The first time I ever heard the word “zine” was on the Nickelodeon early-2000s classic series Rocket Power.
In case you’ve forgotten, or did not have a Nicktoons-saturated childhood like I did, the show centered on a group of four Cali kids who tried out every extreme sport from snowboarding to surfing, and went on kooky adventures along the way. Reggie was the only girl in the crew, and if the fact that she wore cargo pants, had purple hair, and rollerbladed everywhere wasn’t enough to make her awesome, she also self-published and self-distributed a magazine: “Reggie’s Zine.” A girl who had something to say, and so she made other people read about it? I couldn’t think of anything cooler. Little did seven-year-old me know, I was admiring Reggie for a tradition of feminist zine-making that had started years before.
A zine is a small-circulation publication that can vary in length, format, and subject matter. One of the most distinguishing characteristics of a zine is its DIY aesthetic: zines are often handwritten or made up of words and images literally cut and pasted together, and then photocopied. Usually the content of a zine falls outside the norms of mainstream media, or the people creating it don’t have access to large publishing streams, which means anyone can make a zine.
The history of small-press self-publishing began with the invention of the printing press, but the egalitarian nature of zine-making particularly appealed to third-wave feminists of the 1990s. Zines allow the zine-makers to have total control over their messages, and so they are perfect for people seeking their own means of expression, like women whose voices haven’t been heard otherwise.
Riot Grrrl is an underground movement that emerged out of the West Coast punk scene with women loudly and proudly demanding that their voices be heard and validated. Zines allowed them to get their voices out there, with full access to and control over the means of production and distribution. Kathleen Hanna was the lead singer of the band Bikini Kill and published the “Bikini Kill Zine.” In the second issue in 1991, Hanna published the riot grrrl manifesto, which includes the lines:
“BECAUSE us girls crave records and books and fanzines that speak to US that WE feel included in and can understand in our own ways.
BECAUSE we wanna make it easier for girls to see/hear each other’s work so that we can share strategies and criticize-applaud each other.
BECAUSE we are interested in creating non-hierarchical ways of being AND making music, friends, and scenes based on communication + understanding, instead of competition + good/bad categorizations.
BECAUSE we see fostering and supporting girl scenes and girl artists of all kinds as integral to this process.”
Thousands of girl zines were produced under this manifesto during this time, covering topics ranging from sex to politics to music, but all told from the foundation of personal expression.
Now, 25 years later, it can often seem like we’re ready to proclaim the death of print media. And yet, the feminist zine movement is still going strong. Even as there are more and more ways to produce content, there is something viscerally compelling about someone crafting their own ideas into something you can hold in your own hands. You can often find zines in independent book stores in big cities.
The idea of all-access media production and distribution that 90s feminists found so appealing as only grown stronger with the internet. You can get zines delivered right to your door through creators’ shops on Etsy or through subscription services like Womanzine. Publications that began as zines have found homes online and expanded their reach because of it, like the blog jigsaw and the hugely popular feminist organization Bitch Media. Networks The Global Grrrl Zine Network can organize and connect zine-makers and zine-readers, and e-zines like Cherry can be read by anyone who can get online. And, the opportunities for creation and connection only multiply when you consider blogs, and Twitter, and podcast, and the countless other digital platforms out there.
There’s something inspiring about the grassroots simplicity of feminist zine-making: it’s people having ideas, making things out of those ideas, and sharing with others. So, take a lesson from Kathleen Hanna and Reggie: the next time you have something to say, create something out of it and make other people listen.
COVER IMAGE COURTESY OF GETTY IMAGES.