A page from Where Have All the Feminist Bookstores Gone?. Courtesy of Elvis B.

In the 1990s there were between 120 to 150 feminist bookstores across North America and after the turn of the century they had all but vanished (Mercurio, 2007; Schwartz, 2012). Feminist bookstores were a fixture and a product of the women’s movement of the 1970s, a space where women writers and readers could comfortably and safely explore feminism, “and as a way for feminist communities to connect in a pre-internet age” (Schwartz, 2012; Uprichard 2018). Lucy Uprichard reminds us that “the affinity between print and feminism stretches back to the earliest days of the movement, but feminist bookstores are very much a product of the second wave” (2018). Why have these bookstores been added to the critically endangered list? And is it possible for them to exist again in today’s sociocultural landscape? Do we still have a need for these feminist spaces with flourishing online communities? I argue that we do in fact need feminist bookstores and libraries as a necessary space for community and discussion; by analyzing their history and by looking at two modern examples, Vancouver’s failed Women’s Library and Montréal’s successful L’Euguélionne, we can better understand the direction these feminist spaces can take in order to prosper.

It’s no coincidence that feminist bookstores were in their prime at the peak of second wave feminism and that their fall came with the rise of the third wave. Sady Doyle breaks down the waves of feminism in her article for Elle, “It’s Not (All) the Second Wave’s Fault.” Doyle categorizes second wave feminism as the activism of the 1960s and 70s “which encompassed the most widely known feminist causes: Workplace parity, abortion and birth control access, and an end to sexual violence” (2018). These second wavers were also seen as bra-burning, man-hating, shrill and militant mothers and grandmothers by their third wave daughters (Doyle, 2018). The third wave began in the 1990s and spanned into the early 2000s, and is “known for sex-positivity, an increased focus on pop culture, and reclaiming ‘girliness’ and femme gender presentation” (Doyle, 2018). Martha Rampton of Pacific University adds that one of the main qualities of the third wave is its need to destabilize pre-established concepts including “‘universal womanhood,’ body, gender, sexuality and heteronormativity” that “its transversal politics means that differences such as those of ethnicity, class, sexual orientation, etc. are celebrated and recognized as dynamic, situational, and provisional” (2015). The third wave is a “rejection of communal, standardized objectives. The third wave does not acknowledge a collective ‘movement’ and does not define itself as a group with common grievances” (Rampton, 2015). Feminist bookstores were a communal space for women to gather, and these stores acted as a place for the community to define itself, through events and the literature and the ideas they hosted. The second wave isn’t without its problems (the rigidity in its ideologies, racism, and belief in a “universal” womanhood) but the third wave feminists rejected their foremothers and abandoned many of the structures they had created, such as the feminist bookstore and library.

There is the idea that the demise of women’s bookstores can “be attributed to the rise of e-readers and online stores” (Schwartz, 2012). Through the early 2000s the idea of the e-book revolution made it feel as though print was on its last legs and would be dead by 2020. Although, BookNet proves year after year e-book sales have plateaued at just under 20% of the market in Canada. Rather than e-readers being the explanation for the demise of feminist bookstores, online retailers would seem to be a more legitimate culprit, plus the shift in ideologies between the waves. Gina Mercurio, owner of People Called Women, the only feminist bookstore in Ohio, laments that online retailers lack a safe space for marginalized women, that doesn’t allow women to connect with other like-minded women in their communities, that “they do not operate on an ethic committed to creating an anti-racist, anti-classist, pro-choice, pro-lesbian, anti-woman-hating culture” (2007). However, there is still a lack of physical space for feminists to gather to openly and comfortably engage with the discourse.

Times have changed and with the Trump Presidency the handful of feminist bookstores in the U.S. have seen a bump in sales in 2017, which is hopeful for the feminist bookstore revival (Kirch, 2018). Atlanta’s Charis Books & More has seen its monthly feminist event group quadruple in size since the 2016 election to attract about 90 people (Kirch, 2018). With the #MeToo movement and a flaming misogynist Cheeto sitting in the Oval Office down south, Canada has also felt the need for more feminist literary spaces. There are two examples of this, one from each coast, and one which was successful and one which failed miserably amidst a barrage of controversy. The Vancouver Women’s Library began with apparently good intentions, Bec Wonders, one of the library’s founders, claimed it as a revitalization of women’s spaces and a place where women can facilitate communication (Lau, 2017). In an interview with the Georgia Straight, Wonders admits that the library is lacking in books by trans women and sex worker authors but that she hopes to build this list, and become a site of engagement and not just a static archive (Lau, 2017).

On February 3rd, 2017, opening night of the library, protesters arrived at the event, calling for the removal of 21 titles that were “written by non-trans women and non-sex workers that dehumanize, speak over, and advocate harm,” and for the library to include a more diverse collection that better represents all women’s experiences (Carter, 2017). As we are in the fourth wave of feminism, a more progressive intersectional feminism, we need feminist spaces that recognize the identity, rights and needs of trans women and while Bec Wonders admits that she disagrees with the ideas in these controversial texts she still believes that the texts are relevant and wants to encourage critical readership at the library (Carter, 2017). However, Brenna Bezanson, communications coordinator for the Vancouver sex-worker advocacy organization Pace, makes the point that while it is acceptable to have controversial literature in a library that represents a philosophy, you need to contextualize these books because they can be dangerous to already marginalized people (Carter, 2017).

The most vehement response denouncing the Vancouver Women’s Library comes from Casey Stepaniuk, also known as Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, a prominent queer Canadian book blogger. Stepaniuk calls out one of the library’s organizers as a well known TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist) and SWERF (sex worker exclusionary radical feminist), connecting these ideologies to a faction of the second wave who believe “trans women are not women and who do not support the rights of sex workers” (2017). Stepaniuk also calls out the controversial books and authors who’s work she states is “transmisogynist and full of anti-sex work dogma,” and that by including these titles in the library that they are promoting hate speech, that these harmful ideas outweigh their use for research (2017). What the Vancouver Women’s Library failed to do was properly label and contextualize these books, and failed to have a conversation about why these books were once important and why many of the ideas within them are now rejected within the feminist community. While the library did seemingly attempt to make amends and correct their mistakes they never outright apologized and eventually succumbed to financial debt and closed its doors as of August 1st, 2018. This could also be in part to a lack of community around the shunned establishment, as it never felt safe for all women, but this is speculation.

On the other side of the country in Montréal is a different story of success at L’Euguélionne, one of the first feminist bookstores to open in the last 15 years in North America (Keating, 2018). This non-profit is run by “a collective of six people with backgrounds in literature literature and women’s studies” and carries over 5,000 new and used French and English books and zines on consignment (Carter, 2017; Keating, 2018). L’Euguélionne addresses controversial texts by opening a dialogue instead of separating these books out, and as one of the co-founders Stéphanie Dufresne says “if there’s a book whose authors claim is feminist, and for some reason we don’t agree with that form [of feminism], we still think it’s interesting to have it here so that some debate or discussion can happen around those ideas” (Carter, 2017). For example, when L’Euguélionne received a donation of 1970s lesbian magazines with transphobic writing they decided to keep them and added page markers identifying the content and the reason for having it on display (Carter, 2017). This magazine has historical value, and while this transphobic writing isn’t accepted today, this magazine was still important to lesbian culture at the time (Carter, 2017).

L’Euguélionne has done a better job of creating a community, where they host events and workshops on a range of topics from what it means to be queer, non-binary and gender fluid to eating disorders (Keating, 2018). In the case of eating disorders, where a sensitive event could have gone sideways, L’Euguélionne handled it with grace as they invited authors who had written on their experiences with the disease to talk at a roundtable and avoided victim narratives by openly talking about first-hand experiences (Keating, 2018). “For sensitive and potentially divisive topics, [such as these], the collective elects a ‘mood watcher’ who monitors the atmosphere and intervenes to name dynamics she observes” (Keating, 2018). In today’s current political climate people are searching for communities of support, and bookstores like L’Euguélionne create a safe space for discussion, Stéphanie Dufresne also believes that with the newly reinvigorated interest in feminism there is also an interest for curated feminist spaces. This is a new take on an old idea, a revival of a past feminist fixture that has been updated to fit the more inclusive version of feminism we have today.

Feminism is always evolving and changing, even now we’re in the fourth wave that focuses on digital literacy and has an emphasis on intersectionality (Doyle, 2018). Sady Doyle makes the point that feminism is an intellectual tradition, and while other intellectual histories get to “be ugly and contentious, as full of ideas to reject as they are full of inspiration, but they are also taught in schools, sold in bookstores, and shown on PBS in a way that encourages young people to view the past as a resource,” feminism does not have the luxury. Bec Wonders makes a similar point in her interview with Quill & Quire, commenting on how we still are still learning about Freud, Aristotle, and Foucault but these men and their old ideas are never criticized with the same language and vigour as contemporary feminists critique their foremothers (Carter, 2017). Women who wrote about rape and male violence 50 years ago are now deemed outdated and irrelevant, where instead we should be engaging in critical readership and look for what is valuable in these texts and unpack what’s troubling (Carter, 2017). In the case of Casey Stepaniuk’s rejection of the Vancouver Women’s Library, there is a sense of asking women “to devour their predecessors in order to feel empowered and unique,” and by doing so feminist culture and narratives are rendered invisible when we should actually be critically engaging with them (Doyle, 2018). This is one of the many reasons feminist bookstores and libraries are needed––for this critical engagement with texts from across movements. We can look to the past at how gender segregation was once crucial for earlier feminist movements, but look to the future with a contemporary approach that considers “oppressions that are more far-reaching than gender alone” (Uprichard, 2018). Feminist print culture is thriving, and the original spirit of the second wave feminists still exists through this. We are able to create a diverse, flourishing network of intersectional feminist voices and we need physical spaces for these voices to congregate like feminist bookstores. Maybe one day Vancouver can have a bookstore like L’Euguélionne, a feminist can hope.



Works Cited

Booknet Canada. “The State of Digital Publishing in Canada 2017.” BNC Research, May 2018. Accessed December 03, 2018. https://www.booknetcanada.ca/state-of-digital-publishing

Carter, Sue. “Women’s libraries and bookstores deal with historic but problematic second-wave feminism.” Quill & Quire, April 17, 2017. Accessed December 03, 2018. https://quillandquire.com/omni/womens-libraries-and-bookstores-deal-with-historic-but-problematic-second-wave-feminism/


Doyle, Sady. “It’s Not (All) the Second Wave’s Fault.” Elle, January 22, 2018.  Accessed December 03, 2018. https://www.elle.com/culture/a15841808/second-wave-feminism-sexual-harassment-generational-divide/


Keating, Cecilia. “The Reinvention of the feminist bookstore.” LiisBeth: Field Notes for Feminists in Business, February 28, 2018. Accessed December 03, 2018. https://www.liisbeth.com/2018/02/28/reinvention-feminist-bookstore/


Kirch, Claire. “Trump Presidency Reinvigorates Feminist Bookstores.” Publishers Weekly, March 09, 2018. Accessed December 03, 2018.



Lau, Lucy. “Feminist-minded Vancouver Women’s Library aims to engage self-identifying ladies through literature.” The Georgia Straight, February 01, 2017. Accessed December 03, 2018. https://www.straight.com/arts/863156/feminist-minded-vancouver-womens-library-aims-engage-self-identifying-ladies-through


Mercurio, Gina. “Feminist Bookstores: Where Women’s Lives Matter.” Interviewed by Karla Mantilla. Off Our Backs 37, no. 2/3 (2007): 48-50. http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/stable/20838818.


Rampton, Martha, “Four Waves of Feminism.” Pacific University Oregon, October 25, 2015. Accessed December 03, 2018. https://www.pacificu.edu/about/media/four-waves-feminism


Schwartz, Andi. “The demise of women’s bookstores.” Xtra, July 18, 2012. Accessed December 03, 2018.  https://www.dailyxtra.com/the-demise-of-womens-bookstores-32072
Stepaniuk, Casey. “This Is a Call-Out Post for the Transmisogynist and Anti-Sex Work Vancouver Women’s Library.” Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian, March 08, 2017. Accessed December 03, 2018. https://caseythecanadianlesbrarian.com/2017/03/08/this-is-a-call-out-post-for-the-transmisogynist-and-anti-sex-work-vancouver-womens-library/


Uprichard, Lucy. “How Feminist Bookstores Changed History.” Broadly, September 25, 2018. Accessed December 03, 2018.



Women in Publishing

In July 2018, the Association of Canadian Publishers released an overview report of the book publishing industry in Canada. The report, compiled by Nordicity, found that 70% of full-time employees (FTEs) in the industry were women. (Nordicity 2018). With this figure in view, this paper will explore the status of women in the publishing industry. Efforts have been made to focus on the Canadian publishing industry, however relevant information regarding the US and UK industries will also be considered. I will examine the wage gap and “glass ceiling” issue in the industry both historically and presently, and look forward to what the future may hold for women in publishing. I will close with a discussion of the 2018/19 Master of Publishing (MPub) cohort at Simon Fraser University.


Population and Workforce Demographics

In order to have a clear understanding of the significance of a workforce that is 70% female, it is necessary to contextualize these figures in a broader set of information. According to Statistics Canada women have historically comprised roughly 49.8% of the population. Furthermore in August 2018, women accounted for 51.1% of total labourers in the age 25+ Canadian workforce (Statistics Canada 2018).

While these comparatively low numbers highlight the significance of the publishing industry’s majority female workforce, it’s important to also recognize that the overrepresentation of women is not unique to publishing; women also over-index in the teaching profession (Satistics Canada 2015) and health sector (Porter and Borgeault 2017). In the overall Canadian workforce, women hold 65% of non-scientific positions requiring a university degree (Statistics Canada 2017).

Therefore, the gender divide in the publishing industry is significant compared to the overall workforce in Canada, but likely not unprecedented; which is just to say that an unequal gender divide happens across numerous industries, and rarely do industry demographics align with broader labour force or population demographics.


Twice as Many, Half as Powerful

A concerning characteristic of the publishing industry is that, despite the gross majority of the workforce being female, men still out-earn women in the industry by an average of $27,000; a Publishers Weekly (PW) 2018 salary survey found that the average salary for men was $87,000, while the average salary earned by a woman working in the industry was $60,000 (Milliot 2018). The wage gap persisted across all areas of the trade, even while the survey confirmed that the industry was largely composed of female employees[1]. In the editorial sector, for instance, 84% of positions were held by women, but men still out-earned women by $22,000. Furthermore, the PW survey found that only 59% of management positions were held by women (which according to PW was an encouraging increase from 49% in 2016). It’s significant to note that this survey was conducted in the United States, but studies in the UK reflect a similar reality: in the years 2000-2013, men working in publishing in the UK earned an average of 17.7% more than women (Kean 2017). Furthermore, In 2018, major UK publishing houses reported equally bleak, and even bleaker numbers: Penguin Random House admitted a 16.4% wage gap between female and male salaries, Bloomsbury 23.3%, and Hachette UK 29.7% (Marsden 2018). So, the same pattern seems to hold across the publishing industry globally.

This worrying pattern seems to be an age-old problem in the trade. In 1979[2], this disparity inspired the formation of activist group Women in Publishing (WiP). In the words of cofounder Jane Gregory, “there wasn’t a glass ceiling; there was a concrete one…and we felt that by banding together we’d have more clout” (Marsden 2018). Penny Mountain, who helped launch an oral history project dedicated to WiP, said in an interview with the Independent, “you couldn’t train [for a position in the industry]—men or women­— so the fact that men were getting the better jobs was even more bizarre. It wasn’t like they had better qualifications than us—they just talked the talk. And traditionally, women are very bad at telling themselves how good they are.” I will return to this comment on the industry’s power imbalance later in this paper when I discuss the gender makeup of the 2018/19 SFU MPub cohort.

A decade after WiP first gathered, their 1989 report titled, “Twice as Many, Half as Powerful” found that there were double the amount of women compared to men working in the industry, but scant few at the executive level; a follow-up study in 1995 found that there were almost nine time as many men at the executive level as there were women[3], as well as a 24% wage gap. In view of recent statistics, two facts are proven: that for decades the publishing workforce has been mostly women, and that for even longer, there has been a substantial wage gap in the industry.


Looking Forward

On July 1, 2018, Kristin Cochrane became the new CEO of Penguin Random House—arguably the most powerful publishing conglomerate in the trade book industry. This is a significant appointment and bodes well for women in the industry. Penny Mountain, in regards to the formation of WiP explained to the Independent that one of the barriers facing women moving up in the industry was that people tended to promote “in their own image”; so, an executive board being comprised of mostly men would be self-sustaining. In this sense, having a woman running such a powerful publishing body is potentially a hopeful sign of things to come[4].

While the overall trend in the publishing industry is towards corporate consolidation, which tends not to work in women’s favour (Kean 2017), there appears to be an uprising of women starting their own independent publishing houses. Indeed, according to PW, more and more women are leaving corporate publishing due to the persistent wage gap and glass ceiling, and striking out on their own. Time will tell how successful these ventures are, but it’s hopeful that women are responding to the issue by carving out their own space in the industry, as opposed to continuing to labour in unsatisfactory circumstances.

Furthermore, regarding the future of publishing, I want to close with a discussion of the 2018/19 MPub cohort at Simon Fraser University. In a 2018 paper exploring the gender makeup of the cohort (100% female), my colleague Melody Sun inferred from the fact that men weren’t present in the 2018/19 MPub cohort that men were not interested in entering the industry (Sun 2018). Respectfully, I disagree with Melody’s central argument that men are not interested in entering the industry. I would argue instead that the reason the MPub cohort is entirely women relates back to what Penny Mountain said about us as women being traditionally bad at telling ourselves how good we are. Anecdotally, the publishing industry is an experienced-based trade. The business has existed and thrived long before programs such as the SFU MPub were established to formally prepare people to work in the industry; historically, a person often came to publishing via a circuitous route that originated in a different, but related industry, and rose through the ranks in a learn-as-you-go fashion. In this sort of situation, a person advances by taking on jobs they aren’t necessarily “qualified” for, because the only way to become qualified is to do the job. I would argue that, given our patriarchal society, a pervasive historical culture of wage gaps (both inside and outside of the publishing industry) and glass ceilings, and given so many other iterations of institutionalized sexism, women are less likely to pursue positions they do not feel qualified for. In other words, women are more likely to doubt themselves. In a panel discussion[5] on “Women in Leadership” in Leanne Johnson’s PUB 600 class, I asked the guests about maintaining confidence in this sort of learn-as-you-go culture. They admitted it was a reality of the industry, and AnneMarie joked that the ideal is to “proceed with the confidence of a mediocre white man.” So, in response to Melody’s paper, I would respectfully argue that the 2018/19 MPub cohort is comprised entirely of women because we, more than our male counterparts, feel a need to make sure we are qualified to enter this industry before actually entering it. I would venture that we have male peers entering the publishing industry while we move through this program, learning as they go.

When I look at my MPub cohort community, I see a group of incredibly intelligent, talented, and dedicated women. This impression has only been magnified by the recent completion of our Fall 2018 Book Project. I see a group of women from a number of different backgrounds, with diverse skill sets and knowledge bases. I see a group of women that will each bring something unique but equally exceptional to the industry. I see a group of women that, despite all of these things, will continue to face gendered barriers to advancing in this industry, and who may have to come up with brave and creative solutions to overcome these barriers. While the success of some women, such as Kristin Cochrane, offers some hope for women in corporate publishing, it may be the fact that the best way for women to seize power in the industry is through staring their own publishing ventures. In the words of Dominque Raccah, founder of Starbooks[6], “I think that successful female entrepreneurs working together is going to be more and more of a trend as we go forward. We have to help each other to succeed.”

Reference List


Gross, Anisse. 2017. “Women Rule in Indie Publishing.” Publishers Weekly,

April 28, 2017. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/73469-the-indie-publishing-feminist-revolution.html.


Kean, Danuta. 2017. “Are things getting worse for women in publishing?” The Guardian, May

11, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/may/11/are-things-getting-worse-for-women-in-publishing.


Marsden, Harriet. 2018. “A gentleman’s profession? The women fighting for gender equality in

publishing.” Independent, April 6, 2018. https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/women-publishing-gender-pay-gap-wage-british-library-hachette-penguin-random-house-a8285516.html.


Milliot, Jim. 2018. “The PW Publishing Industry Salary Survey, 2018.” Publishers Weekly,

November 9, 2018. https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/publisher-news/article/78554-the-pw-publishing-industry-salary-survey-2018.html.


Nordicity, 2018. “Canadian Book Publishing Industry Profile: Final Report.” Association of

Canadian Publishers, July 2018.  https://publishers.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Book-Publishing-Industry-Profile-FINAL.pdf.


Porter, Andrea, and Dr. Ivy Bourgeault. 2017. “Gender, workforce and health system change in

Canada.” Canadian Institute for Health Information, November 2017. http://www.who.int/hrh/Oral-Gender-equity-and-womens-economic-empowerment-Porter-and-Bourgeault-16Nov-17h30-18h30.pdf.


Statistics Canada. 2018. “Table 1: Labour force characteristics by age group and sex, seasonally

adjusted.” Government of Canada, September 7, 2018. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/180907/t001a-eng.htm.


Statistics Canada. 2017. “International Women’s Day… by the numbers.” Government of

Canada, March 6, 2017. https://www.statcan.gc.ca/eng/dai/smr08/2017/smr08_214_2017.


Statistics Canada. 2015. “Table 1: Population by sex, Canada, 1921-2061.” Government of

Canada, November 30, 2015. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-503-x/2015001/article/14152/tbl/tbl1-eng.htm.

——. “Table 13: Women in teaching-related professions, Canada, 1996 and

2006.” Government of Canada, November 30, 2015. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/89-503-x/2010001/article/11542/tbl/tbl013-eng.html.


Sun, Melody. 2018. “A Closer Look at the Gender Ratio of the Master of Publishing Program.”

PUB 800. https://tkbr.publishing.sfu.ca/pub800/2018/10/a-closer-look-at-the-gender-ratio-of-the-master-of-publishing-program/.


[1] In fact, the PW survey findings (which reflect the US publishing industry) presented an 80-20 female-male split in the industry.

[2] But wait a minute, you might be thinking—1979, that would be right on the heels of the second-wave feminist movement—and isn’t the wage gap issue true across all industries? Aren’t women everywhere disenfranchised to some extent? Isn’t this what people are talking about when they talk about the patriarchy? Yes. But. The difference—why it is so significant in our industry—is that women are the overwhelming majority in the industry, yet we wield an overwhelmingly, disproportionately small amount of the power.

[3] 112 men to 13 women.

[4] Meanwhile, HarperCollins Canada, Simon & Schuster, Pearson, Hachette, and Nelson all have men in their CEO positions. Annette Thomas has been CEO of Macmillan Publishers since 2007.

[5] Panel consisted of of Anicka Quin, AnneMarie MacKinnon, and Tania Lo.

[6] “One of the largest woman-owned independent publishers in North America” (Gross 2017)

“please listen to me you mother fuckers, i, unlike hundreds of boy fanzine writers all across america, have a legitimate need and desperate desire to be heard. i am making a fanzine not to entertain or distract or exclude or because i don’t have anything better to do but because if i didn’t write these things no one else would either.”


—Tobi Vail, Jigsaw #3 (1991)


1990s DIY punk rebellion! Gritty, counter-culture indie publishing! Bikini Kill and angry feminists! Born from punk culture the zine channels the same non-elitist ideologies with its DIY cut and paste aesthetic, acting as a platform for voices and ideas that fall outside of mainstream media (Corey, 2016). While the zine originated as a resistance media in male dominated spaces, the zine soon found its way into the hands of the Riot Grrrls, the marginalized voices of feminists of the 90s (Piepmeier and Zeisier, 2009). These small-circulation indie publications became the perfect platform to spread feminist discourse among the community in an inexpensive and accessible way that wasn’t possible before desktop publishing and photocopying (Piepmeier and Zeisier, 2009). Zines and third wave feminism soon became inseparable. Pre-internet, zines and indie publishing was a political act, and “comparable to Facebook groups or early-era Tumblr, the pages of Riot Grrrl zines essentially operated as blogs,” with freedom and full control over production and distribution (Gamble, 2018; Corey, 2016). Since we live in the age of the internet zines are dead, right? And some people believe that the women’s movement is over, and that women’s studies has become a history lesson (Creasap, 2014). This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Zines are as prolific as ever, especially feminist zines, and while their form has evolved their messages remain counter-culture (Gamble, 2018). By looking at the feminist zine Polyester as a case study, this paper will prove that the new hybrid form of zines is politically effective, aesthetically pleasing, and stays true to the spirit of the 1990s Riot Grrrl zines. Punk has cleaned up a bit, run a comb through its hair and maybe taken a shower.

In her essay “Reimagining the Fanzine,” Amber Jelly argues that the commercialization of fanzines has created a competitive and elitist culture that goes against the original punk DIY aesthetic and accessibility of zines (Jelly, 2018). Jelly argues that these highly curated modern fanzines in their glossy magazine-like format have become a commercial object that finds itself swimming in the mainstream (Jelly, 2018). Ione Gamble writes in an article for Vice, that zines like Polyester are one of many created in the last five years that blur the lines between politicized fanzine and quality, high-cost magazine (Gamble, 2018).  This “blending of high production value with feminist ideologies […] aim to fill the vapid void women’s publishing [has] become” (Gamble, 2018). The biggest criticism of the Riot Grrrl movement was “its white, middle class-centric nature,” which parallels the current problems of modern women’s media, and it’s up to the zines to create the space where marginalized bodies take the main stage (Gamble, 2018). Zines proliferate the conversations of subcultures such as “the transgender community, feminists, immigrants, nudists, and nihilists” in rebellion against large-circulation, mainstream media (Eden, 2016).

In their physical format, zines have taken the form of what traditional magazines used to be, and people who “wanted to create a glossy magazine have found a more affordable way to do that within a zine” (Gamble, 2018). Yes, the content has become curated but it’s also become coherent with 21st century female and queer-led independent publishing that embodies the feminist musings, discussions, and debates of the early Riot Grrrl zines and it does it in a way that speaks to the current generation (Gamble, 2018). We live in an Instagram era that is highly focused on the image, which is why zines like Polyester have adopted an image heavy format and digital layout as opposed to the cut-and-paste zine aesthetic of the 90s (Gamble, 2018). Curation is a positive thing as it tightens the zines and makes them more cohesive. The curators of these zines are members of the subculture communities they’re showcasing, and are compiling what they think is important for the community to talk about. You don’t like what they’re curating? Then in true zine spirit go start your own zine. Feminist zines in the 21st century have adapted to the desires of the modern reader in the internet era, but they still manage to circulate under the radar despite feminism being a hot topic in the mainstream, and with easy access to desktop publishing, printing, and the internet, it’s even easier to start a zine. However, if you want your voice to be heard amongst all the rabble then you’re going to have to adapt your style (not your content) to appeal to the Instagram generation.

If we have the internet – blogs, Tumblr, Twitter, Instagram and a host of other places for counter-culture communities to congregate, then why do zines still exist? Shouldn’t they have died at the turn of the century? Just like the belief that print books would die with the rise of the internet and ebooks, publishing has once again been proven wrong in the case of zines.  Sarah Halle Corey explains in her article on why zines are feminist that despite the plethora of ways to produce content in the modern age there is “something viscerally compelling about someone crafting their own ideas into something you can hold in your own hands” (Corey, 2016). Jessica Clark agrees with this, emphasizing the intimate connection created between author and readers within the zine community that becomes based on a gift economy rather than a commercial exchange (Clark, 2009). The internet has created a greater sense of ephemerality, with new content being created a such a rate that a blog/Instagram/Facebook etc. post can be buried and forgotten about in a matter of hours or even minutes. To have a physical copy of a zine attaches the individual to the community, and the internet allows the conversation around the zine to take place. The internet has actually strengthened the circulation of zines, as it creates the initial all-access media production that was so valued and appealing in the 90s (Corey, 2016). The community is able to flourish with networks like The Global Grrrl Zine Network that connects zine creators and readers, and promotes e-zines like Cherry (Corey, 2016). The discoverability of zines becomes easier for those who want to find it, and even though zines are easier to find and come in more accessible and appealing formats it doesn’t make the content any less counter-culture.

Ione Gamble, editor-in-chief of Polyester describes the zine as “an intersectional feminist, queer publication aiming to bridge the gap of URL cyberfeminism with the IRL world” (Gamble and Eden, 2016). Gamble marries the digital with the zines of the 90s in a high production publication but presents an alternative to the mainstream fashion magazines, giving readers something she calls unrealistic and ridiculous as she breaks conventional expectations (Gamble and Eden, 2016). But as certain feminist publications gain traction there’s a trend, and a concern that Amber Jelly voiced in her essay, that there’s a transformation of non-profit publications into careers as feminism becomes neo-liberal and leans into the commodification of culture that happens in our capitalist society (Jelly, 2018; Gamble, 2018). For Polyester, Gamble says that the zine remains purely non-profit and that “every penny [they] make goes back in to covering [their] costs for the next issue (Gamble and Eden, 2016). Polyester doesn’t seek an economic profit, and instead focuses on critiquing the industry that exists alongside the creation of a visual identity for the female or queer community, understanding the importance behind the creation of a visual identity for these communities but moving past simple adoration of fashion (Gamble and Eden, 2016). Like the zines before it, Polyester wants to connect a community and help people feel less alone, to create a place of expression for femmes and queer people where they can voice their feelings, thoughts and moods in a way that mainstream media can’t (Gamble, Kane, and Ross, 2017). While Polyester focuses on images and fashion, it also includes creative writing, poems, interviews, and other forms of writing that mirror more traditional print magazine formats, but the content differentiates itself from the mainstream in how it embraces “all parts of the femme experience under feminism – to accept that women have darkness in them and to explore and analyze that” (Gamble, Kane and Ross, 2017). Zines have always been a place to explore subculture discourse, a safe space and a realm where a community can grow and they remain that way.

The feminist zines of the 90s rebelled against the mainstream and screamed to have their voices heard, and now with the rise of female fronted fashion and beauty zines in the 21st century politically-aware feminists are claiming some power back from the mainstream (Rex, 2016). Other zines like Polyester include Coalition which blends the narratives of artists of colour, their triumphs and traumas, with strong visuals and OOMK which explores faith, activism, identity, and style from contributors of diverse and ethnic backgrounds that is again a highly visual publication (Rex, 2016). Zines have changed from the days of Riot Grrrls to become something more inclusive with a focus on aesthetic that extends beyond the superficial. Like it or not the visual is important in defining identity and feminist zines have taken the cue from blogs, Instagram, and the internet to explore the reactions against mainstream visual identities and the ideologies behind them. Feminist print lives on and it’s inherently political even if it’s filled with pretty pictures on glossy paper.


Works Cited

Corey, Sarah Halle. “Why Zines Are Feminist (And What a Zine Is!). Hello Flo, May 17, 2016. Accessed November 12, 2018. http://helloflo.com/why-zines-are-feminist-and-what-a-zine-is/


Clark, Jessica. “Girl Talk.” The American Prospect, November 11, 2009. Accessed November 12, 2018. http://prospect.org/article/girl-talk-0


Creasap, Kimberly. “Zine-Making as Feminist Pedagogy.” Feminist Teacher 24, no. 3 (2014): 155-68. doi:10.5406/femteacher.24.3.0155.


Eden, Nellie. “The UK Girl-Zines Challenging Traditional Media.” Refinery29, April 12, 2016. Accessed November 12, 2018. https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/girl-zines-changing-publishing-uk


Gamble, Ione. “How Feminist Zine Culture Has Evolved.” Vice, June 14, 2018. Accessed November 12, 2018. https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/wjbbbb/how-feminist-zine-culture-has-evolved


Gamble, Ione. “Polyester’s new issue asks us to embrace our inner darkness.” Interview by Ashleigh Kane and Charley Ross, Dazed, April 21, 2017. Accessed November 12, 2018. http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/35666/1/polyster-zine-issue-5-clementine-creevy-nadya-pussy-riot


Gamble, Ione. “The UK Girl-Zines Challenging Traditional Media.” Interview by Nellie Eden. Refinery29, April 12, 2016. Accessed November 12, 2018. https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/girl-zines-changing-publishing-uk


Jelly, Amber. “Reimagining the Fanzine.” PUB800 Essays – Fall 2018, September 30, 2018. Accessed November 12, 2018. https://tkbr.publishing.sfu.ca/pub800/2018/09/reimagining-the-fanzine/


Piepmeier, Alison, and Zeisler, Andi. Girl Zines: Making Media, Doing Feminism. New York: New York University Press, 2009. Accessed November 9, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central.


Rex, Hatti. “10 Female Fronted Fashion, Beauty & Culture Zines to Brighten Up Your Coffee Table.” Bustle, June 23, 2016. Accessed November 12, 2018. https://www.bustle.com/articles/167698-10-female-fronted-fashion-beauty-culture-zines-to-brighten-up-your-coffee-table-photos

Women at Work

I have heard from many people that publishing is a female trade: there are many more women working in this industry than their male counterparts. This is certainly true for Simon Fraser University’s Master of Publishing program. Most of the cohorts over the years have been comprised mostly—or entirely—of women. So why exactly is it so difficult for women to reach the top in a seemingly female-dominated industry? And, with so many female editors, why is it still so hard for women to get published? It is obvious to me that, with such an abundance of females swarming the business, it really is in our hands to push ourselves to the forefront, or at least a little closer to it.

Let’s begin by examining the extent of the role women actually play in publishing. In 2015, Lee & Low Books conducted what they call a “Diversity Baseline Survey,” which analyzed the breakdown of race, gender, orientation, and disability in the North American publishing industry. What they found was that 78% of the industry overall is dominated by cisgendered women. The surveyors break their numbers down further, identifying that women outnumber men in editorial, sales, and marketing and publicity departments by 54-69% (Low 2016). It is obvious that women have the numbers in this business, and we should be able to run the show. However, Lee & Low Books’ survey also covered the number of cisgendered women in executive positions; this percentage is a lot lower at 59%. Of course, that is still higher than the male executives, but let’s keep in mind that the industry is overrun with women in all other departments. It logically follows that with so many women along the ladder, the top rung would be occupied by a similar percentage of ladies. In my research I came across the term pink ghetto, which refers to a job dominated by women who have little chance of moving up. By this definition, the publishing industry certainly is a pink ghetto. Judy Brunsek, vice-president of sales and marketing at HarperCollins, offers some insight into what might happen if women were more present in executive committees. She believes “typically women will be much more willing to discuss things, and take various issues and come to a consensus, while making sure that all the pros and cons are tabled,” and that “quite frankly … women don’t shy away from saying the bad stuff too.” Cynthia Good, president of Penguin Canada, added “emotional intelligence—I think that’s what we have. I think we’re able to look at larger pictures. I think that women look at implications, and the ways the ripples of decision-making work out” (Hussey et al. 1999). Obviously women are well-equipped for these directorial roles, but we still aren’t filling them.


Laura Meyer, chief information officer at HarperCollins UK, believes the solution is to push for what we want, and what we deserve. She says “I am a big believer in your career being your own responsibility. It is looking at how you can get to your goals. Who do you need to get advice from? What courses do you need?” (Wood & Shaffi 2015). Women aren’t getting these higher up positions because of sexism, it’s as simple as that. There is downward pressure from society in many facets including a general history of repression and patriarchy. Once we recognize this is happening we can fight against it, and work towards our industry goals. The problem will be solved once we all recognize talent and hard work for what it is, and not who is behind it. The hard part is figuring out the best method to achieve this unencumbered equality, which is, of course, a problem that has nipped at the heels of feminists for as long as feminism has existed.

While you work through that first item on the agenda, I will introduce a second problem: male authors. That is not to say male authors are a problem, just that there are so many of them running amok. This again is a product of—are you ready?—The patriarchy! American author slash literary critic Matthew Jakubowski believes the publishing industry favours men. He says “the result of this investment by publishers is that readers and literary critics are guided toward books by men. We become eager to be part of what’s promoted as big book news, more comfortable talking about a newly celebrated male author” (Flood 2014). In 2015, novelist Kamila Shamsie confirmed that only 40% of the books submitted to the Man Booker prize in the previous five years had been written by women. Shamsie sees no other reasoning for such a low female presence than sexism. “I’m going to assume that the only people who really doubt that there is a gender bias going on are those who stick with the idea that men are better writers and better critics, and that when men recommend books by men it is fair literary judgment, while when women recommend books by women it is either a political position or woolly feminine judgment” (2015). So I guess men choosing men is unbiased, but women choosing women is furthering a radical feminist agenda

Now that we’re on the topic, let’s discuss the ones actually buying the books. Researchers Kathryn Zickuhr and Lee Rainie conducted a survey in 2013 that showed 82% of women had read a book in the past 12 months, while only 69% of men had done the same (2014). Something seems wrong here. There is a myriad of women behind the scenes publishing the books, which are eventually read by a mostly-female audience. Why do we keep publishing so many books written by men? Surely women want to read more women, right? My hypothesis is that since literature is so saturated with books written by men, statistically speaking, male books are more likely to win the prizes, and the publishers want to publish the books that win the prizes, and it turns into an endless cycle that pushes female writers further and further into the background.



Catherine Nichols is an author who conducted her own experiment in order to fight this system. When only two out of 50 agents were interested in her novel, she decided to submit it again, this time under a male pseudonym. This second submission yielded 17 out of 50 agent bites. “[‘George’] is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book,” Nichols said. (Flood 2015). In this example, the sole variable is the gender of the author’s name, which allows us to conclude that it is gender alone that determines whether or not agents will predict a book to be successful. We can also deduce from this experiment that people believe male writing to be superior to that of a woman. This, I assure you, is unequivocal assumption.

“It’s not at all clear what it means to write ‘like a man’ or ‘like a woman,’ but perhaps it’s still taken for granted, often unconsciously and thus insidiously, that men write like men and women like women—or at least that they should. And perhaps it’s assumed that women writers will not write anything important—anything truly serious or necessary, revelatory or wise” writes author Francine Prose in her article “Scent of a Woman’s Ink: Are women writers really inferior?” (1998). According to Prose, we have a tendency to give hierarchical importance to subject matter according to the gender of its writer. “Speaking crudely, football and sport are ‘important’; the worship of fashion, the buying of clothes ‘trivial.’ … This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing room. A scene in a battlefield is more important than a scene in a shop … ” (Woolf, qtd. in Prose 1998). “But there is no male or female language, only the truthful or fake, the precise or vague, the inspired or the pedestrian. If, in the future, some weird cataclysm should scramble or erase all the names of authors from all the books in all the libraries, readers may have trouble … telling whether Emma Bovary and Hester Prynne were created by women or men. The only distinction that will matter will be between good and bad writing” (Prose 1998). And so it should be. Our classification needs to be decided on literary merit, not on the sex of the author. Reform will happen when we decide to religiously adhere to what we value as good writing, and nothing more.



The publishing industry defies expectations. We are a group of women publishing books for women to read, and yet we have not figured out how to support women’s success within the business, be it by rising through the ranks or getting published ourselves. We have the numbers, we just need to figure out how to use our masses to our advantage. Feminism is stronger than ever, and I believe we have the means to accomplish great strides in this field. And who knows, maybe we fresh publishing graduates can help make a feminine difference in the world of publishing.

Works Cited

Flood, Alison. “‘Year of reading women’ declared for 2014.” The Guardian. January 22, 2014. Accessed September 21, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jan/22/year-of-reading-women-2014-bias-male-writers.

Flood, Alison. “Sexism in publishing: ‘My novel wasn’t the problem, it was me, Catherine’.” The Guardian. August 06, 2015. Accessed September 21, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/aug/06/catherine-nichols-female-author-male-pseudonym.

Hussey, Valerie, Carol Toller, Cynthia Good, Nicole Brebner, and Judy Brunsek. “Taking the Next Step: Women Discuss Careers, Family and what it Takes to Get to the Top in Canadian Publishing.” Quill & Quire 65 (4): 12-13. April 1999. Accessed September 21, 2017.

Low, Jason T. “Where Is the Diversity in Publishing? The 2015 Diversity Baseline Survey Results.” Lee & Low Blog. February 10, 2016. Accessed September 21, 2017. http://blog.leeandlow.com/2016/01/26/where-is-the-diversity-in-publishing-the-2015-diversity-baseline-survey-results/.

Prose, Francine. “Scent of a Woman’s Ink: Are women writers really inferior?” Harper’s Magazine (June 1998): 61-70. https://harpers.org/archive/1998/06/scent-of-a-womans-ink/?single=1

Scottbaiowulf. “Male writers writing female characters.” Tumblr.com. December 27, 2016. Accessed September 21, 2017. http://scottbaiowulf.tumblr.com/post/155051134816/male-writers-writing-female-characters.

Shamsie, Kamila. “Kamila Shamsie: let’s have a year of publishing only women – a provocation.” The Guardian. June 05, 2015. Accessed September 21, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jun/05/kamila-shamsie-2018-year-publishing-women-no-new-books-men.

Wood, Felicity, and Shaffi, Sarah. “Glass ceiling hinders women in the trade.” The Bookseller. February 13, 2015. Accessed September 21, 2017. https://www.thebookseller.com/news/glass-ceiling-hinders-women-trade.

Zickuhr, Kathryn, and Lee Rainie. “A Snapshot of Reading in America in 2013.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. January 16, 2014. Accessed September 21, 2017. http://www.pewinternet.org/2014/01/16/a-snapshot-of-reading-in-america-in-2013/#.