concept that later got linked to the punk movement. “DIY” means “do it yourself”, reclaiming autonomy, creative freedom, making your life and the world as you want it to be, getting confidence from doing/making things (happen)… Other movements in previous centuries also did things themselves and used this kind of DIY activism. For punks, since the 1970s, DIY was central to their music and life. They wrote and recorded their own music and put it out themselves. Releasing their own albums and singles was not only a necessity for them (because record companies showed no interest) but also a conscious choice. Punks didn’t want to be involved in the capitalist music industry and tried to be as independent as possible from commercial record companies, distribution channels, recording studios and mainstream press. To be able to avoid mainstream media attention, punks make their own media in which they report on their music, activities and political ideas. So this caused the birth of punk fanzines (non-profit low-budget self-made magazines or booklets). But fanzines or zines weren’t new then. Science-fiction fans had been writing zines since the 1930s. Since the rise of punk, zines only grew in size. Technological developments also made it easier and cheaper to reproduce booklets.

In those days, the majority of zines was written by men. But when the riot grrrl the movement started in the early 1990s, more and more women and girls started using pens, paper and copy machines to express themselves. Some examples of riot grrrl zines from the 1990s are Bikini Kill (also the name of a band consisting of the editors of the zine), Channel Seven and Girl Germs. Riot grrrl zines dealt with all sorts of subjects and mixed the personal with the political (and as the famous feminist slogan goes: “the personal IS political”). Zinesters – as zine writers are often called – wrote about sexual abuse, every-day sexism, racism and white supremacy within the riot grrrl movement, addiction, etc. In zines, riot grrrls criticised beauty standards by making collages of advertisements and fashion magazines. The mainstream media did not write about these subjects, so riot grrrls did it themselves. Zines gave them a voice, a way to express themselves and share their ideas, their anger and sadness. But zines didn’t only offer an alternative to mainstream media because of its different content and images; also the fact that non-professional, often marginalised people made these publications, contributes to the importance of zines.

Riot grrrl arose partly as a reaction to the sexism in the punk movement. But it also created a young new kind of feminism that was accessible to young women and girls who felt alienated by liberal bureaucratic feminism that dominated the 1980s and who were little informed about previous similar kinds of grassroots feminism. The concept of “DIY” was important because these women were making and defining their own feminism. They felt something was missing and instead of waiting or consuming passively, they creatively filled that void themselves. “DIY” meant that they could and did write down their ideas and stories and that their writings were worth being published and read. This contributed to the self-confidence of zine writers, especially when they got constructive or positive feedback from readers and other writers.

Another important aspect of zines is that its writers form a sort of supportive international network. Zines are swapped or “traded” with other zines, often between writers from different countries or regions. By swapping zines and writing letters, friendships are constructed which can develop into collaborations in other feminist projects and groups. Distros, non-commercial distribution projects for zines, crafts and DIY music, help getting zines spread in different countries and continents.

Nowadays there are still a lot of zines – including feminist zines – being made and read. Still, I think there is a slight decrease in the number of zines being produced. This is probably at least partly caused by the publication and communication possibilities that internet offers such as blogs, e-zines and online communities. On the other hand, internet and computers make zine writing, lay-outing, printing, distributing and advertising easier. And lots of people still prefer to read long texts on paper instead of on a screen.

Some interesting (recent) web projects that I think contributed and contribute to the spreading and supporting of paper feminist zines and zines made by women/girls/queers/trans-people are: Grrrl Zines Network: www.grrrlzines.net, Grassroots Feminism: www.grassrootsfeminism.net, Queer Zine Archive Project: www.qzap.org, Zine Library: www.zinelibrary.info and Zine Wiki: www.zinewiki.com. Here are some examples of recent feminist/female/queer/trans zines: Fight Together (Italian queer-feminist zine), Hausfrau (hand-written autobiographical zine with lots of drawings about motherhood), the Rag (by an anarcha-feminist group from Dublin), Erinyen (anarcha-feminist zine from Germany with space for world-wide activism) and Race Revolt (questions whiteness, privileges and racism in DIY/queer/feminist communities). Subjects that are written about in contemporary zines include: menstruation, creative direct action, sexism in activist groups, transgender identities, femicide, music by women and queers, feminist herstory, violence and self-defence, sexuality, illness, abortion, etc.

I think that paper zines are still relevant today for the feminist movement. Writing and publishing our own media is important to counter-balance sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic and capitalist media and advertisements that can be seen – and bought – everywhere. Zines can also help to construct feminist networks which are urgently needed. Even though one can probably reach more people by using internet tools, zines can reach other people who would otherwise never get to a feminist website. On top of that, zines offer a means which can be used by everyone to write and publish, without having to depend on professional publishing companies, a large budget, a computer with graphic skills or a degree in journalism. Pen, paper, some ideas, opinions and creativity and a copy centre nearby are all you need. In my opinion, feminists should make use of it!

(A part of this text will be used for a zine called “Self-Publishing and Empowerment: A Guide for Community Groups” and the original slightly different version of this text – written in Dutch – has appeared on De Tweede Sekse blog: http://tweedesekse.wordpress.com)

Some links to Belgian zines:

Bibliography:

  • Duncombe, Stephen. Notes from Underground Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture.
  • Spencer, Amy. DIY: The Rise of Lo-fi Culture.
  • Green, Karen, Taormino, Tristan (ed). A Girl’s Guide to Taking over the World: Writings from the Girl Zine Revolution
  • Sonja Eismann (ed). Hot Topic: Popfeminismus Heute.
  • Nadine Monem (ed). Riot Grrrl: Revolution Girl Style Now.
  • McQuiston, Liz. Suffragettes to She-devils: Women’s Liberation and Beyond.

About rebelsister

fem!n!st!
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