Women Zinesters and Everyday Materials

Christine Martorana
Florida International University

how to interact with this presentation

The goal of this presentation is to create a community writing space for feminist-scholars to highlight the personal in their professional lives zine creation. We recommend first reading Christine’s overview and reflection on the presentation below. Then, we encourage you to enjoy the zines created by the SIG attendees: “A Collective Feminist Perzine Created at the CFSHRC Session of 4C17.” 

You can view and download the full zine by clicking here. This is a large file, so downloading may take some time.

overview and reflection

At 6:30 p.m. on March 15, 2017, a ballroom in Portland, Oregon, transformed into a zine-making workshop. Here, feminist scholars grabbed markers, paper, stickers, scissors, magazine clippings, and glue to construct the first Coalition of Feminist Scholars in the History of Rhetoric and Composition (CFSHRC) feminist perzine.

an image of the zine making set up: magazine clippings, paper, markers, scissors, and glue.

The makings of a collective zine.

As a feminist scholar and writer, I research, read, write about, and compose feminist perzines, so I was excited to lead the Coalition through this creative activity. Zines are an understudied genre of writing—in part because they exist in what zine scholar Stephen Duncombe has termed an alternative, underground culture—so we started the night with a brief overview of zines and perzines. Zines, I explained, are self-published, self-distributed, DIY mini magazines. Often motivated by self-expression rather than profit, zines tend to be exchanged and traded rather than sold for a fee. A perzine is a sub-genre of the zine medium. The perzine, “coined by contracting ‘personal’ and ‘zine’ (ZineWiki), privileges the zine writers’—or zinesters’—personal experiences and perspectives; they prioritize “personal revelation” and “honesty” over social acceptance or expectations (Duncombe 26). Accordingly, the feminist perzine is popular among feministzinesters. That is, because a perzine “offers a platform for expressing and sharing intimate thoughts, experiences, and life stories related to feminist issues” (Nijsten 416), the feminist perzine effectively challenges the patriarchal tendency to silence and degrade alternate, non-mainstream perspectives and experiences.

I then offered an outline of several strategies common among feminist zinesters. These strategies include:

  • the use of everyday materials
  • a purposefully handmade/DIY aesthetic
  • the rhetorical combination of visual and linguistic modes
  • the sharing of personal experiences
  • the use of first-person pronouns
  • direct audience address.

In mobilizing these strategies, zinesters make “connections with other[s] who share and sympathize with [their] experiences” (Schilt 80). In other words, feminist perzines facilitate the creation and sustenance of a community rooted in sharing, connection, and interaction. This is because within the pages of feminist perzines, zinesters courageously and honestly share their personal struggles, victories, and in-process experiences. In so doing, they not only challenge patriarchy’s silencing mechanisms, but they also highlight the fact that issues we often experience as isolated and individual are, in fact, common occurrences in others’ lives as well.

The community-building aspect of the feminist perzine offered a natural complement to the Coalition’s theme for the night: “Building Sustainable, Capable Lives, or Tilting at Windmills?” This theme invited us to consider the ways in which we cultivate, struggle with, and strive for a work/life balance. This theme was a relevant one: work/life balance applies to most lives. Still, despite its prevalence, we do not often spend time discussing the work/life balance with our peers and colleagues. Rather, it tends to remain isolated to our individual lives, each of us assuming that our struggles and victories with this delicate balance are unique to us alone. One goal for this creative activity, then, was to explore the fact that each of us, at various times, struggles with and strives for a work/life balance.

The feminist perzine offered an ideal vehicle for this exploration. As the creative portion of the activity commenced, each feminist scholar found a seat at one of 12 tables throughout the ballroom. Each table was equipped with zine-making supplies and one of six prompts related to the Coalition’s theme.

image of the CFSHRC group sitting at tables with zine materials

Zinesters sit at tables according to prompts for the zine.

The prompts were purposefully personal, inviting the zinesters to reflect upon and share their individual experiences with the work/life balance. The prompts included:

  1. My ability to maintain a work/life balance is impacted by my…
  2. Community helps me build and maintain a sustainable, joyful life by…
  3. My physical body supports and/or hinders my work/life balance by…
  4. When I fail to maintain a work/life balance, I…
  5. When I succeed at maintaining a work/life balance, I…
  6. Strategies I use for maintaining a work/life balance include…

In order to facilitate the creative, personal, DIY aesthetic common to feminist perzines, I did not provide many guidelines or specific instructions beyond the prompts. Rather, I encouraged the zinesters to use the previously mentioned strategies, the materials at their tables, the people around them, and their own experiences to inspire their zine pages. The zinesters then began constructing their zine pages, some working on their own page while others worked with partners or in small groups. As I walked around the room, I heard people sharing stories of times when their work/life balance had been completely out of whack, the effects of which made manifest on their physical bodies in the form of tension headaches, muscles spasms, and anxiety attacks. I heard others offering strategies for maintaining a work/life balance, tools such as list-making, timed writing, yoga, and knitting. The energy of collaboration, sharing, and creativity was palpable.

image of zinesters sitting around a table crafting their zine pages

Zinesters work individually and collectively on their zine pages.

After the zine pages were complete, I collected each individual page so that I could assemble them into the larger feminist perzine provided for you in the links above.

images of all the individual zine pages displayed on a table

The zine pages, divided by prompts, that later became one collective perzine.

As you’ll see, the resulting perzine is remarkable. It is an individual, creative, personal, and revealing look at the ways in which we each cultivate, struggle with, and strive for a work/life balance. As ecofeminist Starhawk describes, “One of the clearest insights of feminism is that our struggles are not just individual, and our pain is not private pain” (qtd. in Foss, Foss, and Griffin 170, original emphasis). The CFSHRC feminist perzine is a testament to the validity of this observation.

works consulted

Duncombe, Stephen. Notes from the Underground: Zines and the Politics of Alternative Culture. Microcosm Publishing, 2008.

Foss, Karen A., et al. Feminist Rhetorical Theories. SAGE Publications, Inc., 1999.

Nijsten, Nina. “Writing it Yourself? Feminist Perzines as Participatory Playgrounds.” Royal Library of Belgium, 2017, pp. 1-11.

Schilt, Kristen. “‘I’ll Resist with Every Inch and Every Breath:’ Girls and Zine Making as a
Form of Resistance.” Youth & Society, 35, 1, 2003. pp. 71-97.

ZineWiki: The Independent Media Wikipedia. Wikimedia, 2013, Accessed 6 May 2017.

image source

Tyler. (2006). Office Cup [cover image]. Available from Creative Commons.


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