Zines, Zin-ing and Riot Grrrl
Zines, self-publications created for little or no profit, have a long history in radical subcultural spaces. Zines document the histories and narratives not found in most mass-produced texts. Or, if they are, they may be misinterpreted or misrepresented. Many modern zines find their roots in punk subcultures. With access to the photocopier and art school students participating in early punk scenes, the connection between zines, art, and liberal activists was secured in the 1970s. Yet, it wasn’t until riot grrrls that a large group of zinesters started to focus on personal activism and the connection between art, politics, and female control over bodies and choice.
Riot grrrls started to come together in the United States in 1991. As punk feminists,*7 *(7) they were concerned with the double standards in the punk scenes they were participating in at the time. Female punks experienced rape and sexual assault in the scene and needed a space to talk about it. Punk feminists started to form groups, talking with each other about their experiences and encouraging others to do the same. Riot grrrls started using the elements of punk to address the issues within the scene—music and zines—as a way to make others aware of how they were being treated.
Zines became a natural outlet and tool for riot grrrls. Grounded in punk anti-establishment and Do It Yourself (DIY), zines have long been a form of communication in punk spaces. The use of collage, self-promotion, the raw and unedited nature of zines, and the call for everyone to have the equal opportunity to create their scene connected various genres of zines to punks. Zines are weapons to shock and critique culture. They create opposition to mainstream popular cultural texts. And, they do so through the use of art and activism. Zines are tools of art and literacy. Literacy is often looked at as something people know or do not know; being literate or illiterate. But, the New London Group (1996) (*14) argue that we perform literacy in different ways. Literacy becomes something people do as part of their relationships to culture and society. Literacy is social.
The basic unit of the performance of literacies is what Brian Street defines as a literacy practice, a “behavior and the social and cultural conceptualizations that give meaning to the uses of reading and/or writing.” (p. 2). (*17) They are a way individuals participate in literacy and situate themselves in specific cultural sites. The underground publishing of zines, the counterculture and critique of mainstream media and ideas, the anti-capitalist and anti-copyright elements of zines all contribute to the fundamental ideologies behind zines and zine creation, making zine-ing a literacy practice and the creation of zines a literacy event—when there is a piece of writing that is created as part of the practice (Heath, 1983; (*9) Barton and Hamilton, 2000). (*3) Art is an essential element of the practice and event of zines and zin-ing. The creation of zines follows basic artistic and social beliefs from the communities in which they are created for and by. They are part of the belief in self-publication and alternative presses.
For riot grrrls, the use of personal narratives and calls for activism became the dominant form of communication and activism in zines. Riot grrrls used personal narratives in their zines, which were used to inform and disrupt traditional cultural and political ideologies. Through cut and paste compilations, riot grrrl activists called for changes to how rape and sexual violence was viewed in their communities and in the larger laws and policies in the United States.
Bringing Everything Together
When riot grrrls started, the United States was declaring that feminism was dead (Bellafante, 1989). (*5) The United States and Great Britain had seen the rise of neoliberalism, brought on by the leadership of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Tax cuts for the rich, deregulation, privatization, and outsourcing became the norm. The implications of Reagan and Thatcher were seen—and often enforced—across the globe. As the divide between the rich and the poor became larger, the inequality of income and wealth became far more prevalent. Today, the United States is seeing a rise of privatization in public services, education, health care, and prisons. And, through zines and punk ideologies, riot grrrls were at the forefront of the force against the neoliberal agenda.
Started by young punk feminists who were active in their punk scenes and tired of seeing women standing in the back of shows or being relegated to being coat hangers,*8 *(8) riot grrrls were more than just a group of women playing in bands. The express purpose of riot grrrl was to create a consciousness raising group where young women had safe spaces to talk about their lives and communities. They seized control of the means of cultural production, creating feminist art scenes through zines. Riot grrrls are often tagged with creating the emergence of third wave feminism, focusing on their personal experiences as a way to challenge the misogyny around them.*9 *(9) Riot grrrl is not necessarily a cohesive group with overarching ideologies or backgrounds, but the use of art activism is seen throughout riot grrrl narratives, especially through the use of zines.
Rebekah Buchanan ( 2019): Zines, Art Activism and the Female Body: What We Learn from Riot Grrrls. In: p/art/icipate – Kultur aktiv gestalten # 10 , https://www.p-art-icipate.net/zines-art-activism-and-the-female-body-what-we-learn-from-riot-grrrls/