Walking into a large, brightly-lit, crowded room at Barnard full of tables with a diverse group of women at tables showing off their zines to a lively throng of interested people of both genders in 2016 is an exhilarating experience. I could not help but wonder, as someone who grew up pre-Internet and contributed to mimeographed zines out of necessity (because no one would publish such radical words or images in books), why so many young women – who could publish anything they wanted online and reach a global audience – were drawn to this more seemingly-humble form.
Most of the women I interviewed mentioned the sense of warmth in the community of zinesters, the personal contact with people reading their zines, the desire to hold paper in their hands and give to others objects that have substance, and also being really tired of looking at screens all day long.
One of the organizers, Jenna Freedman, who has the enviable job of Zine Librarian at Barnard, mentioned, too, that it is a safer way to publish, because “the online world for women is vicious.” She said that even their online presence announcing this Zine Fest had drawn trolls, asking such enlightened questions as “Do you need a vagina to show up?” She said with a rueful laugh the chances of someone threatening to kill a woman for handing them a zine was unlikely (but if she publishes the same content online, that can and does happen). This is a sad but true statement of the reality for women. Indeed in the program for the event, the organizers felt it necessary to declare the room a “safe space” and encouraged anyone to mention to organizers if anything made them feel unsafe.
Safety seemed like a common theme in many of the zines, one of the free ones I picked up in the Bluestockings Bookstore room was a useful book about Self-Defense. Another series of zines were about Club Etiquette.
Practical information was another theme, including the delightful looking Radical Domesticity zines put out by Emma Karin Eriksson, whose goal is to become a librarian herself. She loves collage and the community surrounding zine culture.
Another table was full of condoms in beautifully individually designed packages and informational pamphlets in Spanish geared toward uptown Latinas. This table was run by Ana Maria Hoffman (photo at top), originally from El Salvador but living in the US for over ten years, who is the Community Health Navigator for Dominican Womens’ Development Center. She said that having personalized art objects and pamphlets to give women was helpful. They also give out handmade candles along with information to help women embrace their bodies and health.
On the less practical, but thoroughly engaging side of Latina culture, Vivianna Torres wanted to get her beautifully-drawn comics out into the world.
The other theme was feminist theory. The zine Hoax, put out by Rachel & Sari, was inspired by Donna Harraway, who argues for ways of denaturalizing the way of seeing, because “Suspicion and irony are basic to feminist reinscriptions of nature’s text.” They asked not to be photographed, so you’re going to just have to go out into the world and find their zine. I’m guessing Bluestockings Bookstore may be a good start or contact Jenna, the zine librarian.
The kids are alright, and the feminist zine community is thriving, caring, full of information, funny AND has a sense of its own storied history. What’s not to love?
Dr. Julia Lee Barclay-Morton is an award-winning writer and director whose work has been published and produced internationally; in 2014 she was inducted into the Indie Theater Hall of Fame. Back in NYC since 2011 (after living, working & studying in the UK) she has spent the past five years working on a book about her grandmothers, The Amazing True Imaginary Autobiography of Dick and Jani, while teaching as an Adjunct Professor at Fordham University.