Whether you speak about individual acts of resistance, about organised struggles, about art projects, about self-managed social experiments, even about the invisible day and night dreaming that expand the mental space, all these things, in my view, are re-envisioning and transforming society. - Tea Hvala, Slovenia, zine maker and co-organizer of Red Dawns festival
DIY (do-it-yourself) feminism is an umbrella term fusing together different types of feminism. Drawing on genealogies of punk cultures, grassroots movements, and the technologies of late capitalism, this movement meshes lifestyle politics with counter-cultural networking. It takes as its focus everyday acts of resistance and power. DIY feminism disrupts complacent beliefs that feminism and social change are no longer on the agenda of young people.
Emerging from a so-called post-feminist milieu, DIY feminism constitutes a grassroots, micro-political feminist response to consumer capitalism and state authority. This feminist movement draws on the cultural currency of prefigurative politics – that is, living the change you want to see in the world –and circulates through the affective economies of passion, pleasure, friendships, and community-building. As Belgium zine-maker Nina Nijsten states, “DIY feminism is about everyone doing feminism ourselves and making changes, however small they may seem at first sight. It means not waiting for others, for “professionals” or politicians, to make the world more women-friendly and to solve problems related to sexism”. DIY feminist actions take many forms, but commonly include producing activist media and films, squatting buildings, creating guerrilla art, holding discussion groups, facilitating workshops, moving politics into music and performance, skill-sharing, organizing street demos and protests, and exploring being as self-sufficient as possible. Organised events are often temporary or ephemeral interventions. Creating autonomous zones such as festivals and gatherings are an integral part of DIY feminism. Such events include the Feminist Health Gathering (UK), Rdeãe zore/ Red Dawns Festival (Slovenia), Love Kills Festival (Romania), Femfest (Croatia), and Ladyfest (international). Anti-capitalist tendencies are inherently bound up in these actions; self/collective produced culture, politics, entertainment, and work are held as ideals, and not-for-profit voluntary/activist labour is the movement’s lifeblood.
This article considers some of the main concepts and motivations behind DIY feminism, framed through the words and writings of activists themselves. Through interview and article excerpts from the Grrrl Zine Network (www.grrrlzines.net) and Grassroots Feminism: Transnational Archives, Resources and Communities (www.grassrootsfeminism.net), DIY feminists, organizers, zine makers, and agitators share their inspiration, passion, and the visions of social justice. Typically suspicious of organised parties, or mainstream politics, these young feminists choose the realm of autonomous cultural production as their site of struggle. As such, networking, information sharing, collaboration, consciousness-raising, and creativity are privileged in their modes of expression. As an example of these tendencies, this paper draws upon DIY feminists’ use of self-publishing zine networks.
Having a media of one’s own is of central importance to any social movement. DIY feminists communicate through small-scale, anti-commercial publications such as zines, magazines, and blogs. Shut out from mainstream media resources and conventional power structures, young women and transfolk forge channels of communication with the tools and software they have to hand. Computers, digital and mobile phone cameras, and photocopiers are everyday technologies that have been pressed into action. By appropriating the tools of capitalism, these activists hope to spread anti-consumerist messages of do-it-yourself cultural action and information sharing. Zines, for example, are small-scale magazines or pamphlets written, designed, illustrated, published, and distributed by their makers on a non-commercial basis. Frequently deploying a low-finance aesthetic and cheap printing methods, zines act as a medium in which individual and collective voices, artwork, political commentary, and resources can be shared; they act as a channel of democratic media and as a means of grassroots networking:
Anyone can write zines and in this way contribute to a kind of non-academic/non-professional but very valuable DIY political theory and herstory. In the way that feminists in the 1970s, who didn’t agree with male-dominated universities and health control, started their own skill-sharing classes and women-run healthcare centres, zines can put information control back into the hands of everyone. Zines can function as a participatory alternative medium to give alternative views on the society that can’t be found in the mainstream media. – Nina Njisten (Belgium)
Zines, as a DIY practice, are the very visible expression of “everyone can do it”. It is a possibility of sharing and spreading information, ideas and knowledge and a means of self-teaching. It is also a way of connecting people and ideas. – Love Kills Collective (Romania)
As a key aspect of DIY feminist movements, zines challenge the preconception that contemporary young feminists are concerned with personal narratives, or individual action, only. Zines have been collated on topics such as rape, domestic violence, anti-deportation campaigns, environmental action, free schools, radical histories, autonomous health, anti-racism, and dis/ability. Whilst many zines are compiled by individuals, some, such as Erinyen (Germany), Love Kills (Romania), Bloody Mary (Czech Republic), and Rag (Ireland) are produced by collectives who are committed to working in non-hierarchical processes. These collectives use their zines to launch difficult discussions, peer-critique and consciousness-raising efforts. As such, the publications of the DIY feminist movement can be seen as important channels of dissent in the ongoing struggle for social change, not only in the radical content and information that they disseminate, but in the working methods through which they are assembled.
Somewhat symptomatic of a broader political malaise with mainstream politicians and government actions, DIY feminists are motivated by a sense of self-organising on a grassroots level:
I think we need to change the whole way we structure our communities in terms of changing society and start there. For a start women/trans/queers need equality but without having to assimilate into heterosexist society in order to get it or compromise their identities... It has to be on our terms, not the patriarchal state who thinks they know what is best for us and will offer us small tokens to appease us… we need to self organise and make things happen for ourselves and not rely on others who couldn’t care less about us and who actually want to control and dominate us. – MissTer Scratch (UK)
Although strategic alliances can happen between DIY feminist groups and institutions, mainstream political groups, leftist organisations, mainstream outlets, and governments, many of these activists are weary of strictures and regulations on their actions. They prefer to self-organise so as not to dilute their message, compromise to make it “marketable”, or to concur in tokenisation. Of course, DIY communities continue to be fractured by oppressions which structure society at large. Too often, these networks offer incremental attempts at unpacking privilege. Comic-maker Isy Morgenmuffel (UK) believes that whilst problems do inevitably occur, the informal organisation of DIY feminist networks, and their lack of a “party line”, creates opportunities for uncensored critique and intervention: “Of course any subculture has its limitations, from the dangers of co-option to issues of demographics and how society’s inequalities are replicated to how accessible a scene can be. But I’ve always felt that zines have a lot of potential to overcome some of these limitations, being based around a form of expression rather than a uniform community”.
Positioning themselves on the fringes of mainstream political engagement, DIY feminists mobilise through the belief that each of us can become agents of social change, shape power relations, and critically disrupt the status quo. The importance of creating alternative spaces, away from the logics of capitalism and hetero-normative patriarchy, underpin DIY feminist organising. A very influential factor within DIY feminist trajectories is the legacy of the punk feminist movement Riot Grrrl, originating in the United States in the early 1990s and developed into a transnational phenomenon. Riot Grrrl, which typically embraced young women from their teens to their twenties, was a call-to-arms for political consciousness. It encouraged identifications that firmly established feminism in the daily lives of young women. It saw girls and young women establishing friendships, political alliances, and collective support across many borders and backgrounds, and was propelled by the simple belief that every girl needs to find the conditions to speak out about her anger in order to reclaim her life. Riot Grrrl also characterises DIY feminism as an open invitation to girls to produce their own music, culture and media:
The Riot Grrrls movement that appeared in the 1990s within the Anglo-Saxon panorama established itself as a reference [for the DIY feminist movement]: if you don’t like what you see around you, do it yourself; you do not need big infrastructures in order to do something... It is a matter of continuing with a tradition of generating independent work contexts and spaces that endow women with power. – Erreakzioa-Reacción (Spain)
This call-to-arms embedded in Riot Grrrl speaks to young women and queers alienated from the stereotypes, or staid condition, of the feminism around them. Riot Grrrl and DIY feminism gives permission to become a political activist from where you are in the world right now, whether that means writing a zine, exchanging letters with women you have never met in different cities/countries, or going out at night and wheat-pasting pro-girl flyers around town. For many, Riot Grrrl and DIY feminism becomes the first contact with unruly, undisciplined, self-organised forms of direct action. This alternative space and network creates a fertile meeting ground for women to create new alliances and connections, and to extend personal acts of resistance into community-based work.
Some DIY feminist cells act in cooperation with international women’s groups, such as the Polish anarcha-feminist group Emancpunx. Running since 1996, this collective works in solidarity with women from Afghanistan, raising money for them through techno parties. More typically in these networks, solidarity takes the form of creating personal connections in the DIY scene, especially through establishing friendship and exchange. DIY feminists believe that social change can happen through small, linked up actions, and that low-circulation zines have an important role within this:
By advocating revolution, by raising awareness, by questioning authority, by breaking the silence, I think that zines can have a meaningful effect. And maybe it has to be first in the individual, the one who is holding the zines in her/his own hands and starts rebelling her/him-self against the oppressors; later on you can find other individuals who are rebelling and can “ally” and plot together. We started, for example, by publishing a zine a few years ago; later on the editorial group formed itself into an anarcha-feminist collective, and we were able, together, to put ideas into practice.
– Love Kills (Romania)
The Love Kills Collectives acknowledge the limitations of this DIY way of organizing, but believe this work is important for feeding into broader cultures of social change: “our work is visible mostly in our own small “scene”/movement and not on a large social scale. But as we are aiming towards anarchism, and as we see anarchism as an on-going emerging occurrence, we strongly believe that even the slightest effort has its own meaningful importance and contribution”. Understanding that the term DIY may in fact be a misnomer, events such as Copenhagen Queer Fest also speak of DIT- “Do It Together”.
As we have seen, DIY feminists create autonomous and temporary spaces, media, events, interventions, and actions to change symbolic codes and promote individuals as agents of social change. They appropriate the tools of capitalism to communicate and network whilst they create an affective community around challenging globalisation and consumer capitalism with their hand-made, amateur, experimental, and non-profit services, goods, and forms of activism. Returning to the decentralised organisation of the Women’s Liberation Movement, yet departing from their universalising appeals to common “woman-hood” and emancipation, DIY feminists tend not to agitate on a broad, community scale on a plethora of issues; instead they mobilise through countercultures and networks enmeshed in queer sexualities and gender expressions which are maintained through the politics of style and transported through new medias and technologies.
As Rafaela Drazic, the editor of the Croatian publication Unzine, states, one of the biggest motivations fuelling DIY feminism is the recognition that “[m]aking people aware” is the first step to making “them think and then take action”. DIY feminism captures the imagination of many young women and queers as it allows them to become agents of social change with the little resources they have at hand. The DIY feminist community sustains itself as a counterculture network affectively enmeshed in creating supportive communities of shared interests, information, and direct action.
Work on this essay was supported by the grant “Feminist Media Production in Europe” (P21187-G20) from the Austrian Science Fund.
Chidgey, Red and Elke Zobl. 2009a. “Morgenmuffel.” Interview with Isy from UK.
Grassroots Feminism. http://www.grassrootsfeminism.net/cms/node/119
—“—. 2009b. “Taking up Deserved Space”. Interview with MissTer Scratch from UK. Grassroots Feminism. http://www.grassrootsfeminism.net/cms/node/132
—“—. 2009d. “Making valuable DIY theory and herstory through zines”. Interview with Nina from Belgium. Grassroots Feminism. http://www.grassrootsfeminism.net/cms/node/141
—“—. 2009e. “Love is a perverted feeling…” Interview with the anarcha-feminist LoveKills Collective from Romania. Grassroots Feminism. http://www.grassrootsfeminism.net/cms/node/161
Erreakzioa-Reacción, Here and Now! New Forms of Feminist Action, exhibition catalogue, Bilbao, Spain. Published by Sala Rekalde. 2008.
Jiménez, Haydeé and Elke Zobl. 2008a. “The Curved / Stripburger / Pssst…: Artfully transforming society”. Interview with Tea from Slovenia. Grrrl Zine Network. http://www.grrrlzines.net/interviews/tea_thecurved.htm
—“—. 2008b. “Unzine. More Than Words”. Interview with Rafaela Drazic from Croatia. Grrrl Zine Network. http://www.grrrlzines.net/interviews/unzine.htm
Permission for images
Isy Morgenmuffel for the Feminism & Revolution Zine. Nina Nijsten for flapper gathering. VaL for OvaryAction