Riot Grrrl Weekend: Poison Girls



By Sophie Rae

I was a little nervous about going to the riot grrrl archive at NYU’s Fales library. I had just seen Citizen Kane the night before and the scene where the journalist goes to Kane’s archive and he’s sitting alone in that giant room going through documents with that creepy security guard watching him freaked me out a little. But I knew that seeing these zines up close, reading them, and being inspired by them would be well worth my feeling a little out-of-place.

After a few minutes of wandering around in the periodicals room of the Bobst library, I managed to find Fales, where I was unsurprised to find that I was the only person in the room younger than the documents themselves. After stashing my bag in a locker (no bags allowed) and exchanging my pen for a pencil (no pens allowed) I settled down at a table, notebook open and ready to be filled with nuggets of riot grrrl wisdom.

Zines were the voice of the riot grrrl movement, a DIY way for riot grrrls around the country to share their views, publish their art, and organize projects and events. They were distributed by riot grrrl bands at their concerts and mailed out to their bands’ mailing lists. They were shared between friends and riot grrrl groups.

I started with the very first issue of Tammy Rae Carland’s zine, I (heart) Amy Carter. I didn’t really know much about Tammy Rae going into this except that there is a Bikini Kill song dedicated to her and that we shared the same middle name.

The publication of the Amy Carter zine (with five issues published between ’92 and ’94) followed the breakup of “Amy Carter,” a band consisting of Tammy Rae, Kathleen Hanna, and Heidi Arbogast. The zines, which were sold by mail for $2.50 or more depending on the issue, focus on Tammy’s girlhood crush on Amy Carter (President Carter’s daughter) and the importance of female role models for girls and women. In an interview featured in the 3rd issue of a different zine, “Keroscene Kelly’s” zine Thorn (co-founded with Tammy), Tammy says that “girls and women are trained to idolize people of the opposite sex. It’s important for us to have female heroes because it broadens our perspective of power.” This is an idea that I think is crucial to feminism and that I’ve actually been thinking a lot about lately. I have friends whose closest thing to a female role model is Katy Perry, and it really does make a difference.

So, captivated by the idea behind the zine, I continued reading. The zines, which were the original layout pages, are quite basic: typewritten articles and graphics pasted onto graph paper with typos corrected with black pen and decorated with blue sticker stars like the ones Rachel Berry puts next to her name (ok you caught me, I’m a total gleek). In this first issue Tammy defines Amy as a “politically active girl artist who makes paintings about race and gender” and laments the fact that Amy is not “queer”.

Though Tammy makes it clear that she is obsessed with Amy (as evidenced by the articles and musings about her throughout the issues), she writes that she didn’t “desire her” but instead “wanted to be her. I wanted to become her because she wasn’t me.”

The pages of the zines are littered with art and graphics: a woman flipping the reader off, a chainsaw with the words “girl power” written on it, a photo of a girl standing on a horse. There are articles taken from newspapers and magazines, mostly gossip columns about celebrities and their lesbian affairs. A particularly hilarious article is from an unmarked newspaper about the lesbian population of Northampton, MA, renamed “lesbianville.”

Original pieces include an article on female AIDS, statistics on rape, interviews with girl artists and musicians. There’s a glossary of “gay terms,” clips of love letters, quotes from female authors including my personal favorite from Dorothy Allison, “dykes with guns, that’ll scare ’em.”

In the 2nd issue, Tammy writes that “zines are a great networking system for projects and ideas as well as one of the most effective ways to take control of representation.” The idea of “networking” is clear throughout all of I (heart) Amy Carter. Every issue includes pleas for submissions, heads-ups about touring girl bands, and in later issues, advertisements for other zines and women activist organizations. More than networking, this zine aims to support other girls and women, whether it’s in their creative projects or their physical health. One issue asks if any readers have any information on lesbian serial killer Aileen Wuornos for a project Tammy was doing on female murderers. Or is that murderesses?

I (heart) Amy Carter is equal parts feminism, gay rights, and artistic creativity. It is activism at its best: a network of girls and women from around the country with a common purpose sharing information, opinions, and art with each other. In Tammy’s words, “it’s about having butterflies in your belly and biceps in your heart. It’s about girl love + girl power + girl sex + girl friends.”

The Riot Grrrl archive is housed in the Fales Library at NYU. For more information, click here.


21 Comments on “Riot Grrrl Weekend: Poison Girls”

  1. Isabelle says:

    You’re on top of the game. Thanks for sahring.

    • Mamadou says:

      Hi, thanks to you I have dirscveoed Sweet Paul magazine. This is a amazing magazine.. THANKS a lot !!! Keep going the good work !Have a nice holiday season! Ste9phanie

    • Percilia says:

      hi!! i ordered your zine from sweet candy ditrso, and it hasn’t arrived yet but i find myself constantly thinking about alternatives to the always-plugged-in life that i’ve built for my family. i recently got into zines, and decided to make one myself (instead of being on the internet), but here i am again, at 11pm and instead of sleeping, i’m wasting time. there has to be a better way. maybe not having internet at home is a key point. but then i wonder, how am i supposed to be reachable via email/etc. for school? what about if i have an online class? and then i’m shocked at how much of myself i’m willing to give away. what is left for me? i have major anxiety issues, too, and lately have led a rather anti-social life i just blogged about it, but even then i feel like i’m just barely scratching the surface. i’m really looking forward to reading your zine, and more of your blog. thank you for being awesome and for putting yourself out there (on paper, and not just the internet!). i’m teaching an intro to comp class this fall and plan on using zines as a huge part of my curriculum.-chelsea

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  2. Melia says:

    Ho ho, who wodula thunk it, right?

    • Dino says:

      , Fuck it, this is the last one.’ And then I think of sonhteimg else I want to write, and sonhteimg else, and it’s just about impossible to step away from. I have definitely been limiting the amount of time I spend thinking about zines, though. I have barely been able to read any the last little while, and now have a stack of unread zines that I feel I will never finish. I have retreated over the last little bit as well, and life got a lot easier when I stopped pressuring myself to absorb everything, to follow the dumb shit that happens on WMZ, etc. I also feel like so many lukewarm friendships have come from my zines (i.e.: people adding me on Facebook after reading my zine and then never, ever talking to me), and I don’t want that anymore, I want real friends. And I don’t want to be concerned with how many zines I sell/trade, or how often I make one.I guess I am more saddened than offended when somebody says I am intimidating. I like examining where that kind of emotion comes from, but I also just get frustrated and wish it didn’t happen at all. Which is obviously over-simplifying the whole thing, but that’s how it is right now. i can’t control anyone’s behavior but my own, so i just try to be sincere in my actions. Yep, that’s the way to be.

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