Women in Santa Cruz use underground zine as a medium for a raw look at gendered violence
I “I remember the first time I told my therapist I had been a sex worker … I was 21, and I only did it for three weeks.”
That’s the opening line of “One Sex Worker’s Experience,” an anonymous submission printed in “Speak Out! Exploring Gendered Violence,” a local zine published in April in celebration of Sexual Assault Awareness month. The soul-baring confession, as gripping as it is jarring, is precisely the type of electric honesty that separates the self-published zine from just any collection of ink on paper.
No censoring, no editing, no nonsense, “Speak Out” is the brainchild of Mary Mykhaylova, 23, and Julia Fogelson, 25, Masters of Social Work students from Smith College in Massachusetts, who came to Santa Cruz to work with the Resource Center for Nonviolence as part of their Community Practice Project.
A tapestry of personal stories and art pieces contributed by local community members, the 200 copies of “Speak Out” demonstrate that the “violence” in gendered violence doesn’t always mean the physical kind, as Mykhaylova and Fogelson explain—it encompasses everything from street harassment to unwanted physical attention or comments, which can be violent in the sense that they undermine a person’s sense safety, space and self.
“I never said no—but he also never asked me if it was all right,” the author continues in “One Sex Worker’s Experience.” “I came to a realization after that night. If men were just going to take it, I was going to charge for it.”
So she did. And, at first, anyway, she enjoyed it. However, after being wined and dined, then bedded, by men around the city, she was again violated—this time by a man who didn’t disclose having an STD, and didn’t put on a condom despite her request. Again, it was something more subtle than what is generally classified as “violence against women”—not a physical attack, but a violation of consent.
It’s exactly these more subtle sorts of miscommunications that are so often at the center of gendered violence issues, says Mykhaylova.
“Do you think it makes women feel good to be evaluated in this way? To be cased down each aisle, ‘Hey beautiful’ … Do you think that when I create a wide berth between us I am playing hard to get?”
-RAGGEDY ANDEY, ‘SPEAK OUT’
In “Speak Out,” Raggedy Andey describes the violation of being relentlessly pursued in a CVS drugstore—“Look, I’m out to buy cleaning supplies,” she writes.
To be called beautiful, she explains, is not flattery that all women welcome with open arms; giving the act a cute name like “catcalling” dismisses the fundamental problem: catcalling is done without permission, let alone the consideration that being “on display,” is something women have seemingly little say in, say Mykhaylova and Fogelson.
Even in 2015, women are still far more likely to receive comments on their outward appearance than on the content of their character, and that’s the inspiration for the zine’s back-cover image by Allison Garcia, an art student at Cabrillo College. Her drawing depicts a woman staring defiantly above a banner reading “strong,” tigers on her head—the real seat of her power.
“It’s a really important message to make women feel strong, I don’t think it’s encouraged enough,” says Garcia. “It’s not a frequent compliment to remind a woman that she’s capable, that she’s strong.”
It’s possible to drive that message home in a zine, she says, unlike a more commercial or scholarly publication.
“I think the whole DIY concept takes out the filter that a professionally published book might—the authors or artists put exactly what they meant. They don’t have to water it down or change their intention in any way,” says Garcia. “It feels really pure and it feels local.”
That was the idea—to tell real-life stories of gendered violence, in something people can physically pick up and feel in their hands. Flipping through its pages can spark many negative emotions—disbelief, anger, sadness, rage—but also feelings of solidarity, compassion and hope.
It took Mykhaylova and Fogelson months to put the zine together. After coming up with the idea, they went ahead getting the word out: printing and posting fliers, sending a call for submissions to media outlets, attending protests and poetry open mics, and then creating a Tumblr page where people could submit their work.
After an initial lag in submissions (“people tend to be procrastinators,” says Mykhaylova), they printed everything they received—Community Printers gave them 24 pages.
The turning point, says Mykhaylova, was when she worked with the Museum of Art & History’s “Subjects to Change” Teen Night and received nine pieces from mainly high-school-aged kids.
“It was wonderful to see how messages can come through, especially the submissions from youth, because this is a topic that is really complicated and sad, in a way,” says Mykhaylova. “It’s very powerful to see that people of all ages are connected to it, and that they have these beautiful, artistic ways of sharing their stories.”
Getting people to acknowledge something as monolithic and misunderstood as gendered violence, says Mykhaylova, requires that community effort.
“i have walked around for twenty years with useless hands and a gun for a mouth
that has to fire inward on most days because
no one can eat this much of my fire but myself.
they will implant an anger in you that they will later try to deny,
hold fast to this anger
it is what you have won after surviving living in female skin
after living in a skin that invites the other half of the world to make you into a wound.”
-RAGGEDY ANDEY, ‘SPEAK OUT’
“You don’t have to have experienced sexual assault to feel like you’ve experienced gendered violence: it’s all around us,” says Mykhaylova. “If someone has a medical issue, like a broken leg—they’ll go to the doctor and get it taken care of, but when it’s an emotional issue people are scared to open up.”
Emotional scars can be just as devastating, and longer-lasting, than physical ones. When we call all instances of gendered violence by their true name, society can start to recognize just how many people it really affects, says Fogelson.
“Queering Abolition” is a story in “Speak Out,” about transgendered violence; it depicts the bloody, violent discrimination that so many trans men and women face, specifically from police and within the prison system.
“Please, take a minute to imagine what it’s like to be a trans woman in a men’s prison,” writes Nykki Milano. “To be subjected to strip searches that open up your trans body to the violence of guards and fellow inmates alike. To be misgendered constantly.”
Gendered violence doesn’t refer to just women or just men, especially when a large sector of the population that does not recognize themselves in that binary, faces the greatest amount of physical discrimination and hate.
Our system is sick, says Mykhaylova, and those who still think the little offhand comments are “no big deal” are just reinforcing it, building it up and making the walls stronger.
“Mansplain (verb): to explain something in a patronizing manner to a womyn, as if the man in reference was the expert in all things.”
Transforming how people view each other requires renegotiation, says Fogelson.
“Sometimes the conversations aren’t happening because maybe people recognize the concepts, but don’t have the tools to recognize them as a problem,” says Fogelson, who works with middle schoolers at Star Community School and discusses these ideas with them. She says that they get it—and even though they’re as young as 11 and 12, once they start talking about what it feels like to be catcalled or harassed, they get angry.
Oftentimes young people shy away from issues of consent because of how clinical they seem, says Mykhaylova. In other words, no one wants to stop every two minutes in the heat of the moment and ask “Is this OK? Is this OK?” But the reality is, you never know what the other partner is thinking, feeling, or too afraid to say.
“It’s even things like ‘What does the body language look like?’” says Fogelson.
Getting to kids at an adolescent age, when their bodies are changing and they’re encountering their sexuality, is crucial, says Fogelson. Mykhaylova and Fogelson advocate for sex education to move away from a pure public health model and include conversations about consent and sexuality.
“A lot of sex ed is shame-based, starting with this idea that we’re not naturally sexual or that it’s bad—I wish it would be like more like it’s not bad, it’s natural,” says Fogelson.
“Misinformation is the real danger,” adds Mykhaylova.
The lesson could be tailored to younger children as well, excluding the sex talk and focusing instead on when it’s OK to hug, when it’s OK to play with another child’s toys, says Fogelson.
Something as simple as a zine, then, is a way in which ideas can be spread and conventions challenged, Mykhaylova and Fogelson emphasize.
“We’ve been socialized into these patterns that aren’t healthy for so long,” says Fogelson. “We have to redo society in certain ways.”
“Speak Out!” can be found at: Resource Center for Nonviolence, Planned Parenthood, Caffe Pergolesi, Louden Nelson Center, Boys & Girls Club, Walnut Avenue Women’s Center, Barrios Unidos, Diversity Center, Art Bar at the Tannery, Cantu Queer Center and others. A PDF can be found at: rcnv.org/programs/youth.