Girl zine networks, underground itineraries, and riot grrrl history: Making sense of the struggle for new social forms in the 1990s and beyond

Janice Radway*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Drawing on recently established zine archives and oral-history interviews with former girl zine producers, as well as with zine librarians, archivists, and commentators, this essay explores the significance of the fact that dissident girls and young women developed an interest in what are now called girl zines through a number of different routes, with a range of different interests, and at different moments over the course of the last twenty-five years. Some were directly inspired by riot grrrl bands in the early 1990s. Others happened upon zines at alternative bookstores and info-shops and as part of their participation in the larger punk underground. Still others learned of them through popular magazines, college courses, and public and private libraries, or through quite varied friendship networks. The fact of this social, material, and temporal variability raises important questions about whether girl zines should be thought of as a unitary genre and, correlatively, about whether the girl zine explosion itself should be construed as a secondary effect of the riot grrrl phenomenon of the early 1990s. Building on recent critiques made by punks and zinesters of color of the now-dominant narrative about the history of riot grrrl and the role of zines within it, the essay traces how that narrative developed in the context of a backlash against feminism and how it led, ultimately, to the creation of the genre now known as girl zines and the founding of archives designed to ensure their preservation. Though both are seen as significant political achievements for feminism, by considering Mimi Thi Nguyen's recent claim that the dominant narrative and the genealogies it constructs tend to ignore the important but often differently motivated contributions of punks and zinesters of color, the essay explores the question of what it might mean to focus on the varied itineraries that girls pursued into the punk underground and on how those itineraries affected the zines they created for often quite distinct purposes. Ultimately, the essay asks how riot grrrl and girl zine-ing ought to be understood. That is, should they be construed as a singular event, as a coherent social movement, as a fractious discourse, as a complex set of social practices, as a political intervention, or as something else In the end, the author argues that attending to the disagreements and contestations among girl punks and zinesters who constantly called each other out over their differences suggests that as a youthful cohort profoundly affected by the vast social and cultural change associated with what is now call neoliberalism, these young people were arguing among themselves and with the surrounding culture over how to craft new, more flexible forms of subjectivity and sociality adequate to the challenges of the twenty-first century.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-31
Number of pages31
JournalJournal of American Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)


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