“Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism” is a history of an art form

We are living in a digital world, and most feminists have become digital girls. OK, don’t judge me for the Madonna reference — I can’t help myself sometimes. But, it’s true: The Internet has become the center of the activist’s universe. From getting the word out about a rally to circulating petitions or making others aware of an important vote or politician, people are far more likely to post something on Twitter, Facebook or a blog than go out and flier the neighborhood.

So what does that mean for independent, radical publications that thrived for years on their gritty, cut-and-paste image and expressive scrawls: you know, zines?

In her new book, Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism, feminist author and women and gender studies professor Alison Piepmeier tackles the historical significance of women and do-it-yourself publishing. Zines, Piepmeier explains, are much more than ’90s riot grrl staples.

In her review of the book, The American Prospect writer Jessica Clark explains:

Piepmeier begins reclaiming zines from the male-dominated culture of punk. Instead, she connects them with what she identifies as earlier forms of feminist “participatory media” the scrapbooks kept by suffragettes to document and respond to sexist characterizations of their work; the pamphlets that transmitted contraband information about contraception and sexual health to women in the early 1900s; the mimeographed flyers that called women’s libbers to consciousness and revolt.

Later, zines brought out radical voices at a time when women’s magazines were chalk-full of “how to snag a man” and “why you’re still single” —women who were queer, kinky or just over patriarchal mainstream media. You didn’t have to major in English or be the best artist in the world. You just needed scissors, a glue stick, a Sharpie and a stream of consciousness.

I remember taking the train to an independent record store on the North Side of Chicago when I was 15 to buy zines and Sleater-Kinney albums. I would sit in my bedroom and devour them — and then head straight to my computer. I may not have put together my own zine, but I had a very angsty and feminist Livejournal.

While many others and myself took to the web with our writing, both Piepmeier and Clark agree that zines aren’t going anywhere:

Zines move from the hands of their creators directly into the hands of their readers, creating an intimate, tactile connection, a gift economy built on affinity rather than commercial exchange.

Most importantly, zines are an adventure. You can create whatever you want and not worry about someone leaving you a nasty comment (blogging) or someone editing your work (commercial publishing). I have read zines detailing one woman’s lesbian sex and relationship debacles, and a zine about the day-to-day life of a woman dealing with all the s— life throws at her.

The web has allowed feminist voices to reach a wider audience, but in no way does that diminish the power of zines. I’ve always wanted to make my own. Perhaps it’s not too late.

Do you read or make zines?

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