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Persephone is pissed! Grrrl zine reading, making, and distributing across the globe.

A growing number of young women and queer and transgender youth from around the world are finding an empowering outlet for artistic expression and social and political criticism in the medium of zines. In the United States, Great Britain and, to a lesser degree, Australia, both academic analyses and popular readers of grrrl zines have played an important role in raising awareness about the subject. Little attention, however, has been paid to international zines and the communication network that has evolved around them. In this paper I argue for an international approach to zine and girls' studies. My main point is that grrrl zines are read, published and exchanged in many countries around the world. They are part of an international communication network because zinesters from various countries interact with each other on-line and face-to-face, and exchange and distribute zines across national borders. Drawing from an extensive review of literature on grrrl zines, and on observations and information gathered from my online archive Grrrl Zine Network (1) (a comprehensive listing of worldwide, multi-lingual, feminist-oriented zines, distros--distribution providers, and projects, as well as interviews with zine editors), this study focuses on the producers and the processes of international grrrl zine making and distributing, and elaborates three main questions: What does this international grrrl zine network look like? What does feminist zine reading, making and distributing mean to young women and queer and transgender youth? And what is the personal and political potential of international grrrl zines?

Grrrl zines

Mainstream media fail to provide a venue for many people--women foremost among them, particularly women of colour, working-class women and queer youth, who find themselves excluded or grossly misrepresented. In response, some have taken the tools of cultural production into their hands and created their own symbols, cultural codes, and images of (self-) representation. In zines--'noncommercial, nonprofessional, small-circulation magazines which their creators produce, publish, and distribute by themselves' (2)--a growing number of young women and queer and transgender youth from around the world are finding an empowering outlet for expressing experiences, thoughts, anger, and pain that result from growing up and living in patriarchal, homophobic, and racist societies. As such, zines reflect the unfiltered and resistant personal and political voices of youth. Grrrl zines, zines made by and for female, queer and transgender youth with feminist viewpoints, offer not only a forum where women's and queer voices can be expressed and heard but also a zone of freedom from societal pressures and symbolic control.

When in 1991 the riot grrrl movement emerged out of the alternative and punk music scene in the United States, (3) thousands of young women began to produce zines with explicitly feminist themes. Nowadays, some 'grrrls' who grew out of the riot grrrl movement have chosen to reclaim and call themselves 'ladies.' They produce 'lady' zines and organize 'Ladyfests.' (4) Instead of using the 'politically correct' word 'woman,' 'lady' (like 'gift') becomes removed from its old-fashioned, traditional connotation, and takes on ambiguous meaning. In recent years, an increasing number of zines have appeared expressing the unique personal experiences of queer and transgendered people and voicing criticism of the women's movement for heretofore excluding their perspectives. At around the same time, the feminist zine network expanded enormously into the realm of e-zines which became known as 'gURL's.'

Topically, grrrl zines cover just about anything that concerns women in their daily lives. Some may commit themselves politically; others may primarily tell personal stories, following the slogan of the women's movement in the 1970s: 'The personal is political.' They can vary widely in their design, from low-budget photocopied collages to slick magazines, and in their content, from sharing intimate personal experiences to political activism. The three angry rrr's in 'grrrl' reflect the rebellious, young-feminist reclamation of the word 'girl,' and indicate identification with the alternative feminist and queer youth community. In this article, I see grrrl zines as defined by their DIY, feminist, grrrl-positive agenda that portrays female, queer and transgender youth as powerful, capable, articulate, and critical. By making and distributing zines, I suggest that grrrl zinesters build an international network of like-minded people who identify with the action, passion, politics and communities surrounding the term 'grrrl.' The ethos of grrrl zines aims at the transformation of patriarchal power structures into a world where everyone can participate, regardless of gender identification, in her or his very own DIY ways.

Girls' studies and zines

Despite awareness on the topics of grrrl zines and the riot grrrl movement, associated with the 'third wave' of feminism, and the use of the Internet, in the United States and Great Britain and, to a lesser degree, Australia; (5) little attention has been paid to the global zine network and feminist community. The lacking global picture is also apparent in girls' studies, a 'sub-genre of recent academic feminist scholarship that constructs girlhood as a separate, exceptional, and/or pivotal phase in female identity formation. (6) Sherrie A. Inness has significantly pointed to the absence of studies 'adequately exploring the connections among girls around the globe.' (7) Inness documents the diversity of girls' experiences worldwide, shaped by their age, class, race, and other factors, and calls for a complex understanding of the similarities and differences among them: 'I hope that a more global vision of girlhood will emerge from understanding girlhood in not just an American or a British perspective but a truly international one, one that acknowledges regional differences but also recognizes the similarities (gender and age, for instance) that bind girls from different cultural backgrounds together' (8) As well, Inness calls for an inclusion of 'the "real" experiences of "real" girls:' 'For numerous reasons, "girls" are often left out of girls' studies, but it is essential that girls--the subject of girls' cultural studies--not be left voiceless.' (9) Therefore, this study focuses on an international framework and lets file words of the zinesters speak for themselves.

Likewise, girls and women have gained academic attention as consumers and avid readers of teen, women's mass magazines, and romances, (10) but rarely as]producers of media themselves. The publication of zines is one of the few exceptions. Scholars have noted recently that: 'Perhaps the most interesting trend in popular culture is that of girls themselves getting into the act by designing their own Web sites, creating their own rock bands, and publishing their own zines.' (11) In this context, Mary Celeste Kearney argues that it is important not only to look at texts produced for girls but also at texts and cultural artifacts created by girls. (12) She has also shown, and I agree, that grrrl and queer zines often overlap. (13) Care therefore must be taken to distinguish and yet be inclusive of female youth as cultural producers and those often forgotten: queer, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex youth. As the growing literature in queer studies shows, the feminist movement(s) need to contest all gender and sexual oppressions, and build alliances between the women's and trans liberation movements. (14) Consequently, my project focuses on a non-essentialist concept of cultural producers who self-identify as women, queer, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender with feminist viewpoints.

More than just the success of feminism(s) is at stake here. Feminist scholars have reported a decline in self-esteem, body image, and academic performances of adolescent girls. (15) Lyn Mikel Brown (1998) has posited that girls who actively resist dominant cultural notions of femininity, particularly at the edge of adolescence, show greater resilience and psychological health; their ability to resist is clearly related to the opportunity to know and express strong feelings without being ridiculed or punished. Anger, closely tied to self-respect, is a strong impetus to act against any injustice and builds the foundation for women's political resistance. (16) Brown argues:
   The pressure for girls to split off their anger is enormous and the
   rewards are clear. The girls who do so, however, risk losing the
   capacity to locate the source of their pain and thus to do
   something about it; they risk losing the potential for a once
   ordinary, healthy resistance to turn political. (17)

Grrrl zines offer exactly this opportunity: a creative means of resistance to express anger, locate injustices, and translate strong feelings into personal and political empowerment. Like other forms of successful political action, zines provide a supportive and safe space for like-minded peers willingly to share their experiences, thoughts and opinions with one another.

The interviewees and their zines

The aim of my research has been two-fold: On the one hand to create a central archive for grrrl zines and distros through the web site Grrrl Zine Network and, on the other, to understand the complex voices and concerns of culturally productive and outspoken international feminist youth engaged in processes of zine making and distributing. From 2001 to 2003, I electronically interviewed thirty-seven zinesters from twenty-nine zines and six distros (twice, two co-editors responded) between the ages of seventeen and thirty-eight years old. (18) They reside in eighteen different countries: the United States (fourteen), Australia (four), Austria, Malaysia, Singapore (two each), Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Finland, Germany, Holland, Italy, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa and Sweden (one each). Around half live in non-English speaking countries. Interviewing via e-mail and in English has resulted in a non-random selection of interviewees, who enjoy certain economic and educational privileges that accommodate fluency in English and access to computer technology. National differences in literacy also figure strongly in women's access to cultural production and the ability to challenge and create their own media representations. We must be ever mindful of those women who are not given access to, and training in the means of cultural production.

While the zines studied all share a feminist outlook, the topics addressed via personal stories, political commentaries, drawings, and other visuals, are self-defence, rape and sexual violence, women's health, riot grrrl, lesbian, queer and transgender issues, women with disabilities, feminist home schooling, art and female friendship, activism, music, and pop culture. (19) Many of these zines cover several interconnected topics. For example, the zine Pretty Ugly discusses the intersections of art, music, sexuality, spirituality, activism and feminism. The distribution service providers that were researched carry mostly personal and political zines and offer feminist patches, buttons, stickers and other merchandise. (20) Many of the editors have been into zine production for several years, others just started. While most have published less than ten zines and a few twenty, one interviewee has published more than one hundred. (21) With the exception of eight collectively-run zines, all are published by a single individual. Sixteen zines appear in print form and at least partially online, twelve appear solely as print zines and one is exclusively web-based. The designs display an immense range of styles and techniques. Some are handwritten, contain collages of magazine clippings and are black-and-white or color photocopies while others consist of complex, multiple-page web sites. The size of print-runs also varies greatly. Some zinesters make ten photocopies for their friends; others print one thousand issues and distribute them in local and national stores.

The grrrl zine communication and distribution network

Participation in the international zine network can take many forms and cannot be viewed apart from the broader community in which the zines themselves prosper. The various strands of this international communication network are eight-fold:

1. Print and on-line zines: Most worldwide grrrl zines listed at Grrrl Zine Network are published solely in print (377), followed by zines that have an online and print version (176) and purely online zines (86). (22) This suggests that zinesters still prefer print zines. The reverse is true regarding distros: 72 of 84 are online and only 12 in print. These numbers reflect function, with e-zines and online distros serving in most cases to advertise print versions, to expand the audience and to share information and resources. As Lil, one of the Argentinean based Pink Punkies says, they run their web site because:
   It's a pleasure, it's getting to know people from all over the world
   and from my own country, it's to share ideas and opinions, it's to
   learn and teach, it's to open my mind and help others to open
   their minds. It's a very good and fun way to get information
   without all the bullshit that TV or radio give. (23)

E-zines can be widely distributed over computer networks for low cost; they are much easier to create than print zines and can also serve as effective networking tools. (24) Apart from the material appreciation and DIY crafting aspect of zines, most zinesters believe in publishing print zines since many young women, queer and transgender youth in non-Western countries and rural areas still confront barriers to Internet access and technology.

2. Distros: Through exchanging and distributing zines across national borders, distros play a crucial role in keeping the global zine network alive and thriving. Distros review zines, offer a forum for other zinesters to share their opinions, and thereby initiate an ongoing dialogue about the zines they choose to carry. The Internet has played a crucial role in the development of distros. Long-time distro provider Ericka of Pander Zine Distro (U.S.) says that her orders doubled when she put the catalogue online and accepted online payments. (25) However, running a functional and reliable distro requires an immense time investment and personal commitment to the cause.

3. Online mailing lists and message boards: To exchange information and ideas, as well as to announce new issues or calls for submissions, mailing lists and message boards play another critical role in the information exchange of the zine networks. By initiating a mailing list, Hilde created a virtual home for riot grrrls in Europe:
   I wanted to create a space for European grrrls to get together
   and I had been playing around with the term "riot grrrl europe"
   in my head for some time. Not long after, I created the riot grrrl
   europe mailinglist and oh joy! So many people joined! SO many
   people mailed me and told me that they had been feeling so
   alone for such a long time, and then, all of a sudden a place for
   European riot grrrls had been created! Which after all, was not a
   hard thing to do. I just logged onto Yahoo groups, and created
   that list. (26)

Often, mailing lists and message boards play a crucial role in finding out about zines:
   I found out what zines were from the Internet, though I later
   realized that I had seen zines before and even owned a few. After
   I started [the zine] Life Sucks, I came across a post on a
   messageboard about a new zine distro starting up and looking
   for zines and comics, and eventually figured out what zines
   were. I actually used to buy a lot of local photocopied comics
   when I was a teenager and had seen really simple comics that
   made me realise I could make my own, but I didn't know that
   self publishing was such a big thing until I found zine distros
   and the zinesters mailing list and stuff. (27)

Similarly, after discovering the zine Hip Mama (U.S. since 1993) and its online message board, Nina of Edgy-Catin' Mama (U.S.) got 'hooked when she 'found that many of the message board participants put out zines.' (28)

4. Online resource sites: Online resource sites, such as, and (both U.S.) provide and list zine resources. Keeping up to date with often quickly changing information in the zine network requires an immense time ettort and passion of an individual. Therefore, resource sites can be incomplete, out-of-date, and not well-managed, which has lead researchers to note that e-lists 'can make the process of locating girl-produced e-zines as frustrating as it is exciting.' (29) Additionally, 'the more comprehensive and better managed e-zine lists and review guides (e.g., E-zinc List, Etext Archives, and Factsheet Five) seem less willing to include girl e-zines, and thus reproduce the notion that the Web is a male-dominated space.' (30) Since no central archive for international feminist-oriented zines existed, one of my main goals with Grrrl Zine Network has been to create such a grrrl-positive virtual space.

5. Zine archives: Because zines often have a short publishing lifetime and are difficult to catalogue, many libraries ave not archived them. I argue that it is exactly because they are ephemeral in their character that they should be preserved in zine archives for future generations. In the past few years, some libraries have started to collect zines, usually in special collections departments and independent infoshops, such as the Alternative Gallery Archive (Athens, Greece), Archiv der Jugendkulturen (Berlin, Germany), Misfit Theatre Zine Library (Auckland, New Zealand), Independent Publishing Resource Center (Portland, U.S.), and Welland Zine Library (Welland Ontario, Canada). (31) Some archives specifically focus on feminist and queer zines, such as the Sarah Dyer Zine Collection at Duke University (U.S.).

6. Zine gatherings, festivals and conferences: Zine gatherings, festivals and conferences serve an important function by bringing zinesters face-to-face from different parts of cities and countries. Some of these events are: the annual Allied Media Conference (Bowling Green, Ohio), Small Print (Auckland, New Zealand), Portland Zine Symposium (U.S.), and the annual Zine and Book Fair (Brisbane, Australia). (32)

7. Zine exhibits: In the past fewyears, museums, galleries and individual collectors have organizeda variety of exhibits and events on the topic of zines. (33) For example, as part of 'NowHere,' at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark, Ute Meta Bauer invited various women artists to produce zines on the topic of 'media representation of women' (1996). Travelling exhibitions, such as the 'Bookmobile Project' (Canada/U.S., since 2001) or 'Cutn'Paste' (Australia, 1999) are excellent for introducing zines to many and diverse audiences who might not have the opportunity and means to visit museums and galleries. Zine exhibits typically present zines not as detached art objects but as cultural products that demand an active exchange between creator and reader, roles which can be traded, with the reader becoming a creator. This concept itself is revolutionary in that it overturns the idea upon which traditional art has long stood, namely, the existence of genius master artists and passive admiring audience members.

8. Zine workshops: Zine workshops are a means to transfer DIY knowledge through hands-on exercises. They empower participants by walking them through the steps to create something on their own. Action Grrrlz (Canada) and Grrrl Zines a Go-Go (U.S.), for example, offer zine workshops for teenage girls.

A combination of all these eight forms of communication insures the information exchange, growth and liveliness of the grrrl zine network.

The grrrl zine network is international

The following data appeared from the analysis of the zines and distros listed at Grrrl Zine Network: editors from 31 countries produce 639 zines (online and in print) in 12 languages. The 84 zine distribution providers listed at Grrrl Zine Network hail from 16 different countries. Quantitatively, most grrrl zines (405 of 639) and distros (51 of 84) are created in the United States. After the United States, European grrrl zinesters are most active (106 zines and 14 distros), followed by Australia and New Zealand (51 and 6), Middle and South America (35 and 0), Asia (14 and 6), and Africa (1 and 0). While it is true that zinesters in the United States have easier access to the Internet and therefore can advertise their zines more efficiently and thus facilitate publication, I have observed that independent newsletters, magazines, and diaries in various countries share many of the characteristics of zines without the label, 'zines.' Moreover, too little is known about zines in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and South America as a result of language barriers and lack of access to local and international distribution networks. Slowly, as access to the Internet spreads, these publications are finding recognition on an international level.

So, exactly how does this international network of young women and queer and transgender youth who read, publish, and distribute zines function? Elena (Germany) says that creating It's Not dust Boy's Fun hasput her in touch with other international zinesters: Since I startedpublishing my writings, I got to know so many different people from so many different countries, I learned a lot and I was able to expand my horizon in any possible way.' (34) Trading zines across borders creates not only international connections but also promotes local friendships among like-minded feminist youth, as Elise from Grrrl: Rebel (Malaysia) confirms:
   The zine community really breaks the barrier. Before I got into
   Riot grrrl/punk/underground, most of my friends were either
   my college mates or my former high school mates and they were
   all my age. I could hardly find any mutual friends, who were into
   feminism, punk and female bands. But now things were surely
   changed after our zine made it to the public. People who read
   Grrrl: Rebel contacted us and, we met them at gigs and so on,
   and eventually, I got to know heaps of people from outside the
   circle and some of them have become my close friends. Apart
   from that, who could've thought now I got lots of foreign
   contacts from USA, Spain, Singapore, Australia, Indonesia,
   Holland, Japan and the list goes on. (I don't have to worry about
   lodging anymore!) (35)

By listing local and national members of Riot Grrrl Europe, many of whom are zinesters themselves, Hilde wants 'all those grrrls and bois to find like minded souls in their area, and then FLOOD this continent with grrrl oriented, grrrl-friendly projects.' Overall, the grrrl zine community can be described as an international, diverse and geographically mobile network of like-minded and culturally productive feminists of complex and plural identities and backgrounds:
   I would call all of the wonderful women who have subscriptions
   to Persephone Is Pissed part of my grrrl zine community, and
   they are all very different kinds of people: mothers, artists,
   gardeners, rebels, anarchists, liberals, old, young, outspoken and
   shy alike. Mostly I guess the grrrl zine community consists of
   women who want to change the world, and who make art or live
   life in a way that expresses those desires. (36)

In countries where zines are less visible, the very scarcity in combination with an awareness of the international network acts as an impetus to publish zines and form distros. Good girls' editrix Nikko (Canada) says she was inspired to start her zine 'by reading about the many awesome zines that have come before us--and also by my frustration because there wasn't anything with a national scope in Canada, and I felt there was a need.' (37) Her goal is 'to create a space where Canadian women can come together, build community and have a healthy, functional forum in which to discuss some of the hard issues that we face.' Building a supportive feminist community is an oft-stated goal. 'In general it's about creating space for women and making our different perspectives visible,' (38) says Emancypunx' Yen from Warsaw, Poland. Editrix Nina founded Edgy-catin' Mama (U.S.) because she 'craved a connection with other thinking, intelligent feminist women who had a sense of humour and who were outside of the home schooling mainstream.' Now Nina also runs the The Edgycatin'Mamas messageboard to provide a supportive forum for 'all women, who for one reason or another, do not quite fit in with the more "mainstream" homeschoolers.' (39) The urge to find like-minded, original, and creative people creates a zine network (or rather networks) whose pro-active participants often end up forging connections across national borders.

Perceptions of their own and the international zine communities within the individual countries studied differ. Some zinesters experience the wider community as lively and popular; others do not feel connected to a broader 'zine scene.' Some interviewees from the United States, Brazil, Malaysia, and Singapore recognize the existence of a lively grrrl zine network in their respective countries. Amy Schroeder from the United States, for example, speculates 'that there are hundreds if not thousands of grrrl-related zines being made in the United States.' (40) In contrast, most interviewees in Austria, Australia, Germany, Finland, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, Poland, and Sweden feel isolated. They believe that there are few grrrls in their countries publishing zines. Significantly, some do not distinguish between the grrrl zine community and the broader zine community, believing instead in the existence of 'just one big zine community.' (41) Many are more likely to collaborate with other feminist zinesters on an international level, rather than local level. For instance, zine editors exchange and review each others' zines (e.g. the Germany-based zine Her Jazz reviewed the Australian grrrl zine Personality Liberation Front), or they interview each other (e.g. Canadian good girl editors interviewed Yayoi from Catch That Beat!, Japan (42)), or they contribute articles to each others' zines (e.g. Carol of the Malaysian zine Grrrl:Rebel wrote a 'Malaysian Grrrl Scene Report' for Elena's zine It's not Just Boy's Fun, Germany (43)), or they collaborate on articles or zines across national borders, as zinesters from various European countries did to produce the Riot Grrrl Europe Zine. (44)

Although many zinesters may not perceive themselves as being part of a local or national zine community, they may find themselves as participants in zine networks. Like Stephen Duncombe, I found that many prefer the term 'network' to 'community,' which is 'traditionally thought of as a homogenous group of individuals bound together by their commonality.' (45) Instead, these zinesters identify more easily with being part of a 'zine network', 'a community of people linked via bonds of difference, each sharing their originality.' (46) Duncombe concludes that 'this model is the very essence of a libertarian community: individuals free to be who they want to be and to cultivate their own interests, while simultaneously sharing in each other's differences.' (47) Through publishing and distributing grrrl zines in print and via Internet across national borders, zinesters reach out and across differences, and create international zine networks that are relatively loose but bonded by shared interests in free speech, feminism(s), and politics.

Participants in the network: We are feminists!

For most interviewees, feminism forms the central topic of their zines and is an integral part of their lives. When asked if they identify with feminism, the interviewees responded with an overwhelming, 'Yes, I totally do. I am a feminist!!!' (48) Virtually all identified as feminists, except one interviewee who preferred the term 'womanist.' A few consider themselves as 'no-wave feminists.' Some zinesters, especially from North America, identify specifically with third-wave feminism. Others are not so sure 'that the "third wave" is a meaningful category' and 'too often it is used to set up divisions among feminists and obscure the contiguousness of generational feminist agendas.' (49) In academic circles, riot grrrl zines have been viewed as manifestations of third wave feminism. Ednie Kaeh Garrison, for example, points to the significance of hybrid political texts like zines and distribution networks in the formation of third wave movement cultures. (50) Several key anthologies have attempted to document the voices of third wave feminists, many of them zinesters. (51) However, as the interviews confirmed, the concept of third wave feminism is mainly an U.S. based phenomenon which is not embraced by all feminists.

When Kelly (Australia) first started her zine Pretty Ugly she 'hoped to refocus people's attention to feminism as a valid and essential movement' and the zine 'was also a great medium to explore feminist issues and concerns on a personal level.' (52) Nineteen-year old Erin, editor of Driving Blind (U.S.), a zinc 'to educate people on disabilities and show them that disabled grrrls rock!' observes: 'Feminism today is getting stronger, I think. I notice more grrrls asserting themselves and pushing towards change.' (53) Just as feel part of the aforementioned 'zine network', many zinesters experience feminism in the context of a stimulating, empowering and international network. Christa, editor of Ladyfriend (U.S.), thinks 'that one of the primary strengths of the current feminist movement is that there is this international network of young women who are able and eager to help each other succeed, promote each others' projects, etc.' (54) This networking happens for example by working with music, zines, and artwork. Christa concludes:
   Often this networking is done long distance, so although we may
   not appear to be getting together and mobilizing, we're actually
   creating a vast network of support and feedback and letter-writing
   and creativity and feminism. It'd be great to see more
   feminists creating their own organizations and mobilizing
   together to start huge demonstrations, but I think the 'small'
   things get a lot more done than we realize.

In this respect, zines not only provide a space where women can create their own meanings for their own pleasure and amusement, but are also a medium for international feminist dialogue, community building and networking.

But why? Empowered identities

Why do young women and queer and transgender youth invest so much time, effort and money into making a zine or running a distro? What does zine-making and distributing mean to them? What does it give back? Like many others, Trent, editor of Trippers Zine from Singapore, cannot imagine a life without zines:
   Making zines started out as a hobby and then it turned into an
   essential. I cannot fathom a future without me making zines in
   it. It's like an outlet for me to vent my frustrations, it's like
   writing a diary but this time, people are allowed to look what's
   inside. (55)

Grrrl:Rebel zinester Carol (Malaysia) is motivated by the prospect of exerting an effect on their readers' hearts and minds and inspiring them to get empowered:
   We want girls to speak out their minds, the more outspoken
   girls, the better. Furthermore, we want to empower fellow girls
   that being girls is not something to be ashamed of and they
   should be proud of who they are, and lastly, we want to raise
   awareness among the girls in the punk/HC [hardcore] scene. (56)

Often, the initial fire of feminist zine-making arises out of anger and a critique of the mass-mediated portrayal of women in one's society, which confirms Brown's theory that anger is a strong impetus for acting against injustice. The editors of Bitch Magazine (U.S.) started it 'out of a sense of outrage at the way women are treated in mainstream media.' (57) When Nikko decided to publish the zinegood girl (Canada), she wanted to reclaim and create her own, self-defined space:
   Women making zines, or art, or anything else creative is about
   taking the media back--challenging the bullshit that goes on in
   the mainstream media, reclaiming public media space, and
   above all, expressing ourselves creatively. It's about creating our
   own spaces where this creative expression is possible, on our
   own terms. (58)

Isabella, who has created with others the zine Bendita: Latin women's initiative against violence towards women (Brazil) to share experiences and stories of violence, wrote:
   Zine making to me means creating our own channel to express
   just about everything we wanna say and were never given a
   chance. It's so empowering. Especially coz in a lot of occasions it
   gives a voice to marginalized groups whose voices (and lives)
   have never been considered by mainstream society in general.
   Zine making is a way to exist, really. (59)

These comments illustrate that zines play an important role in the empowerment of young women and queer and transgender people. Martha Bayne has found that: By encouraging women to tell their own stories and become actively involved in creating their own zine, rather than being passive consumers of commercial media, zines are part of an ongoing, dynamic process of empowerment and subversion. (60) In John Friedmanns concept, empowerment can take on three different, interconnected forms: psychological, social and political. (61) He thinks of empowerment as a triad that is centered on individual women and households, and linked with others, 'the result is a social network of empowering relations that, because it is mutually reinforcing, has extraordinary potential for social change.' (62) My argument centres empowerment on grrrls and zines, and suggests that psychological empowerment occurs when girls, young women and queer youth name their experiences, express themselves self-confidently and develop an individual sense of potency.' (63) In the zine network, social empowerment takes place when grrrls communicate with each other through zines, share information, knowledge and skills, and form supportive interactive networks that privilege self-expression and creativity over consumption. Political empowerment can be expressed on a personal level--but also collectively when a number of voices merge and express their cultural resistance and political dissent, as is the case with the network of grrrl zinesters rebelling against rigid gender roles and patriarchal hegemonic power. It could be added that they experience technological empowerment as well when they publish a zine on their desktop computer or online, or when they interact with others in virtual space via e-mail, instant messaging or on message boards. In all se aspects, grrrl zines energize individuals to become personally and politically active, and empowered to create their own art and media. Looking at the proliferation of grrrl zines in many countries and the network that has evolved during the past ten years, grrrl zinesters have not only effected individual and personal but also collective empowerment.

The personal power and political potential of grrrl zines

Historically, alternative and radical media have made a major social impact by expressing an alternative to hegemonic policies, priorities, and perspectives. (64) In many countries, they frequently articulate political resistance. During World War Two, for example, the German resistant group 'The White Rose' dared to resist the Nazi regime in their Leaflets of the Resistance. From the mid-1960s to 1991, Samizdat (or self-published) media in Russia and Eastern Europe played a critical role in undermining the Soviet dictatorship and helping to collapse the former Soviet bloc. (65) In the Iranian revolution 1977-78, small media mobilized revolutionary processes. (66) Furthermore, throughout history, women have consistently demanded and gained the right to vote, study, and participate in social and political life through self-publishing. (67) Grrrl zines represent a continuation of this long tradition of feminist alternative and grassroots publishing. As Stacey Young has argued [l]anguage acts--including published writings--can play a crucial part in bringing about individual and collective social change. (68) In fact, when Lisa Ben (a pseudonym created by rearranging the letters in 'lesbian') started the first lesbian magazine VICE VERSA: America's gayest magazine, basically a zine, in 1947 because she could not find books that would speak positively about homosexuality, she founded the lesbian and gay press in the United States. (69) These examples show variously that alternative media keep suppressed visions alive, create alternative visions and, through disseminating them, spread resistance against the dominant repressive order and ultimately effect social change.

Recent studies have revealed a shift from traditional approaches of understanding alternative media, often labelled diversely as 'community-based media,' 'local media,' or 'minority media,' to the concept of 'citizens' media.' (70) Clemenzia Rodriguez has shown in her studies of ordinary women gaining control over electronic media that '"citizens" media have mushroomed in all kinds of different social, cultural, political, and historical contexts, and therefore should be considered important protagonists in the global mediascape.' (71) For her, it is a matter of redirecting attention to the ways that citizens' media 'activate subtle processes of fracture in the social, cultural, and power spheres of everyday life.' (72) In accordance with Rodriguez and the findings of my research, grrrl zines can be seen as not just a small number of isolated and exceptional communication phenomena, but rather an integral part of the every-day local, national and global feminist media landscape.

Stephen Duncombe has shown that zines provide a space in which people can experiment with ideas, articulate themselves, and describe experiences otherwise suppressed by mainstream society. In learning to negotiate these issues, zinesters not only effect changes within themselves but also develop an awareness of political thinking and activism. In their unique practice of DIY, 'the medium of zines is not just a message to be received, but a model of participatory cultural production and organization to be acted upon.' (73) Every reader can be a cultural producer, and this is where social transformation begins. Zines can play an important role in alerting, educating and mobilizing people to collectively take actions against the system in power. Grrrl zines in particular can be powerful tools to mobilize feminist cultural and political resistance.

But do and can grrrl zines effect meaningful political and social change? Annabelle Sreberny-Mohammadi has found, 'almost by dint of their existence alone, autonomous media controlled by women with women-defined output offer a challenge to existing hierarchies of power; when these media take up specific issues and campaigns, and align themselves with larger social movements, their political potential is significant.' (74) Grrrl zines uncover the hegemonic exclusion of women from societal and political discourse and play an important role in the contemporary women's and transgender liberation movements. Zinester Kelly (Australia) thinks:
   Alternative and independent media is VITAL for any social
   change and movement. Grrl zines are especially important
   because we live in a world where male voices reign supreme and
   strong, independent, feminist women's voices are few and far
   between. They are out there, but we don't often get to hear
   them ... unless you pick up a zine to read!

Trent's motivation to do a zine lies in initiating and effecting social change: 'All I wanted was to start a tiny little revolution in all my readers' minds and hearts that I hope will lead to bigger changes.' Changes in society are slow, but critiques of societies such as those expressed by today's grrrl zine editors make a difference and raise the level of consciousness leading to social change. As Chandra Talpade Mohanty has said, 'everyday feminist, antiracist, anticapitalist practices are as important as larger, organized political movements.' (75)

Future research and conclusion

The international scope and network among zine editors in different parts of the world deserves further study. To form a more detailed international picture, we need to expand our research into countries that have grrrl zine communities which have not been studied to date, and to analyse the transnational dialogue between zine editors. Only then can we paint a more accurate picture of the history and presence of the worldwide network of zines and their role in the women's and transgender liberation movements. In the same way, we need to look at the feminist activist community at large and investigate the interconnections of various forms of cultural production, such as music, DIY projects, pirate radio stations, Ladyfests, radical cheerleading, political posters, mail art, spoken word, street performances, web sites, and blogs. More research should be done on the diverse issues discussed in zines, such as growing up female, queer or transgender in various societies. In this way, the social, political, and cultural limitations that need to be changed can be identified.

In conclusion, through reading, publishing, and distributing zines in diverse and complex ways and using the method of DIY, young women and queer and transgender youth take an active and creative role in shaping their media environment. Grrrl zinesters resist the social pressures of conforming to conventional views of femininity and rigid gender roles, and carve out a liberatory space of their own. Grrrls turn to zines for a variety of reasons: for personal expression, an outlet for creativity, to relieve isolation, to find friends, a community and networks, and as a form of cultural and political resistance. Making zines and engaging in this international network of shared interests, many grrd zinesters not only experience personal fulfilment, growth, and happiness but also a sense of psychological, social, technological, and political empowerment. As Lyn Mikel Brown suggests, zines can offer youth the opportunity to express and locate the sources of their anger and pain, and to transform these feelings into meaningful action and cultural production. The very production of young women's and queer and transgender youths' own culture, art and media, thus plays a crucial role not only in their own empowerment and well-being, but in the formation of the contemporary global women's and transgender liberation movements.


(1) The web site is located at Additionally, I created a mailing list at I am most grateful to all the interviewees and zinesters who provided their time and thoughts graciously to me. I would also like to thank Brynn Craffey, Catherine Kineavy, Prof. Chandra Mukerji and Robert Schwarzenbacher for their encouragement and invaluable comments on earlier drafts of this paper. This work was supported by a doctoral fellowship from the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

(2) S. Duncombe (1997). Notes From Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture. London: Verso, p. 6.

(3) See Kylie Murphy, '"I'm Sorry--I'm Not Really Sorry": Courtney Love and Notions of Authenticity', Hecate 27.1(2001): 146-151.

(4) The first Ladyfest was organized in Olympia, WA, USA, and sparked a new wave of collaborative music, art and activism oriented Ladyfest Festivals. Since 2000, fifty Ladyfests have taken (or are taking) place in fifteen countries on four continents.

(5) Some of these studies have been: F. Cresser, L. Gunn and H. Balme (2001). 'Women's experiences of on-line e-zinc publication.' Media, Culture & Society. 23 (4) 457-473; A. Harris (1998). 'Is DIY DOA? Zincs and the Revolution, Grrrl-Style.' In R. White (Ed.), Australian Youth Subcultures: On the Margins and In the Mainstream. National Clearinghouse for Youth Studies: Hobart. pp. 84-93; M. Leonard (1998). 'Paper Planes: Travelling the new grrrl geographies.' In T. Skelton and G. Valentine (Eds.), Cool Places: Geographies of Youth Cultures. London: Routledge. pp. 101-118; T. Triggs, (2002). 'Liberated Spaces. Identity Politics and Anti-Consumerism.' In R. Sabin and T. Triggs (Eds.), Below Critical Radar. Fanzines and Alternative Comics from 1976 to Now. Hove: Slab-O-Concrete, pp. 33-42.

(6) G. Wald (1998). 'Just a Girl? Rock Music, Feminism, and the Cultural Construction of Female Youth.' Signs. 23 (3): 587.

(7) S. A. Inness (Ed.). (1998). Millennium Girls: Today's Girls Around the World. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, p. 2.

(8) S. A. Inness, p. 9.

(9) S. A. Inness (Ed.) (2000). Running for Their Lives: Girls, Cultural Identity and Stories of Survival. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield. p. xii-xiii.

(10) Respectively, A. McRobbie (1991). Feminism and Youth Culture: From "Jackie" to "Just Seventeen." Boston: Unwin Hyman; K. Carrington and A. Bennett (1996). '"Girls' Mags" and the Pedagogical Formation of the Girl.' In C. Luke (Ed.), Feminisms and Pedagogies of Everyday Life. Albany: State University of New York, pp. 147-166; D. H. Currie (1999). Girl Talk: Adolescent Magazines and their Readers. Toronto: Toronto; J. Winship (1987). Inside Women's Magazines. London: Pandora; J. Hermes (1995). Reading Women's Magazines. Cambridge: Polity; J. Radway (1984). Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill: North Carolina.

(11) S. R. Mazzarella and N. O. Pecora (Eds.) (1999). Growing Up Girls: Popular Culture and the Construction of Identity. New York: Peter Lang, p. 7.

(12) M. C. Kearney (1998). 'Producing girls: Rethinking the study of female youth culture.' In S. A. Inness (Ed.), Delinquents and Debutantes: Twentieth-century American Girls' Cultures. London: New York UP, pp. 285-310.

(13) M. C. Kearney (1997). 'The Missing Links: Riot Grrrl--Feminism--Lesbian Culture.' In S. Whiteley (Ed.), Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 207-229.

(14) L. Feinberg (1998). Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue. Boston: Beacon.

(15) L. M. Brown and C. Gilligan (1992). Meeting at the Crossroads: Women's Psychology and Girls' Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University; P. Orenstein (1994). Schoolgirls: Young Women, Self-esteem, and the Confidence Gap. New York: Doubleday; M. Pipher (1994). Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. New York: Putnam.

(16) L. M. Brown (1998). Raising Their Voices: The Polities of Girls' Anger. Cambridge: Harvard, p.13.

(17) Brown, pp. 12-13.

(18) In the following all comments are from interviews I conducted via e-mail. They can be accessed at For consistency, I am noting only first names. The interviews consisted of structured questions but invited open-ended answers and changes. I chose the interviewees according to the content of their zine/distro and the international scope. In most cases, I contacted the zinester and asked for the interview, but in some cases was contacted when they saw the interviews online. I asked 16 main questions on biographical information, zines, feminism and the Internet. Some of these were: What made you decide to start this project? What does zinc making mean to you? What was your first exposure to zines? Do you consider grrrl zines as an important part of a movement of sorts? Do you think zincs can effect meaningful social and political change? Could you describe a little bit the grrrl zine community in your country? Do you define yourself as a feminist? What role does the Internet play for you?

(19) See the interviewee's zines: Bendita: Latin women's initiative against violence towards women (Isabella, Brazil); Bitch Magazine (Lisa, U.S.); Catch That Beat! (Yayoi, Japan); Clit Rocket (Veruska, Italy); Driving Blind (Erin, U.S.); Edgy-catin' Mama (Nina, U.S.); Emancypunx (Yen, Poland); good girl (Nikko, Canada); Grrrl: Rebel (Carol and Elise, Malaysia); I am a Camera (Vanessa, Australia); Ideas is Matches (Clodagh, Ireland); It's Not Just Boy's Fun! (Elena, Germany); Ladyf-riend Zine (Christa, U.S.); Love Letter Zinc (Thara, U.S.); Nylon (Sonja and Vina, Austria); Persephone is Pissed (Olivia, U.S.); Pink Punkies (Lil, Argentina); Pretty Ugly (Kelly, Australia); Riot Grrrl Europe Zine (Hilde, Holland); Rock Star With Words (Korinna, U.S.); Silent Screams (Jen, South Africa); A Show of Hands (Michelle, Australia); Soldier (Caleb, U.S.); There Are Not Enough Hours In The Day For All The Bitching I Have To Do! (Lynette, Singapore); Trippers Zine (Trent, Singapore); Venus Zine (Amy, U.S.); Women's Self-Defense: Stories and Strategies of Survival (Ariel, U.S.); Yellow Three (Jackie, U.S.).

(20) These are: Ladybomb distro (Riikka, Finland); (her) riot distro (Stina, Sweden); Moon Rocket Distribution (Moira, New Zealand); Pander Zinc Distro (Ericka, U.S.); Pisces Catalog (Kerith, U.S.); Smitten Kitten Distro (Kristy, Australia).

(21) Most issues have currently been published by Vanessa with A Show of Hands and other titles (over a 100), Love Letter Zinc (21 issues), Bitch (17 issues), The Urban Hermitt and Venus Zinc (15 issues), Pisces Zinc (13 issues), Trippers Zinc (12 issues) and Catch that Beat! (11 issues).

(22) These numbers are only representative for a certain time (September 2003) because zinc editors often rename their project, change their web addresses or move on to other projects. Furthermore they reflect my personal choices and skills (in languages, for example).

(23) E-mail interview conducted on October 28, 2002.

(24) K. Scott (1998). 'Girls need modems! Cyberculture and women's ezines.' Master's research paper at York University. Retrieved September 20, 2003 from:

(25) E-mail interview conducted on March 12, 2002.

(26) E-mail interview conducted on March 9, 2003. Other comments quoted in this paper stem from the same interview.

(27) E-mail interview conducted with Moira, Moon Rocket Distribution, New Zealand, on January 17, 2003.

(28) E-mail interview conducted on May 5, 2002. Other comments quoted in this paper stem from the same interview.

(29) M. C. Kearney (1998). Girls, Girls, Girls: Gender and Generation in Contemporary Discourses of Female Adolescence and Youth Culture. Ph.D dissertation, University of Southern California, p. 628.

(30) Kearney, p. 628.

(31) More archives are The Attic (Switzerland), the Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green University (U.S.), Richard Hugo House (U.S.), Salt Lake City Public Library (U.S.), and University College London (England). Some librarians publish their own zincs, such as Zinc Librarian (by G. Means, U.S.) or Riot Librarrrian: Breaking the Binding of Patriarchy since 2001 (by Sara and Jenn, U.S.).

(32) Others are: St. Barbara Zinc Fest (U.S.), QUIZ.CAT Zinc n' Comix Trade and Exhibition Fair at SOOB (Australia).

(33) The exhibit '' at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York City (1996, curator B. Goldfarb), featured a wide range of zincs (among other media) produced by and about teens and young adults. My contribution to 'First Story--Women Building/New Narratives for the 21st Century' (curator U. M. Bauer) displayed Portuguese and international feminist zincs (Portugal, 2001). Christa Donner recently curated (with C. Conti) 'Page Me! The art of zincs, comix and other artist-made books' (Ohio, U.S.). Print ROOM displayed a zinc exhibition in the Netherlands (2003).

(34) E-mail interview conducted on March 15, 2002.

(35) E-mail interview conducted on August 5, 2002.

(36) E-mail interview conducted with Olivia, Persephone Is Pissed, U.S., on January 14, 2002.

(37) E-mail interview conducted on June 6, 2002.

(38) E-mail interview conducted on September 26, 2002.

(39) See The Edgy-catin' Mama message board. Available at:

(40) E-mail interview conducted on July 5, 2001.

(41) E-mail interview conducted with Kelly, Pretty Ugly, Australia, on March 25, 2002.

(42) The interview is available at

(43) The article is available at

(44) See their web site at

(45) Duncombe, p. 51.

(46) Duncombe, p. 51.

(47) Duncombe, p. 52.

(48) E-mail interview conducted with Yayoi, Catch That Beat!, Japan, on July 18, 2001.

(49) E-mail interview conducted with Lisa, Bitch Magazine, U.S., on January 9, 2002.

(50) E. K. Garrison (2000). 'U.S. Feminism--Grrrl Style! Youth (Sub)cultures and the Technologies of the Third Wave.' Feminist Studies 26 (1) 141-170.

(51) See R. Walker (Ed.) (1995). To Be Real: Telling the Truth and Changing the Face of Feminism. New York: Anchor Books; B. Findlen (Ed.) (1995). Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation. Seattle: Seal Press.

(52) E-mail interview conducted on March 25, 2002. Other comments quoted in this paper stem from the same interview.

(53) E-mail interview conducted on July 20, 2002.

(54) E-mail interview conducted on January 18, 2002.

(55) E-mail interview conducted on November 26, 2002. Other comments quoted in this paper stem from the same interview.

(56) E-mail interview conducted on August 5, 2002.

(57) E-mail interview conducted on January 9, 2002.

(58) E-mail interview conducted on June 6, 2002.

(59) E-mail interview conducted on July 5, 2001.

(60) M. Bayne (2000). 'Zines.' In C. Kramarae and D. Spender (Eds.), Routledge International Encyclopedia of Women: Global Women's Issues and Knowledge (vol. 4). London: Routledge, p. 2165.

(61) J. Friedmann 0992). Empowerment: The Politics of Alternative Development. Cambridge: Blackwell.

(62) Friedmann, p. 116.

(63) Friedmann, p. 33.

(64) J. D. H. Downing, with T. C. Ford, G. Gil and L. Stein (2001). Radical Media: Rebellious Communication and Social Movements. Thousand Oaks: Sage.

(65) See Downing (2001); H. G. Skilling (1989). Samizdat and An Independent Society in Central and Eastern Europe. Hampshire: Macmillan.

(66) A. Srberny-Mohammadi and A. Mohammadi (1994). Small Media, Big Revolution: Communication, Culture, and the Iranian Revolution. Minneapolis: Minnesota.

(67) L. Steiner (1992). 'The History and Structure of Women's Alternative Media.' In L. Rakow (Ed.), Women Making Meaning: New Feminist Directions in Communication. London: Routledge. pp. 121-143.

(68) S. Young (1997). Changing the Wor(l)d: Discourse, Politics, and the Feminist Movement. London: Routledge, p. 25.

(69) R. Streitmatter (1995). Unspeakable: The Rise of the Gay and Lesbian Press in America. Boston: Faber and Faber, pp. 1-16.

(70) C. Rodriguez (2001). Fissures in the Mediascape: An International Study of Citizens'Media. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.

(71) Rodriguez, p. xiii.

(72) Rodriguez, p. xiv.

(73) Duncombe, p. 129.

(74) A. Srberny-Mohammadi (1996). 'Women Communicating Globally: Mediating International Feminism.' In D. Allen, R. R. Rush and S. J. Kaufman (Eds.), Women Transforming Communications: Global Intersections. Thousand Oaks: Sage, p. 234.

(75) C. T. Mohanty (2003). Feminism Without Borders: Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity. Durham: Duke UP, p. 4.
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