As one of the ten winners of The Special Event Call Out we launched in partnership with Selina, Grrrl’s founder Lu Williams is here to invite you Feminist Zine Club, an evening consisting of a zine-making workshop, dinner and drinks, followed by zine readings and poetry. Ahead of the event, which will take place on Monday 19 July at Selina’s new Camden location, we spoke to Williams about their love for zines and exactly what potential attendees should expect.
“I started Grrrl when I was at university and part of Cuntry Living Zine,” Williams first told us when speaking about their journey as a zine enthusiast. “Coming from a working-class family in Essex and studying Fine Art at Oxford university was in parts amazing and in parts isolating because it was hard to connect and buy into the whole institutional vibe.”
If you’ve never heard of Cuntry Living Zine before, it is a feminist publication that has been going about for around 15 years, “with each editorial group handing it down to the next batch of feminist activists wanting to explore ideas and make a zine.” The group produces three zines per year alongside running club nights and events to highlight the skills of female and non-binary performers, creators and organisers. “I realised the power of zines at this point and put on the first fair with a group of friends in an old church in Oxford, essentially to bring together other zine makers,” Williams continued.
After graduating, Williams kept on going by organising fairs in London, by which point “the ball started rolling.” They further explained that they like to approach zines from an artist’s lens—seeing zine-making as an accessible way to disseminate ideas and artworks while empowering the makers. “I believe anyone can make a zine and has something to share with the world, so zines are an amazing vehicle to do just that.”
Grrrl curates and creates events that span across the creative industries. Mixing art, publishing, music, performance and film, Grrrl platforms voices marginalised by mainstream media. And if there is one thing that Williams is known for, it’s their zine fairs and workshops. “I’ve run workshops and toured the Grrrl Zine Library, which is a 500 issue strong installation/archive of feminist voices. The library has been in situ at Times Museum in China, Ireland’s Literature Festival, the V&A Museum and the British Film Institute. The beauty of it is it takes up space as well as providing people a place to sit, read and explore thousands of voices and artworks made by queer feminists.”
Alongside their fairs, Williams runs zine-making workshops dedicated to people who, after flicking through the zines on display at the fair, feel the need to try their own hand at the creative craft. For Feminist Zine Club, Williams is planning on starting the evening with the same idea, “I’ll be bringing a selection of zines along for people to explore and then we’ll crack on and make our own. You don’t need to bring an idea as we’ll be brainstorming together and I can show you some tried and tested writing techniques to get your imagination flowing.” No brainstorming needed prior to the event then!
On top of creating your own DIY self-published magazine and bringing it home with you, you’ll get to take part in important discussions about the future of feminism and how zines can help share uncensored information, document culture, and platform the work of women as well as marginalised genders. When asked what a feminist future looks like to them, Williams told us, “A world that acknowledges how we depend on the health of our planet to survive and the mental wellbeing and safety of women, trans and non-binary people on Earth.”
They continued, “A feminist future looks like safety for all genders, compassion and collaboration between individuals, prioritising wellbeing over capital. I see it as fair pay for everyone and a dismantling of harmful power structures such as colonialism, patriarchy and homophobia which are ideologies and ways of being which negatively affect the most vulnerable in society.” And how can we give a platform to the varied voices working towards creating a feminist future? By making and displaying zines.
“Picking up a zine and reading first-hand ideas, experiences and discovering the imagination of other individuals who you don’t hear about in mainstream media is so liberating. I think there is an innate desire for humans to want to document their existence—through art, culture, Instagram—but zines are a way of doing the same without having to have a million followers, a book deal or an agent. Some of the most powerful zines I’ve read are from people documenting their experience with mental health, late diagnosis of autism, a celebration of ‘normal’ bodies and history of LGBTQIA+ people. It’s incredibly validating to read a zine written by someone with a similar experience to you, and making your own is just as empowering. Trust me, you’ll be hooked.”
So, what about when you’re done creating your own zine during Williams’ Feminist Zine Club? “I’ve curated a selection of writers, poets, musicians, stylists and artists who self publish and use zines as a way to share their art and knowledge with the world. The readings are all from LGBTQIA+ feminist creatives. We’ll also have some time for readings from the audience if anyone wants to share what they’ve made in the workshop or share material from a zine they’ve just launched.” If you’d like to take part, Williams encouraged those interested to send them an email at [email protected].
The event is open to everyone who is respectful of a feminist safe space. “This means there’s no judgement and you’re welcome to try out ideas, no matter how silly or serious!” You can already get your ticket for Williams’ zine workshop for £11 here. If you’d like to enjoy a meal at Selina’s POWERPLANT restaurant afterwards, you can get a prepaid menu for £42.50 here. And if you’re interested in joining later on for the readings, all you need to do is RSVP for free here.
And for those of you who aren’t 100 per cent convinced just yet, here’s what Williams finished our conversation with, “If you need inspiration and would like to drink some Male Tears, then come along for the evening where we’ll be joined by creatives sharing work from their own zines alongside yummy cocktails.”
26 July 2020 was a Sunday. I was feeling overwhelmed and angry after seeing pictures and videos of police in the UK and the US mistreating, beating and killing those protesting in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
I felt all this anger in my chest that I just did not know how to deal with, and then I saw a tweet that tipped me over the edge. “I’m noticing that none of Trump’s secret federal police, tear-gassing and striking peaceful protesters are women.” This tweet was written by American actress Phillipa Soo, best known for playing Eliza Hamilton in the Broadway musical Hamilton. There’s so much to unpack with her statement, but firstly, it’s just not true. This was a repetitive sentiment that I kept seeing from white and non-black women who call themselves feminists today. Are they purposely missing what it really means to be a feminist, or do they still not understand?
Many people—particularly white women—came to Soo’s defence stating that she was pointing out the fact that women aren’t the ones perpetrating harm, and if more women were in these positions, this kind of violence wouldn’t happen. It’s always extremely disheartening to see thirty-year-old women tweet about feminism the way I used to talk about feminism when I was fourteen and didn’t know any better.
Feminism, to so many of these women, still only means ‘women’ and ‘equality’. To them, feminism is not about building a new world to change the lives of disabled people, trans people, non-binary people, black people and so many others. Instead, their feminism is hollow, it is superficial. It is about working within violent systems which allow white-abled bodied women to be at the top. It is not a feminism that liberates us all, but one of compromise. These are the same women who call themselves allies to black people and supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement. If this is still your feminism in 2020, you do not support the Black Lives Matter movement in any way, shape or form.
In 1977, Marlene Dixon, a feminist sociology professor from the University of Chicago, used a Marxist analysis to explain why the Women Liberation movement fell into decline in an essay entitled The Rise and Demise of Women’s Liberation: A Class Analysis. She wrote that the middle-class women who were leading this movement worked with the aim of “organizing around your own oppression.” This was the idea of making sure “we take care of our own problems first.” This ideology was explicitly clear in the FX historical drama Mrs America, which depicts the Women’s Liberation movement and the fight to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in the 1970s. In one episode, ‘radical’ feminist Bella Abzug (Margo Martindale) is seen talking with her fellow movement member Betty Friden (Tracey Ullman) about making gay rights a part of the women’s rights agenda. Friedan, who has a history of keeping lesbians out of the movement, states that “they shouldn’t make this (the convention) about lesbianism. It’s not our fight.”
There’s something inherently capitalist about this way of thinking. This individualist mentality has been an integral part of white feminist history. For example, in 1893, all women were given the right to vote in New Zealand. Rather than rejoicing at the liberation of other women, British women were upset because Maori women had the vote and they did not. Jad Adam’s writer of Women and the Vote: A World History, recounted that suffragist Millicent Garrett Fawcett saw it as “appalling that white women of a certain station in society didn’t have the vote,” while those in the colonies did.
True liberation is not liberation for oneself, it is about taking that freedom that feminism makes you feel, and extending it to others to create a new world.
But instead, too many women today believe that making women leaders of violent, white supremacists and capitalist systems is what will free us, that being on the same playing field as cis-white men will free us. They are wrong. This kind of thinking ensures that the most marginalised in society continue suffering, but girl power, right?
Black feminism—which was not created as a response to white feminism—has taught me that we are fighting for a world we can not see yet. It is about fighting for a world without the police, a world without prisons, a world without exploitation, without the gender binary, a world without suffering, a world without hunger, a world without capitalism, a world without racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism and transphobia. A world with collective care, and a world without girl bosses.
I want to see more self-proclaimed feminists think of feminism like this. To believe that we can build a world like this. To engage with radical black thinkers who have been saying this for years! Not just read Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given, or White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. I want to see more feminists reposting speeches by trans and disabled activists on my timeline, the way they were fervently reposting Alexandra Ocasio Cortez for calling out a Republican member of Congress who accosted her on the Capitol steps, and listen to every word they have to say over and over again.
I want more cis-women to look at the way that they uphold the patriarchy in their every day lives. I want more people to understand that feminism is hard fucking work. What could the world be like if we carry on the work done before us by black radical feminists? If we never give up, we can truly change the world. Not by reform or by working within these systems, but by abolishing them. Lola Olufemi said it perfectly—we may not see the world we are fighting for in our lifetime, but ‘someone else will’ and this should motivate all of us, every day.
Just to say, I don’t know everything and I’m still learning. In five years’ time, I’ll probably come back to this article and think, wow, some parts of this needed to be developed further, yikes! I don’t know if I completely agree with the words anymore. But this is how our feminism should be, we should be learning, unlearning, disagreeing and growing as we age. We can not stay in this stagnant, uninspired and unhelpful form of feminism. That is not how we liberate marginalised people and that is not how we create a just world for black people to live in.