by M. L. Fraser
[From Feminist Collections: A Quarterly of Women's Studies Resources, v.23, no.4 (Summer 2002).]
Fringe culture has traditionally been dominated by men in the forms of punk rock, Straight-Edge, cyberpunk, and even--for a brief but lamentable period--glam rock. Then came the riot grrrl movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the Third Wave of feminism began. Women started claiming the creation of culture through independent music, writing, art, and art activism, all with a distinctly feminist slant. This became labeled fringe feminism.
The idea of fringe feminism is really almost self-explanatory. That is, a fringe feminist is a feminist who resides on the fringe of culture. Women and girls who do not fall into any category of traditional feminism proclaim the ideals of feminism through the use of nontraditional media and ideology. The idea that the point of feminism is not what choices we as women make but rather the fact that we have choices seems to be the common ground of fringe feminists. This point is made time and again in their writing.
The versatility and diversity that women possess comes out in fringe writing. One really great zine (now vanished) called Pastie Face, written by a San Francisco sex worker, is a fantastic introduction. The writer also happens to be a lesbian who studied astrophysics. Another woman decries the title feminist not because she is a Christian (which she is), but because other feminists tell her she cannot be both. She plays drums in a punk band called Awkward and is an acolyte on Sunday mornings. Both of these women are what fringe feminism is about.
I am often asked what a zine is. I usually take a deep breath and try to explain that a zine must meet three criteria to be exactly that: (1) The writings must be self-published; (2) the slant must be the personal voice remarking on the political; and (3) the subject matter must use pop culture in some way to create a statement of identity. Often the zine has a tongue-in-cheek tone and a "cut-n-paste" format (in other words, anyone can make a zine).
A true zine is serious about the issues, yet also has a sense of humor and fun. It is a reclaiming of girlhood and an examination of what it can mean to be female. In these zines the rage and anger we feel as gendered individuals are allowed to mix with laughter and joy. The name does not come directly from "magazine," as so many people think, but by way of "fanzines," those mimeographed newsletters of 1920s sci-fi culture, where like-minded folks avoided isolation by distributing homespun publications about their favorite authors and books. Many of today's girl zinesters remark that they have found their communities through publishing zines and are happy not to be isolated in their thinking.
Makers of the grrrl zines that stick around for a long time, like BUST or Bitch or even Rockrgrl, are considered to be the big sisters of the bedroom cut-n-paste zinester grrrls out there. We start this review series with these "glossies." They are the easiest to find and give a really good idea of what is out there. Also, in terms of time considerations, the glossies were the way to go for this initial review. (One or two on-line versions of these glossies are also included here). The glossies were easiest because a kitchen-table zine is not always quite as timely as a larger, more established one. We all get busy, and things we do just because we want to don't always put food on the table. Zines often get pushed aside for a week or two to get the paycheck. In future reviews, we will bring in e-zines and bedroom cut-n-pastes. Voices come in all forms, and we will listen. We will even pay to hear them! (See below for more information on how to get your zine reviewed.)
Unfortunately, zines often shut down due to financial considerations. Many zinemakers refuse advertisers who they feel are subversive of or anathema to the zine's political views. This can create a problem in the world of conglomeration politics. As a dancer friend of mine says, "the best way to support the arts is to buy a ticket." This means it is up to the rest of us to continue the movement. Thus, I have included subscription information where appropriate.
Bitch: Feminist Response to Pop Culture (Issue 16)
This zine was originally an underground girl review of the rock scene in San Francisco. About eight years ago it was taken over by riotgrrrls Lisa and Andi in the City by the Bay, who turned it into a feminist commentary rag. Two of the coolest features in this zine are the "Bitch List," which is an internal review of other zines, new books, and new music with a like-minded message; and "Where to Bitch," which gives you a list of armchair activist sites and addresses. In Issue 16, released in May 2002, a commentary titled "When Feminism Goes Pop" remarks on what happens when the edgy, ambitious, riot chick stuff from 1992-1997 gets made over into commercialized "Girl Power." It is an interesting challenge: how do we "keep it real" when the mainstream is so set on appropriating our culture? The underground girl world went from Riot Grrrl to Lilith Fair to Ladyfest to She Rocks and other women-based festivals. It is remarked upon that not enough feminist groundwork has been laid for this to be retained (p. 59). Also in this issue are an interview with Sandra Tsing Loh and a remark on the ethnic trend in book publishing. Bitch is one of my favorite reads, as I can open it at random and always find something interesting and cool that I did not know before but makes perfect sense for the feminist world I try to live in. It is nice to know that it is not all in my head. Subscription info: 2765 16th Street, San Francisco, California 94103; phone: (877) 21-bitch; website: http://www.bitchmagazine.com
BUST: For Women with Something to Get Off Their Chests (Issue 19)
Debbie Stoller and Marcelle Karp started this great zine a few years ago. When Marcelle left in Summer 2001, the publication almost went under. Enter new co-publisher Laurie Henzel, and the Spring 2002 issue came out only a month late. Nice job, ladies! Every issue features an ubercool feminist in the main interview. This month: Lily Taylor. Past issues: Sandra Bernhardt, John Cusack, Margaret Cho, and the riot grrrl to end all riot grrrls, Janeane Garafolo. This zine is a little harder-edged than the others. It is razor-sharp underground culture with kitsch. Some of my friends find it difficult to read, as it is more on the strident side, yet they enjoy the articles on the Powerpuff Girls' creator and the cover person. One friend has to hide BUST from her children because she feels the sexual content is too much for her fourteen-year-old. She is referring to regular columns by Susie Bright, resident "sexpert," and the infamous One-Handed Read. I personally like the products and objets d'art running through the pages, all feminist-produced. Also covered are things like the female soldiers in Sri Lanka and the Bully Broad Boot Camp, which teaches women how to play to win in office politics. All in all, BUST is the read for the more serious activist out there who wants a good chuckle while getting a diet of awareness. Cool folks who advertise in BUST: Brain, Child Magazine, Toys in Babeland, Reproductive Rights. Published quarterly in Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter. Subscriptions are $14.97 a year: BUST, P.O. Box 1016, Cooper Station, New York, NY 10276; website: http://www.bust.com
Fat!So? Because You Don't Have To Apologize for Your Size
The amazing Marilyn Wann out of San Francisco started this great, funny, "flabulous" zine a few years ago. Wann, a self-described fat activist, argues that people come in all sizes, shapes, and forms of beauty. She addresses gender disability and body image as issues. Her Greatness has shown us the Venus of Willendorf paper doll; Aunt Agony's column, in which issues we all have, fat or not, are addressed in a funny smart fashion; and "Anatomy Lessons"--a series of photos of various people's body parts, including the gluteus maximus, the stomach, and the upper arm. These photo series attempt to show varying degrees of the body beautiful. In short, the message of Fat!So? is about the body politic and acceptance of self. A subscription is $12.00 for four issues: Fat!So? P.O. Box 423464, San Francisco, CA 94142; website: http://www.fatso.com
Hip Mama (online edition reviewed)
This little lollipop is for moms. There are no new and creative snack ideas and no "parent trips." No one will make you feel guilty, and no one will tell you that you are doing it wrong. Instead there is a wryness about parenting that is somehow refreshing to the grrrl mom who remembers her fishnets and how to rock, even if it was "back in the day." The zine describes itself as "better than a double prozac latte." One of the articles is a vignette by a single mom trying to get her degree at Stanford: she has to dumpster-dive to keep her kid fed--a tale she tells with edginess and self-deprecating wit--but she tries to maintain hope by believing that "[the] hegemonic system--the one that says that poor people don't deserve to eat, or have a roof over our heads--[will fall] apart." Another piece available online gives a comprehensive history of the origins of Mother's Day, which was originally designed to be a day of peace for all the mothers who lost sons in war. The same woman who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic, Julia Ward Howe, envisioned this day in 1870. Who knew? Also included are a review of Ayun Halliday's book The Big Rumpus and an interview with the author. (A friend of mine has said that The Big Rumpus is the best thing written about motherhood since Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions.) Halliday, a mom herself, is also the writer and editor of the ultracool New York zine East Village Inky.
The only downside to Hip Mama is that it ventures into the saccharine every once in a while. Case in point: an interview with Steve Burns (of the children's TV show Blue's Clues) in which Steve tries to be hip and cool and only ends up silly and kinda' dum. But overall, Hip Mama is a little gem, as well as a lighthearted forum that shows why Parenting Magazine would be put to better use lining the bottom of your birdcage. Worth the admission price of $15.00 a year: Hip Mama, P.O. Box 12525, Portland, OR 97212; website: http://www.hipmama.com
Rockrgrl (Issue 44)
Here is the thing about Rockrgrl: it is the only writing out there that concentrates solely on Women Who Rock. The cover grrrl on Issue 44 is Johnette Napolitano of Concrete Blond; the issue features the Joey girl talking about the breakup and reunion of the same. Lisa Loeb comments on her new album, and a touching memorial to Bianca Butthole of the Blowtorch Bettys is also featured. Most of the profiles of the rebel-chick musicians are written by themselves or by the editor, Carla DeSantis, and this is pretty great--most music magazines give bios and outside commentary instead of letting the voice of the musician speak. In addition, there are reviews of musical equipment and an easily understood synopsis of the new feminist albums out. The reviews are particularly good in that you actually get a sense of what the albums are like, instead of the media hype that often characterizes music reviews. The "Bad Bad Ad" feature is a nod to the feminist agenda, pointing out the music industry's androcentrism and telling us where to protest the absence of gender-fair marketing. Issues are put out four times a year, and a one-year subscription costs $15.00 ($30.00 outside the U.S.): Rockrgrl, 7683 SE 27th Street #317, Mercer Island, WA 98040-2826; website: http://www.oz.net/~rockrgrl/
Venus (online edition reviewed)
This is a zine in the old-fashioned, riot grrrl sense of the word. It is devoted to underground music culture, primarily of a feminist nature. The most recent issue has Tanya Donnelly on the cover, an interview with Mary Timony (of Helium as well as solo), and an exposé on animal activism. Also featured are vegan cooking and reproductive rights. Previous issues interviewed Le Tigre (the current band of Kathleen Hanna, formerly of Bikini Kill) and Tracy and the Plastics and gave a "shout-out" to Sharon Cheslow, one of the very cool, kick-rear, punk feminists to come out of the San Francisco riot scene. This zine does not forget its roots while it stays on the cool side of hip. If you need an introduction to the folks who are the ones to know about, this is the zine for you. The only downside is that sometimes the writing is a little raw and unpolished. This does add to the charm of a reader-submission zine, though. Editor Amy Schroeder took this zine from the cut-n-paste it was when she was a freshman at Michigan State to the 24,000-reader mag/zine that is currently published in Chicago. And all this while helping organize Ladyfest Midwest. Whatta' gal. http://www.venuszine.com
Zines that are now defunct so don't expect to buy them at your local bookstore, but if you do find them somewhere...get them, get them, get them:
Ben Is Dead
Hey There Barbie Girl
Send us your grrrl-oriented zines for review.
We are going to try to keep this zine review going. What this means is that we need your zines to check out. If you know of any zines that you think are worth mentioning here, please send two or three recent issues to JoAnne Lehman here at Feminist Collections. She will get them to me, and I will have a look-see. And...get this...we are willing to pay issue price (gasp! Yes! It is true. Email FC at email@example.com with details about how much and where to send you the money).
We will also look at personal e-zines and cut-n-pastes, anything you got. Send 'em in. We are listening for what you have to say.
GRRLYSHOW. 18 mins. color. 2000. Filmmaker: Kara Herold. Distr.: Women Make Movies, 462 Broadway, New York, NY 10013; phone: (212) 925-0606; fax: (212) 925-2052; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; website: www.wmm.com Rental (VHS): $60.00. Sale (VHS): $195.00. Order #: W01733.
Kara Herold's documentary offers an interesting exploration of why riot grrrls produce zines. Fringe feminism (described up at the front of this article) is one of the messages of the film: a philosophy that is not always embraced by "traditional" versions of feminism, yet remains true to the idea that the point is that we have a choice. Sometimes the creation of our voice is the choice, as is often the case with the girls who make zines. "We make these zines for us" (words spoken by Pagan Kennedy, maker of the zine Pagan's Head) is the primary attitude displayed in this film. Often what prompts the creation of a zine is that the mass marketing "geniuses" who tell us about modern girls are saying things we can't relate to.
Feelings of alienation are portrayed as the catalyst for the production of subversive culture. That is, many of the zinesters interviewed said that they felt alone in the androcentric world. The assertion that "if I don't write it down I am gonna punch someone out" (by the maker of Bamboo Girl) is a great example of this feeling. Oddly enough, when the first issue of the zine is finally produced, the revelation comes that others of a similar mindset are out there; that, in fact, there is a whole community of women who feel the same way--who do not see women in the mainstream magazines who look like we do, unless we bear a strong resemblance to Barbie and Skipper. That feeling of community prompts the next issue.
A really great part of this film is that grrrl bands are featured as the background music, and grrrl comix are used as illustration throughout. A 1950s documentary style, complete with sappy acting by characters "Blanche" and "Eunice," is used effectively in the instructional portion, in which we're told who the girls are, how to make a zine, and that the idea of voice is huge.
My only objection to this film is the assumption that we all know what a zine is, as well as what the riot culture is and where it came from. I would like to have seen a little more history of "revolution girl style now," not just have the words flashed across the screen. Also, it is disappointing that many of the girls interviewed no longer have zines in the world. Their publications have fallen by the wayside, yet they are still important in the history of girl zines.
However, the women portrayed are strong voices for getting heard and getting it done in a personal way. The stress is that this form of art and culture is not for money; this idea is illustrated by a cartoon of a girl with coffee at 4:00 a.m., banging away at her computer. Debbie Stoller of BUST comments on the desire to pay writers and pay rent and the fear that economic success may be impossible if zinemakers stay true to their grassroots feminist ideals.
American women are fighting a battle on two fronts, and the one being fought here is in response to the dominant pop culture. The popular is presented as political, too. We don't just want to throw out "girly" things because feminists have seen them as subversive; we want to recycle and reclaim those "female" things that are pleasurable. Thus, "girl pleasure" and feminism don't have to be seen as dissonant. And, honestly, creating zines is just plain fun. Kara Herold does a good job of reminding us of this.
Now defunct: Pagan's Head, Hey There Barbie Girl (which then became Plotz, which is still around), Slant
Still here: Hues, Bitch, BUST, Plotz, Java Turtle, Bamboo Girl, Minx
Who knows? McJob, Crap Hound, Maxi, Black Girl
[M.L. ("Mhaire") Fraser is finishing her Ph.D. at the University of Southern California. She is a longtime riot grrrl and publisher of the zine Debutante Gone Wrong. She has helped put together a number of feminist gatherings in which a "Zine Trade" was a key event in addition to art shows, poetry slams, and music venues. Her research examines social identity and gender issues, with Third Wave feminist identity and pop culture as special interests.]
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Mounted November 20, 2002.