The 90’s: Buffy, zines, and the third wave | Journal #6 | WGST 250

The Riot Grrrl movement, and the third wave of feminism, began in the early nineties, just before I was born. Let’s look at the latter first. When think first wave, I think:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The television series premiered in 1997 (five years after the film upon which it is based) and Buffy Summers embodies a lot of what I associate with third wave feminism.

Where feminism meets pop culture, we get a show that takes the blonde valley girl—typical horror movie fodder—and makes her the supernaturally talented chosen one. Buffy gets to be traditionally feminine and also kick ass. She has strength as the Slayer and she commands respect. She can walk through the streets at night, unafraid, and is empowered to stand up to the Big Bad of the week, every week.

Is the character feminist? Is the show feminist? Well…it’s complicated. Rachel Fudge’s 1999 article “The Buffy Effect” points out that Buffy’s feminism is limited by the show’s need to attract a mainstream audience, and that the show’s marketing “threatens to turn empowerment into yet another product.” The show’s chosen feminism also has a distinctly white, middle-class, suburban flavour. But the show tackles many of the issues that third-wave feminism tries to address (see my checklist above). The final season especially makes strides to address cultural diversity and collective activism, issues which were largely sidelined in earlier seasons in favour of Buffy’s individual empowerment (for more on this, see “Buffy Summers: Third-Wave Feminist Icon”).

I like thinking about Buffy in relationship to the third wave because I think the show did a lot of things right, and its iconic place in pop culture history means that people are still critiquing it and finding that we can do better.

As for Riot Grrrl, the carryover from that era, for me, is

zines.

The subculture of political, feminist zines centred on lived experience is still alive and well today. “Zines” as a category is huge. While the Internet may be a more efficient way of disseminating information, zines are still celebrated as a form of personal expression.

Canzine celebrates “underground printed arts,” the Vancouver Public Library has a collection of zines, and the lowercase reading room in Vancouver’s Regional Assembly of Text also carries hundreds of zines and self-published books.

For zines more in-line with the Riot Grrrl tradition, there are zine distros (distributors) like Stranger Danger in Chicago, which carries “feminist zines, queer zines, trans zines, POC zines…zines about identity, home, disabilities, friendship, survival, etc etc.” While the Internet offers a whole new avenue for feminist writers, I still find myself moved by these physical artifacts which often tell very personal stories.

P.S.

As a final thought, I’d like to suggest that there’s another subculture of marginalized writers finding creative ways to tell their story in the digital age.

Twine.

This book, edited by merrit kopas, includes a collection of Twine authors playing through and commenting on each other’s work, and offers a fascinating glimpse into how games and interactive fiction have been the new medium of choice for voices not often heard from in mainstream media.

Twine is a program for creating interactive, non-linear stories. Part of the wonderful thing about interactive fiction is that it frequently puts the reader/player in the position of the main character. Stories are written in the second person—you do this, you go to that place—and so many Twine games put players in the position of queer or trans folk, or people of colour, or people living with mental illness. Some of the stories are largely autobiographical while others place us in a fantastical universe; the goal in either case is to show us people and stories that we don’t see in Hollywood films or on television shows.

Just for fun, check out Zine Fair Lady, a Twine game by Morgan Sea about navigating a queer zine fair as a trans woman.

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