digital fatigue: why young women are returning to zines

Meet the grrrls moving offline and upholding the feminist independent publishing scene.

by Amy Campbell
31 August 2016, 4:20am

Image by Ben Thomson

Since the birth of the riot grrrl, zines and gender-based activism have been entwined. Handmade, autonomous and radical in tone, these self-published manifestos might be pocket-sized, but when it comes to offering women a voice, they're a big force to be reckoned with. The paper and paste creations have been since been out-numbered by Tumblrs and Instagrams; but that doesn't mean we've abandoned the zine entirely.

For most women and non-men who grew up online, having an opinion means having a difficult relationship with the comment section. When faced with the continuing challenge of trying to find safe digital spaces, many have realised that the handmade world of zines can be a far more intimate and supportive place to explore ideas.

As a result, we're experiencing a new age of exciting independent publications amplifying the female voice. Born in bedrooms and crafted with love, paper-cuts and a whole lot of ambition, these are the all-girl zines out of Australia and New Zealand that are giving bylines to the conversations and creatives you need to know.

FEMS (Females for Equality Making Stuff) is a Melbourne-based collective and zine run by Freya Alexander, Cassandra Martin and Tegan Iverson. They're dedicated to giving women and female-aligned people a voice — a mission that's seen their list of contributors jump from a small pool of friends to an international network.

How does the physical zine come together?
It's a very labour intensive process! We have lots of meetings over pizza, and we spend ages fussing over the layout in InDesign. Tegan and Cass are the ones that make it look beautiful, and Freya is the grammar nerd.

Why do you think zines are such appealing platforms?
Zines have this incredible ability to move around all this information, and different people's views - women's views in particular. Right now, zines are giving females and women-aligned people a voice, where perhaps they wouldn't have been given that opportunity in the mainstream press. Zines don't discriminate and we think this is something creative people are looking for.

What inspires you most about reading the work of FEMS' contributors?
Everything. We think it's amazing to see how different everyone's work is, and how personal it can be. It's so brave for girls to share something with the world that is so personal, and that has their name on it. It tells you something about them and their story. 


Out of Aotearoa New Zealand, Uptalk Zine was born because editor Amanda Robinson was curious about the conversations her friends were having, and how they were having them. An ode to group text, snapchat selfies and secrets, Uptalk has evolved into a space where these conversations can unfold.

Uptalk is fairly new, right? Why did you decide to start it?
It is! I had been wanting to start something like Uptalk for a while - I knew all of these incredible girls that were making art, and I wanted to create something physical they could be published in; something they could hold and be proud of. I got together with a bunch of girls from my high school and we decided a zine would be cool because it was something we could make continuously.

So you started Uptalk while you were in high school?
The idea came about when I was in high school, but now I'm studying Film and Media at University. For the first issue of Uptalk, I actually used some of my course-related costs from uni to pay for printing instead of buying my textbooks!

What has putting the zine together taught you about the way girls are communicating?
Of course, there's no one singular "girlhood," but the girls and women I find most interesting are communicating in the same way we always have - in secret. Thanks to the internet, there are so many places for girls to find people who share the same interests. I also think the sacredness of the group text is great. 


Woolf Pack is a femme and non-binary zine that heralds from Brisbane but distributes worldwide. In search of a focused outlet to display their own artwork and showcase that of their friends, editors Rebecca Cheers and Talia Enright say the decision to self-publish was the best they've ever made.

Can you start by telling us about your name?
A few of our friends were reading Virginia Woolf at the time (the zine started), so it was a bit of a coincidence. we came up with the "pack" part because we really loved the idea of a rampaging group of female and non-binary writers and artists running through the streets, kicking stuff over and causing a ruckus.

Why publish like this rather than online?
I love zines because they're a bit divorced from the internet. There's no comment sections, and no risk of immediate reprisals. I like the internet, but I think zines are less polarising in that sense.

Did you read many zines growing up?
No, I didn't even know what zines were. I wish I had, thinking back to when I was in high school and dealing with the kind of problems teen girls experience. I did a lot of letter writing and doodling between friends, but I think if zines could be made more well-known to young girls, we could really get somewhere.

What role do you think zines can play in amplifying the female voice?
Zines lend themselves not only to feminism, but also activism. There's a sense of freedom and urgency to them. Zines are able to express a breadth of experiences with such authenticity, they're always a bit of a vanguard whenever there's some sort of gender activism going on. There's such a great intersection between feminism and art right now, and I think zines can really support this relationship. 


Rebecca Varcoe and Rachelle Opie's zine Funny Ha Ha is an ode to all things hilarious. But when the Melbourne-based creatives noticed the funniest people around them were female, they decided to call their next issue GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS.

What was it about women in comedy that inspired the next issue?
When we decided to do an all-girl edition, there was a lot of discussion happening about women in Australian comedy and the issues they face. But there hadn't been much talk of solutions. By no means do we think the zine will solve our problems, but we didn't want it to be a particularly large statement. We realised we knew so many funny women. Why not put an issue aside for them?

You mentioned some of Funny Ha Ha's strongest submissions have come from women. Why do you think females find zines such appealing platforms to showcase work?
I think zines open up more of a conversation; they're like a community of stories that complement each other, rather than a single, standalone piece. There's so much backlash online these days. For women who simply want to put their work out there, zines feel more safe and comfy.

What role do you think zines can play in preserving independent publishing?
I don't think print is dying, it's just not as lucrative as it used to be. There's a bit of fatigue online right now, and it's opening opportunities for people who are passionate about publishing to make really awesome stuff, like zines. And zines have a long life, they're not just responding to something quickly in order to generate content and clicks. People make zines out of love and passion. That'll never die.  



Text Amy Campbell