Walking into MMU Special Collections education space, we were faced with the warm smile of Cherry Styles, and an absolute treat – spread across the table was a brightly coloured layer of zines! The zines were all different shapes and sizes, from high gloss finishes, to more scrappy, DIY aesthetics. Some could slide quite snuggly into your back pocket, others would make a grand statement on your book shelf. This was a personal slice of Styles own collection, and we were extremely lucky to be able to see, hold and feel these zines containing an entire range of topics – from sketches of anxiety to the mapping of writing a book.
This was the start of the third session of the Feminist Powerhouse Northwest Reading Group, organised by Laura Clancy, Jess Butler and Jing Ouyang. Previously we had analysed Lois Lane comic books, spoke about the controversy of the term ‘woman composer’ and now considered the feminist use of the zine. Before this latter session we had circulated some pages from The Chapess zine and Alison Piepmeier’s introduction to Girl Zines Making Media, Doing Feminism. With these materials in mind, it seemed only right to go about organising a discussion space. Yet, after a series of table manoeuvres to create a space to talk, it soon became apparent that gravitating away from the zines was an absolute blunder. The table covered with all the zines was clearly where we should be talking, sitting and discovering. The zines, after all, were whispering (or screaming) to be touched. And that’s pretty hard to ignore.
Styles began by introducing the collection, and telling us of her own personal journey to making zines, started by a keen interest in the punk music scene, and trying to connect with other women in what was then a genre particularly dominated by men’s presence. What struck a cord, was her suggestion that zines are often a way into a community gathered around a shared interest – such as music genres, political practices, a TV show or artistic movement. Zines were a way to find out what that community was ‘into’, doing, performing and politicising. Reading zines was in many ways about connecting – finding that energising moment when you want to yell “I think that too!!” And feel a connection with others on a similar path. This is not to suggest that some zines don’t provoke or antagonise, but many searching for zines are looking for connections of shared interests, gaining confidence before making the leap to attend a gig, an art event or performance. Gathering a ‘taste’ of what is to come.
Although this above taster seemed prevalent for fanzines, there were also more personal, emotive examples, containing women’s experiences of mental health, relationships, educational experiences, career moves, body image and sex. These were at times bold, and all barring, leaving some in the group to discuss whether they themselves could be so revealing. Styles spoke about using anonymity, but also the liberating aspect of putting oneself out there. Sharing hardships was a way of processing them, letting them go, or sorting them out. The ‘personal is political’ of 1970s feminist ideals seemed to linger at the edges of the pages, yet in a contemporary setting, was perhaps more playful, self-critical, and also aware of the performative element of self. This ‘performative’ element, for myself, seemed integral, as unlike the self-promotion, and occasional narcissism of social media, which can only take place in fixed web structures (there are of course many positives to an online presence), zines play with the materiality of the page, to create and explore new performances of identity. Font size, layout, design, interaction with image, the weight of the paper, the binding, and the movement of the pages conducted by the reader, made the writing ‘perform’ differently.
This is also explored by those contributing to the zine, designing, or ‘curating’ the content. I spoke to Styles about how some of the material in The Chapess is sexually explicit, and toys with, or negotiates how we view our bodies and ideas of ‘gender’, against the daily operation of our performances in different roles, contexts and relationships, and against the daily stream of ‘everyday’ examples of how women supposedly should behave. Styles stated that she was particularly interest in reducing the hierarchy of authorship, and creating tensions in the content of the writing through layering multiple voices – teens opinion pieces, alongside established writers and artists. This creates a jarring effect in the writing, in which uncomfortable images and highly politicised writings may sit alongside something more mundane or subtle. Here, difference is the mainstay.
As always, there was not enough time to read all the zines and not enough time to make our own! But a few of us managed to create small, one page examples that eventually we will bring together. One thing that was certain, was that Styles had a wealth of information on the scene – with us revealing our individual interests in pop culture or witchcraft, and her having a zine recommendation for each! Definitely a walking archive of knowledge! With a sparked interest in the zine, there is a possibility of using the format to drawing out our discussions in the next feminist reading group, and may result in a trip to the Salford Zine Library in Nexus café!
So, with my own interest in witches, I will end on a little gem from a zine called Hedgehog in the Fog. Hopefully it will give a taste of the punchy, informal language that seems to invade these feminist zines (this is, of course, me branding them as feminist!). Where the grrrr of the 1990s still exists, punctuated with humour, hardships and a touch of sass.
If something is not the same for men and women, then it is most likely sexist. You wouldn’t sing “Ding Dong the Witch is Dead” for some male tyrant. You don’t refer to men as witches in a derogatory way, even though yes male witches do exist.
Also wanna know what a zine is? Check this out: https://ttin.uk/zine-directory