girl zines: the book (part one)

charlotte was kind enough to buy me a copy of girl zines: making media, doing feminism, by alison piepmeier:

i got you a book, & i didn't eated it!

okay, actually i bought it for myself, by ordering it from the indie bookstore downtown. support your local businesses!

i am only about halfway through, & one of the chapters i haven’t read yet is about the intersectional identities in girl zines, which is of special interest to me, so i am still not prepared to make a full assessment of the book. but of course i am pretty psyched that a book on this topic was finally written! even though my feelings on it are a bit of a mixed bag so far…

i guess maybe i should back up & explain the concept of the book because probably not every single person reading this is familiar with zines, right? especially because people like my sister & jared’s mom & god knows who else could conceivably stumble across this thing & wonder what i’m rambling about. so, personal back story: i got into zines when i was…i don’t know…maybe twelve or so? zines are little self-published publications about pretty much any subject you want to write about, but i got in on the ground floor of the early/mid 90s riot grrrl zine explosion. i was definitely on the younger side of folks involved with zines at the time. a lot of movers & shakers in the zine scene were in college or at least old enough to be living on their own, & i was trapped in oak harbor, ohio, too far out in the country for things like cable TV. it blows my mind now to think that a house three miles down a state route from the nearest town would be too country to be wired for cable TV. things were different in the early 90s. i used to tie an onion to my belt, because that was the style at the time, & the kaiser had stolen our word for twenty. truefax!

i made awful, dreadful, horrifying zines throughout my teenage years, although i’m sure i thought i was a literary genius at the time. my dad ran off copies for me using the photocopier at his place of employ, the sun oil refinery, in toledo. they refine petroleum products & provide the gasoline for sunoco gas stations. in retrospect, i don’t really understand why my dad had access to a photocopier, because his job involved coveralls, hard hats, climbing up the sides of big huge oil drums, adjusting pressure valves, & occasionally getting blown up & spending months on end in a hospital burn unit, but let’s go with it. i’d give him my masters & say, “don’t read it!” & he’d say, “i won’t!” & of course, how dumb am i, he did. i was like fourteen! how the hell else was he going to ever find out anything that was going on with me? thank goodness i really didn’t know what i was doing & wasn’t writing the kind of agonizingly cathartic, intensely personal shit that i loved reading in other girls’ zines. i wrote hard-hitting exposes on the gender bias of children’s toys (did you know that not all girls like dolls? i just blew your mind, didn’t i?) & dedicated more pages than i care to remember to my all-consuming love of toads. i was OBSESSED with toads when i was a teenager.

my teenage obsession--more precious than kittens & unicorns! more adorable than a kitten/unicorn hybrid!

anyway, with these awesome pseudo-feminist, toad-loving zines, i traded with girls all across north america, europe, & australia. we swapped painstakingly handwritten letters covered with crayon hearts, glitter glue, lisa frank stickers (in the case of every zinester except for me), & toad stickers (in my case…what the hell was wrong with me?). once someone sent me a plastic doll. a few times, girls made me one-off zines that were just for me, with color photocopies & hand-drawn pages. i still have an entire milk crate full of mix tapes i received from my scores of pen pals, including bootlegged live sleater-kinney shows with tape liners that say, “happy 16th birthday ciara!” in glitter pen.

obviously things have changed in the zine scene. for me, anyway. not being a teenage girl with a distressing affinity for amphibians (…anymore), i can’t say with certainty that teenage girls are no longer as passionate about the mail culture aspect of zines. but my teenage zines years pre-dated widespread internet access, so mail correspondence was our only correspondence. no e-mail, no online diaries, no chat rooms. if we wanted to gush about each other’s zines, share dark secrets, call each other out on shit, & send each other locks of our hair (& we did), we used the postal service.

this is kind of sort of the world that the book addresses, but because it’s about “girl zines,” & because girl zines are still being written (visit my lovely zine distro for examples, including issues of several of the zines profiled in the book), it’s ostensibly not just about that weird mail-obsessed world i lived in circa 1992-2000 or so. as such, the book makes some generalizations that might not be completely consistent with my lived reality as a zinester in good standing for almost twenty years. i don’t think pen pal culture is as prevalent now (though it is by no means dead), i think girls put less effort into mail art, etc. i think mail culture has changed because girls have so many other ways to communicate with each other now. i mean, in 1994, if i wanted to talk on the phone with one of my pen pals, it was prohibitively expensive (to cite one example). now that practically everyone has a cell phone plan with free long-distance, barriers to long-distance friendship don’t seem so insurmountable.

my bookcase containing only the best of the best zines i have read in the last twenty years--literally hundreds & hundreds of zines

i’m going to write more about this book once i finish reading it, but i do want to mention that i really appreciate piepmeier’s attempts to trace a feminist/girl-centric ancesty for girl zines of the last twenty years. she links them to mimeographed position papers & publications written by women involved with civil rights/new left organizing & the women’s movement of the 1960s & 1970s, & goes further back to develop an argument linking zines to reproductive health pamphlets that circulated among women wanting to educate themselves about birth control & abortion during the comstock law days. she also mentions the scrapbooking prevalent among women in the 1800s, which often involved women responding to current events of the moment, the abolition movement, nascent suffrage struggles, etc. i have been involved with zines for so long, & i know all about the gazillionty million position papers, newspapers, & magazines women produced in the 60s & 70s, & the health pamphlets on the 20s, & i never made the connection between them & zines. i always just bought into the male-centric, male-dominated history that positions zines as descendants of anti-british revolutionary era pamphleteers (almost exclusively male), science fiction fanzine writers (almost exclusively male), & early punk fanzine writers (almost exclusively male). like the 90s girl zine explosion was just some weird aberration, like never before in history had women taken over the means of writing & publishing in an effort to liberate themselves!

i got a zine for distro consideration a couple of months ago that is all about those early science fiction fanzine writers & their role as the progenitors of modern-day zine culture. it was of course written by a boy. something about it didn’t sit right with me & i didn’t pick it up for the distro, & now i am relieved. it’s like i knew in my gut that there was something missing from that narrative.

my biggest disappointment with the book is the resource section & the fact that there is almost nothing about zine distros in the book. i would have loved to read a concise history of riot grrrl press. it is shocking to me that the book is essentially a who’s who of dozens of women i have traded with &/or am friends with, & there is nothing about pander zine distro, which was instrumental in catapulting some of those zinesters into the culture & to the level of popularity they currently enjoy. the only distro mentioned in the text so far is microcosm, which is so disappointing, considering their paltry selection of feminist zines & lady-penned personal zines, & (putting it out here into the public forum), microcosm founder joe biel’s well-documented status as a manipulative, abusive individual who has issues with misogyny. a big part of feminism for me is trying to put an end to abuse, domestic violence, misogynistic intimidation tactics, et al, & working to hold perpetrators accountable to survivors & the larger community in which they live & work. efforts at mediation & accountability processes with joe have been fruitless, & i believe that supporting microcosm (by ordering from them, recommending them as a great source of zines, publishing books or zines with them, etc) is an exercise in letting joe off the hook. his financial & emotional ability to keep being a manipulative, unaccountable scumbag is tied up with the success of the microcosm project & the goodwill he gets from it. cut that off at the source & maybe he will be forced to take a long, hard look in the mirror. there are other fantastic indie publishers out there (try eberhardt press in portland, oregon or 1984 in the bay area), & there are TONS of great zine distros, many of them run by smart, feminist women who carry smart, feminist zines.

gonna get back to my reading now

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

12 thoughts on “girl zines: the book (part one)

    1. probably. it’s really not too bad. there hasn’t been much of anything yet that made me feel like the author was getting the girl zine culture all wrong, although i might argue that there is a difference between “girl zines” & “grrrl zines”. i think girls who didn’t necessarily identify with riot grrrl took a lot of iconography & rhetorical devices that were popularized by grrrl zines & created a subtly different girl zine genre with it. like, the zine i did when i was a teenager was a grrrl zine. the zine i do now is a girl zine. you know?

  1. Dickety?? Highly dubious!

    I am so fearful of Pander being erased from its rightful place in [girl/grrrl] zine history & I feel like its complete omission from this book is really sad & proof that it can happen all too easily. I’m super grateful every time you place it firmly where it belongs. It’s the most important thing I’ve accomplished in my life & I’m really proud of that.

    1. yeah, i can understand that. i was really disappointed with the distro listing in the resource section. the author explained that the book spent a year in the publishing process before finally being released, so it was difficult to keep the resource section up-to-date, which makes sense…but paper trail’s been around since 2003. stranger danger has been around since 2004 or so, & has even had the same web address the entire time, & the author even profiles “no better voice,” which is written by the woman who started stranger danger! she interviews people like ayun halliday, lauren martin, jenna freedman…i find it difficult to believe that none of those folks thought to mention pander. i know there are space limitations & she wanted to spend more time examining the zines themselves & not necessarily the means of distribution, but i feel that pander did A LOT to contextualize girl zine culture. how many girls got into zines by ordering from pander & posting on the messageboard? tons, i am sure. i think pander drew in girls that may have drifted away from zines otherwise, & a lot of those girls are still making zines now, or have made contextually important zines. but…this is just the first book about girl zine culture. leaving out pander & distros in general was an oversight, but hopefully it will be corrected by future authors.

  2. Ciara,

    Thanks for this thoughtful commentary on what you’ve read of the book. I appreciate your feedback, and I’ll try to update you about my efforts to get a more complete and girl-centric distro list online. I’m very familiar with Pander, and I don’t know how/why I left it out of the book. As you said, though, this is the first book of its kind, and I hope there will be many others that correct the mistakes I’ve made.

    1. dude. that is totally weird. i don’t know what happened to mine. i think my mom threw it out not soon after i got it because she thought it was creepy.

  3. i would like to point out that accountability and mediation have been totally fruitless because the accountability people are/were total flakes. they have met with me exactly zero times since they took it on and had exactly one phone conference. and for that reason they are being replaced. the mediation folks have been right on but can’t do much good without half of the situation and process. i’m doing my part. i spent the last few years in therapy and have done about all the reading and educating there is to do.

    1. uh…”flakiness” is not the reason the accountability people are being “replaced,” but sentiments like this really go a long way toward you showing the world how little you are learning in your “years of therapy” & “reading”. this is sounding very much like when rich mackin ran off to portland to lick his wounds, joined an ultimate frisbee league, & starting reading books about buddhism. that’s all just great, & i’m sure it makes you feel very much like you are sacrificing something & being noble, but your feelings don’t actually equal ACCOUNTABILITY. i was also under the impression that the accountability team & the mediation team were perhaps working in tandem in terms of trying to help you make amends in ways you have fucked up, big & small, but were by no means a joint force that could not function independently. & that the mediation team gave up because you refused to accept any responsibility for anything & wouldn’t cede anything to the process.

  4. If I work on the process on a daily basis and I can’t get an email or phone call returned by people who have admitted to completely dropping the ball in the past, I’m not sure what I can even do. If anything the accountability and mediation teams were at odds; coming from very different places: professional and amateur. One who does it all the time and one who, despite good intentions, really doesn’t know what they are doing. A situation like this is complicated enough that it takes more than five minutes of research and talking to me once to even put the events on a timeline; let alone work towards resolution or making people feel better.

    But nothing will ever convince you of what you are already certain. It’s an emotional issue and you are quite fine forming an opinion and operating on one-sided gossip.

    Fortunately, Cindy is working on the situation now and my long-diminished faith that anyone might want to do something to make anyone feel better is slightly increased.

    1. WTF? if you admit that the mediation team was “professional,” & therefore more together than the “amateur” & “flaky” accountability team, than what the hell are you doing in the previous comment claiming that the mediation team was forced to quit their efforts because they weren’t being supported by the accountability people? you acknowledge here that they are two different teams with two different MOs…which would certainly shore up the information that i have that the mediators gave up on you because you were completely unwilling to give an inch or work within their process.

      this is an emotional issue (especially for the parties directly involved, ie, not me), but it’s also more than that. you don’t even know what information i have, so i don’t know where you got the idea that i am operating on “one-sided gossip”. i was already aware that cindy is working on a new accountability process, & i have actually helped her out a little bit with gathering info to use for it. but it’s fucking ludicrous & short-sighted of you to sit there being psyched that now someone you like & respect is working on this when no one should have to work on it at all because you shouldn’t have been an abusive, manipulative person in the first place. the fact that you are even getting an accountability process & a chance to redeem yourself at all (especially after the first attempted went nowhere, due at least in part to your recalcitrance & refusal to engage in personal responsibility) instead of just being completely blacklisted from whatever weird little community we are in is a testament to people’s faith & hope for a community that can rehabilitate itself & some desperate shred of hope that you will step up to the plate & prove that you are worth these people’s efforts. so don’t sit there & act like you are entitled to this process & that you’re entitled to work on your accountability shit with whoever you like best. people aren’t doing it for YOU. they’re doing it for the integrity of the community that you are most unfortunately a part of.

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