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Project Proposal: zine-like online media recap of feminisms

Flora's picture
The project that I want to pursue this semester is going to be a bit experimental for me. I want to make a sort of intro feminist graphic zine. I’m not sure exactly what form this will take, but I have several ideas and sources of inspiration for this project.

The first impetus for this project came from my last paper for this course, envisioning my model for feminist critique. The paper began and ended:

According to most versions of his life story, the Titan Prometheus stole fire from the Gods and gave it to the first human men. For this and his other insurgent crimes, Prometheus' punishment is to be chained to a cliff with daily visits from an eagle that eats his regenerating liver from his body. This is my current model of textual creation and critique. The texts we write are our regenerating livers. When critiquing, we are the eagle.

I end this theory-proposal with a challenge both to myself and to my critics/collaborators. Know that I create my texts from my unconscious, bodily and expository knowledges. Publishing these texts chains them to a cliff. I think there no better compliment that to tear them apart and devour them. Take what you will from them, silt or no. Secure in the knowledge of their regenerative nature, I will try to learn to laugh even at the most vicious, unfair, ignorant, humorless assaults. Now giggling as this transpires, I invite your help with the process of reassembling these jumbled fleshy language bits into a more accurate, just and powerful form.


I found this re envisioning of a familiar childhood story very useful to my conception of critique. Narratives with strong visual imagery make concepts much more accessible to me. Thinking about words as physical talon-slashes and texts as bloody organs makes my ideas clearer. So, if I like verbal-visual imagery so much, why don’t I push that even further and make a zine?

Zines and graphic fiction have an important place in recent feminist texts. Tina Robbins’ From Girls to Grrlz : A History of Women's Comics from Teens to Zines traces the emergence of strong female cartoonist voices in zines, especially in the riot grrl movement. The ease and freedom of self-publication permitted a greater diversity of self expression than mainstream comics or literary professions. Reading Robbins’ work made me want to try this important genre out for myself. I will have a wide variety of texts to draw on for inspiration. Besides Robbins’ book, I have access to the BMC Women’s Center archive of zines, Melissa Kramer’s collection housed in Canaday Library and the excellent collection: A girl's guide to taking over the world : writings from the girl zine revolution, edited by Karen Green and Tristan Taormino.

There are a several current texts in print that serve as introductions to feminism. Most publications fall in two categories: didactic textbooks or popular texts. The first category primarily targets students of women’s studies or allied academic courses. The second is intended as an accessible introduction to feminism for young women. Examples of these texts include popular blogger Jessica Valenti’s Full Frontal Feminism and California NOW president Megan Seely’s How to Fight like a Girl. I want my text to differ from these two genres in style. The zine will be an appropriate solution to this challenge. I will also rely heavily on the work of contemporary graphic novelists and a variety of feminist theorists to construct my form and content, respectively.

I know I will find it personally rewarding to cartoon and write for a not-exclusively-academic audience. But I also find it important to make more complex theories and histories of feminisms accessible to a broader audience. I love the intellectual calisthenics required of a thorough reading of Foucault or Spivak. However, that enjoyment comes after years of study and intellectual enculturation. I think much of what is important to my feminism can be understood without the assistance of the discipline’s jargon. But what to replace it with? Why, cartoons and humor of course. My last paper illustrates the importance I find in visual imagery and laughter in academic discourse. This project will challenge me to answer my own call for a diversification of feminist expository texts.

        Attempting to explain all of feminist discourse in a small graphic pamphlet is an impossible task. But I have not quite yet solved the question of where I want to focus the content of my zine. It could be an auto-biographical record of my life, explaining my journey to the feminism I currently embrace. This self-referential style is a hallmark of many zines. However, I am not going to tie myself to the genre’s tradition. It could be a sort of “Flora’s feminism 101” brochure that outlines either a brief history of feminism or portraits of contemporary feminism as I understand them. This approach gives me pause, as I don't want to approach anything from a point of view too pedantic or condescending. I could focus on portraying the work being done in one field, such as abortion or sex work. I could also take a technique from children’s literature and make a feminist Alphabet book. Each letter would be the first letter of a word or person important in feminist movements: ie A for abortion, B for body or beauty standards, C for contraception, D for domestic abuse/violence or disabilities, etc. The zine could imitate the style of Dr Seuss in some way. Titled, “Are you my feminist?” the protagonist could visit various historical sites, events and people to better understand a diversity of feminist positions. Or the zine could become a choose-your-own-adventure style of writing in which the reader must find her way to her own feminism.

None of these projects would be able to represents all of feminisms and I will do my best to ensure that my words reflect that impossibility. Therefore, not only to I need to consider the approach I will take to this feminist content, I need to decide what content to include in my zine. This project could become huge. How can I limit the scope of my feminist narrative without excluding important experiences or stories? I could easily become so caught up in creating a comprehensive list of feminist issues, terminology and people that I will never have time to cartoon it all together. Or, I could spend so much time on one aspect of feminism I wish to explain that I will neglect many more aspects. Perhaps I should start with the knowledge that the decision to include or omit certain parts of feminist herstory is especially political. The best selection of content I can hope for will look like an accurate representation of my understanding of feminisms. This text will reflect my ignorances and politics, despite my best efforts to the contrary. Instead of attempting to create an introductory text that includes an overview of all of feminist study (which would be impossible, anyway), I will attempt to create a text that includes what I think a man or woman should know about my knowledge of feminism. The question I will repeatedly ask myself when choosing what to include will not be, “Is this a part of feminism?” but “Is this piece crucial to my understanding of feminisms?” My intention is not to brain-wash the reader, but to accurately present the discourse that creates my thoughts. The reader may then judge her position for herself. I will know that my project is complete when I feel that I have asked my most important questions in the text. I hope to accomplish this in 30 pages of graphics/cartoons.

I have one last large concern for my project: accessibility. I hope to do a small printing of the final product that can be distributed around campus. For this distribution, I will need the product to be a physical, printed text. However, I also want to make the product available online. How should I combine these two impulses? I could cartoon and write a zine by hand and scan it, making it available online. However, I have access to a wide variety of multimedia tools at Bryn Mawr College. Do I want to choose to expand the printed confines of the zine tradition by making an interactive flash animation or video online? There are several strengths to making my project a solely online medium. I could make a short screencast or animation that could feature my voice, video clips, high quality photographs, movement and sound. This option would give me another opporunity to experiment with a presentation style that fascinates me: the Lessig style. Loading this video file onto youtube would make my work easily available to all with computer access. I would have to be more concerned over copyright infringement in my choice of images to use in collage. But perhaps online is the way to go. I figure this out as I work more on my project in the coming weeks.


Mary Clurman '63's picture

cartoon e-zine

I'm excited to see how you progress on this. Looks like your puppeteering will encourage creative characterization -- will you use color? Hope so. Feminist cartoons I've seen were all in B&W -- real dark, sometimes woodcuts, and Mad Magazine ugly. Color would lighten the humor which is so often so black. It could be beautiful, like your family's puppets, just the light of creativity rather than the darkness of protest -- would that contradict anything in your intent?

Thanks for the lead to Lessig.

Ann Dixon's picture

happy offer of help


I like your idea very much, and hope you'll talk to me about the tech aspect of distribution when you're ready. 
You don't need youtube when you have Serendip as a publisher (or alternatively, you can publish in both places).


Anne Dalke's picture

making visible, making accessible

As you know, I’m excited about this project, and the degree to which it will be able both to make visible and make accessible some of the key feminist concepts and theories that exist now in jargon-y form (do you have a theory about why that is? Why feminist academics write academese?) Answering your own call for diversification of feminist expository texts seems like a great way to finish up an independent major in Gender and Sexuality.

Structuring the project as an answer (or range of answers) to the question of what is “crucial to your understanding of feminisms” actually turns this into a sort of final exam for your independent major, but a final with a socially useful twist. It can function as a catalogue and enumeration that can be of use to others just starting in the field: What needs highlighting? What concepts and theorists should they know about? So it’s more that “your” feminism; it’s for others, too.

I like the range of possibilities you enumerate—a feminism 101 brochure, a feminist Alphabet book, an “are you my feminist?” or choose-your own-adventure tale. All seem ways to represent a range of ways of doing feminism and being feminist without making the mistake of trying to be exhaustive. The inevitable gaps in your project are, as you acknowledge, political, and will be as telling as what you include. I see the project as a “filling in the gaps” that will have elisions of its own, in its structure (What is the first letter in the feminist alphabet? I? U?) and in its borders. Where are the boundaries of this project? Your brainstorming various forms—zines, screencasts, animations, video files—suggest that you will have to find some limits to what you can do.

What I like best of all, though, is the promise of good humor! (Tis way WAY past time to revise that stereotype of humorless feminists….