Subtext Magazine

Subtext is a new British feminist magazine coming out of the feminist blogging community. Catherine Redfern gives the low-down on its style and substance.

, 13 August 2006

Yes, the internet has its uses, but when it comes down to it, don’t we all just love a magazine we can hold in our hands, take with us, read on public transport, and pass on to friends? I know I do. It seems more real, somehow. That’s why it’s so exciting to be reviewing the second UK feminist magazine published this year, Subtext (F Word blogger Jess has already commented, if you like a second opinion).

Subtext Issue 1

Inevitably, with having two feminist magazines around (the other being Verge), it’s irresistable to draw comparisons. And pleasingly, the two magazines do offer something different. But first – lest anyone think the two zines are in someway competing with each other – I can reassure readers that nothing could be further from the truth, with women from each team publicly encouraging the feminist community to support the others’ publication. And deservedly so, with each being organised by volunteers. Getting a magazine off the ground is much harder than you’d think – incredibly hard.

So, whilst Verge is smaller, but glossy with lots of photos and colourful text, following an established magazine format, Subtext seems to present itself – seemingly deliberately so – as a grass-roots publication with a zine ethic. Subtext has a colourful yet minimalist front cover, and the inside pages – about 26 of them – are pure unadultered feminist argument printed in black & white plain text. This zine really puts the content first, with very little illustration or pictures (although admittedly there are indications that the editors want to develop this aspect further in future issues). Perhaps this is a deliberate rejection of the dominant glossy magazine style, highlighting the rejection of mainstream values in the content itself.

Subtext seems to present itself as a grass-roots publication with a zine ethic

The zine / DIY / grass-roots style comes across in other ways; the “photocopied” feel; handwritten/hand-drawn additions to some pages; the lack of page numbers; the cut and pasting of some text, and the inclusion of a cut-and-paste collage in the best zine tradition. It seems that they intend to fund the magazine solely on profits, refusing to pursue money from advertising. I was interested to see that there is a statement saying that readers may “feel free to copy and distribute this magazine locally, but to make sure Subtext keeps going please donate any profits from independent sales back to Subtext.” Again, this indicates a clear willingness to support and utilise the existing feminist zine-distro community to further the cause.

Anyway, the content of any magazine is arguably the most important thing about it! So what does Subtext offer? Well, this issue contains various articles of varying lengths from contributors (some of whom I’m proud to say have contributed to this site in the past) and bloggers. Andrea Flinn discusses the issue of biological determinism and how lazy stereotyping of men are used to excuse and condone appalling treatment of women, rejecting the notion that men are “helpless slaves to their anatomy”. Charlotte Elizabeth covers how the media approaches female criminals, and Laurelin discusses women’s magazines in detail, picking apart how they often support capitalism and critiquing how they approach the issues of sex and heterosexual relationships.

Lorraine Douglas calls for an end to criticising other women for their personal choices with regard to fashion and cosmetics, and says we should keep our attention focussed on the beauty and fashion industries themselves, while Catherine Guy also looks at the issue of beauty and the pressure on women to conform. Michelle Wright discusses the concept of “Raunch Culture”, and the pornoification of popular culture in music videos and magazines – a popular hot-topic in many feminist blogs at the moment. There are also a couple of shorter pieces, an album review, and an interview with a German Muslim feminist.

a lot of the focus of many articles is popular culture

It is interesting that a lot of the focus of many articles is popular culture, reinforcing the point many have made that contemporary feminism sees the media and the culture as an area of particular concern. Similarly there is a focus on body image and the beauty myth, thus dismissing the lie that such issues are passe to today’s feminists and proving that “the personal is poltical” is still as relevant as it ever was. Image, the media, beauty and culture are key issues to feminists today, and Subtext proves that point.

It’ll be interesting to see how Subtext develops over the next few issues (although at this stage, like Verge, it isn’t clear how often they intend to publish). With the magazine apparently aiming to fund itself mainly through sales it’s important to support all efforts like this. So buy, find distributors, and contribute. The magazine claims to be “written by feminists, for feminists”. If you consider yourself part of the feminist community (and as a reader of this site, you should), then check it out: Subtext official website.

Catherine Redfern will be adding Subtext to her carefully preserved feminist zine collection. Although she has removed it from its original wrapper. Whoops.

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