Magazine article Resources for Gender and Women's Studies: A Feminist Review

Zines at the Bingham Center

Magazine article Resources for Gender and Women's Studies: A Feminist Review

Zines at the Bingham Center

Article excerpt

Most articles about zines start by defining the term for the unfamiliar. They usually include the handy tip that the word is pronounced "zeen" and is short for "fanzine" or magazine.

A zine can be a messy hodgepodge of personal thoughts, or an expertly designed political treatise. It can fit easily into a pocket, or be reproduced on standard 8 1/2-by 11-inch paper. It can be heavily collaged, or minimalist; in color, or black-and-white; handwritten or typed; stapled, sewn, or loose. The unifying thread among zines is their outside-of-the-mainstream existence as independently written, produced, and distributed media that value freedom--of expression and from rules--above all else. In short, zines are little photocopied booklets that people write on topics about which they are passionate.

According to most histories, zines have been in existence since the 1930s, when they served as a form of communication among science fiction fans. In the 1990s, with the combination of the Riot Grrrl movements reaction against sexism in punk culture, the rise of Third Wave feminism and girl culture, and growing interest in the do-it-yourself (DIY) lifestyle, women's and "grrrls" zine culture began to thrive. Feminist practice emphasizes the sharing of personal experience as a community-building tool, and zines proved to be the perfect medium for reaching out to young women across the country to spread "revolution, girl style."

Sarah Dyer, a pioneer in cultivating this female zine community, intentionally began seeking out and promoting women's zines through her review zine Action Girl Newsletter in 1992. Action Girl came along at exactly the right moment to play a key role in fostering networking among female zinesters, just as Riot Grrrl was hitting the mainstream and Rebecca Walker was declaring the emergence of a "third wave" of feminism. (1)

Toward the end of the 1990s, Dyer "more or less retired from zine publishing," but she had carefully stored every zine she had collected, with the thought that someday she would find a place for them. (2) She was a true collector: "Knowing how small the circulation of many of them had been," she recalls, "I realized that I might possess copies of publications that could completely disappear from people's memories." Tragedy then nearly struck when her basement Hooded; luckily, the zines escaped water damage. Dyer realized that "if I really wanted to see these zines preserved, I needed to find a safer place for them. I began searching for libraries that I thought might want them, and came across the Sallie Bingham Center among a few others."

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In the past, some archivists may have dismissed zines and other underground or popular culture publications as unworthy of preservation, not considering them to have scholarly value. Others were unaware of their existence or unsure how to classify them. Sarah Dyer herself, however, connected the personal writings found in zines to the diaries and letters of past generations, and the archivists at the Bingham Center at the time, Cristina Favretto and Amy Leigh, agreed. These zines certainly have a role to play as primary sources of feminist thought and activism in the 1990s, but they have much more to offer beyond their face value. They reflect the personal nature of women's letters and diaries and capture the distinctive and individual voices of the women who wrote them. Yet while these voices have a unique character, they are also deeply connected to the particular times and places in which they were writ ten, so they can offer researchers a glimpse into society at those times and places.

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Since Dyers initial donation of over 1,000 zines, many more zine writers and collectors have also donated, making ours the largest non-circulating collection of zincs by women in the United States, approaching 5,000 items and dating from the early 1990s to the present. …

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