You Ain't Zine Nothing Yet: Feminism & Zines

Don’t think feminism has anything to gain from newsletters and zines? Maybe you're missing the point

Feature by Kate Pasola | 29 Apr 2016
  • Glasgow Zine Fest

I don’t know what it was like to be a feminist before the internet. I accumulated most of my feminist ideas via pixels and digital arguments; forums, YouTube videos and the early days of online journalism. Sadly, I’ve never experienced that one cinematic moment of having a rally organiser hand me a cerise, sweary flier, giving me a sisterly nod.

The closest we come to this in 2016 is viciously liking one another's feminist Facebook comments, commenting on articles, digitally inviting each other to events and using hashtags like #everydaysexism, #freethenipple and #blacklivesmatter. It’s all online, and it’s for the taking. And that’s absolutely fine. We no longer have to justify our feminist thought by penning canon-friendly prose, po-faced from our window seats. It just doesn’t make sense when a tweet, facebook status or blog post would have far greater reach and relatability to those with the time on their hands to enact change.

However, as any blogger, journalist or ‘internet feminist’ (sigh) will know, these digital tools aren’t without their flaws. Authors of feminist thought often feel the strain of pandering to patriarchal sensitivities. Unless certain statements are carefully hedged, tiresomely justified and exhaustively explained, many readers feel alienated at best, and filled with the urge to ejaculate vitriolic hate speech and threats at worst.

But written feminism shouldn’t always have to angle towards and armour itself from its opposers. Sometimes we simply want to share thoughts and bug-check one another’s theories before they’re laid spread-eagled for the criticism, fury and upset of a world unready to hear them. And, when the authors are of colour, queer, less able or working class, this is even more likely to be true. Safe space groups and the offline world facilitate this sort of conversation, but we truly need a bridge for the gulf between ephemeral feminist chit-chat and the troll-magnet environment of feminist journalism.

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And that’s where newsletters and zines come in. Last year, Lena Dunham teamed up with Jenni Konner to create Lenny Letter, a twice-weekly newsletter dropped straight into the inboxes of its subscribers. Though Dunham can hardly be credited with reviving this format of publication – people have been engaging in newsletter self-publishing using TinyLetter, a sister company of MailChimp for yonks – there’s something to be said for the rebirth of the newsletter. The format provides a one-directional relationship where writers may write what they truly think, rather than an approximation of what they wish to say.

Another burgeoning form of feminist publication is the mighty zine (short for magazine or fanzine). These sorts of publications have played a role in fuelling and facilitating feminism for decades, but zines have an a lot to offer feminists with internet-fatigue in 2016. The philosophy of zines, feminist or otherwise has never prioritised profit, and this is reflected in the bounty of originality, courage and anarchy to be found in these papery little packages of thought. Glasgow-based collective TYCI (Tuck Your Cunt In), founded by CHVRCHES frontwoman Lauren Mayberry publishes a quarterly zine which perfectly exemplifies this; and although TYCI is now published online, each issue is consumed as a whole; not interrupted, not treated as a sparring ground, just read.

Discussion, debate and feedback is a vital part of feminist development, but back-chat does not and should not overwhelm feminist writing, art and philosophy, and this is where newsletters and zines can help. Because sometimes, feminist writers, thinkers and speakers don’t want to talk to the enemy. Sometimes they simply want to talk to each other.

Glasgow Zine Fest took place in various venues across Glasgow, 30 Apr-1 May