Audrey Mardavich lives and writes in Austin, Texas, and encourages you to check out the many feminist zines collected here from the Papercut Zine Library in Cambridge, M.A.

Tali Stern-Feldman and I lived in Boston. Now I live far, far away in Austin, Texas. Through the power of the Internet and a mutual friend, I found out that Tali was working on a project called Girls At Their Best-A Feminist Zine for Everyone. The zine is an all inclusive collage-like publication with the idea that “there is a place for everything that you have to say.”

It’s so exciting to hear about the cool things women all over the world are doing in the name of feminism and gender equality, and I decided to get in touch with Tali and find out more about how the zine was started and what it’s like to create your own.

Girls At Their Best creator Tali Stern-Feldman.

Audrey: Under what conditions was Girls at Their Best started?

Tali: Well, the idea has been with me for some time, but I never really had the impetus. Then something happened to me and everything changed. I found myself with things to say but lacked an appropriate avenue for expression. At the same time, we started hearing things about the bill that passed in the House, proposing cuts for all federal funding for Planned Parenthood. And more and more states are passing anti-abortion related laws.

So many women in the U.S. think they’re safe, have these vague ideas that they think set us apart from “backwards” places that they’ve stereotyped as being on the other end of the spectrum. But we are NOT safe (and I really don’t mean to diminish other, more pressing problems facing women around the world with this statement). Right now the GOP is trying for a firm hold on our rights, which weren’t so great in the first place and are at risk of being further diminished. If you’re sexually assaulted in the state of Massachusetts, the aggressor cannot be convicted unless there is a witness to the crime. So, is there someone else who’s supposed to be taking notes on what’s happening? Is that what they expect? Ridiculous, right? But it’s the truth.

And it may get worse. There’s currently a senator from Georgia who is proposing that victims of sexual assault be labeled ACCUSER on the record, rather than VICTIM. See the agency switch here? The law is so vehemently anti-woman and anti- victim, it is just awful.

And it’s not that women don’t care, or don’t want to change these things. It’s mainly an issue of ignorance. We don’t know how the laws affect our lives until something happens. So I’m hoping that a project like this will increase awareness of these issues at stake, among other things. And that’s all the negative spin I will give today! Because I really, really want the project to focus on ideas of unity and a positive hopefulness with regards to our ability to effect change.

Audrey: I love that Girls at Their Best seems to be an all-inclusive community project, which were the terms of many feminist collectives/presses/zines in the past. Can you speak a little bit to the history of feminist zines and why that appeals to you versus lets say…a blog?

Tali: The idea of an underground/radical press has been around for some time, but I suppose the ’60s is a good place to start, in terms of really radical movements in print. Here you see the advent of alternative comix, hippies coming out with radical newspapers, Beat chapbooks (though I’m not sure how we can relate those to fights against patriarchal systems!) and other publications offering alternate views on societal structures.

With the ’70s and punk we got MRR, which started as a radio show and then became a fanzine, and all sorts of other radical, political zines.

And then of course, Bikini Kill, which was a zine before it was a band. Kathleen Hanna and her crew got it all going with the Riot Grrrl manifesto. Girl Germs was started by members of Bratmobile and is my favorite of that era; it included interviews with all sorts of bands that were active at the time and important to the movement.

To me, this riot grrrl zine explosion was so effective and historically important because of the concretization of ideas that people were already thinking about. I want to try to reinforce the notion that underground press can really do something. And since the project is centered on ideas of unity, I wanted to keep it to print because it’s easier to be unified by something tangible than the opposite. Blogs can certainly be effective and there are plenty that do better work than I ever could (like Feminsting, for example, or Kathleen Hanna’s blog). But personally, nothing can replace the inherent emotionality of what happens when you put a pen to paper.

That said, I did borrow Web 2.0ish ideas regarding user-driven content. It’s a lot more fun to see a variety of entries from lots of different people and I wanted that framework over one that’s more standard and doesn’t include these communal elements.

Audrey: What got you interested in feminism/activism, recently or earlier in life?

Tali: When I was in 6th grade, my class went on a figure-skating trip to Chelsea Piers in New York. I was skating around when an older boy raced up behind me and snapped my bra with such force that I fell onto the blade of my skate and injured myself. I jokingly tell my friends that I lost my virginity to an ice skate, but yeesh, can you think of anything more symbolic? The event was a turning point. I started listening to Sarah McLachlan and the Indigo Girls and scrutinizing commercials that told me I needed to look good in a Little Black Dress. It really is funny to think back on, in a sobering kind of way.

The desire for activism came much, much later. I needed to gain some confidence in my own abilities in order to understand that I was capable of at least trying. And I still have a long way to go in that regard.

Audrey: What do you hope to accomplish with the project?

Tali: In 1988, Carolyn Heilbrun authored Writing a Woman’s Life, which in part details what she viewed as the state of feminism during her time and how it had come to be so ineffective. She pinned the crux of the problem on the women themselves and their lack of unity. I think this is still a problem, I see it everywhere, lots of in-fighting, jealousy, unhealthy competitiveness.

Maybe if we have an avenue for expression, we can discover the ways in which we are connected, because we all are. That’s why I want this to be submission-driven. We don’t need to hear soapbox declarations about feminism or the current state of feminism – we need something to represent the fact that unity is possible. I want to weave these words and drawings together, that’s all my role will be in this. No editing, just layout.

Audrey: When can we expect to see it?

Tali: I’m hoping it can be printed by August of this year. I’m looking at Cambridge Offset Printing, a self-identified “Woman Owned Business.” Very exciting.

Audrey: Do you have plans for upcoming issues?

Tali: I’d definitely like this to be an ongoing project, but it’ll really depend on how badly people want it since it is a user-driven thing!

Audrey: Who is your favorite feminist?

Tali: My favorite feminist! This is like picking a favorite song. How can I? There are just too many that are so great. And how do we define feminist? Do you have to be an activist to be a feminist? Do you have to be comfortable with the word in the first place? These are ideas I think about often. In my mind, any person who has progressive ideas about gender is a feminist.

Audrey: What are some of your favorite books about gender/feminism/activism, etc?

Tali: Again, this is tough because there are so many! Right now I’m really into feminist/queer-positive graphic novelists like Alison Bechdel, Justine Shaw and Ariel Schrag.  And I’m re-reading classics like Adrienne Rich’s Diving into the Wreck and Carolyn Heilbrun’s Writing a Woman’s Life, as well as Why I Want a Wife by Judy Syfers.

My studies definitely inform a lot of my opinions, much of what I read is on the more academic end of things. I think that a fundamental change in the way we think about issues relating to feminism, like issues regarding the gender binary system, is essential to a future wave of feminism.

Audrey: Do you have any advice for people that want to start their own zine?

Tali: My advice would be just to put all fears out of your mind and go for it. You don’t need a plan, you don’t need a detailed list of the way you’re going to do things, just start with something concrete like a call for submissions. It really is the hardest part. I think passion can guide the rest.

For more information on Girls At Their Best, check out the zine’s Facebook page. To get in touch with Tali and to submit entries, contact her at girlsattheirbest@gmail.com

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