Feature Interview: GRL VS creator Steph Pettit

maricat stratford


Maricat: The topics of the zines (The Unapologetic Manifesto, GRL VS public transportation, GRL VS the mosh pit) deal with the existence of female-bodied people in public spaces. What’s your relationship with the spaces in DC like?

Steph: I've lived in DC for three years and I came here for school. I initially knew nothing about DC except that it was the nation's capital. I never conceptualized it as a place where real people lived their lives, and I think that's what's been really important in my initiation into being a resident of DC. Washington, D.C. is an incredibly complicated place with its own history and its own unique struggles. It is transient at the same time that it is imminent. You can feel its multiple pulses as you move through the city and experience its movements. You need need NEED to get out of far NW to get D.C. and I think too many AU students don't get that experience.

M: What’s your favorite place to hang out in the city?

S: My favorite place to hang out in the city-that's a tough one. Probably any of the venues I go to small concerts at, like Paperhaus in Petworth, the Dougout in Brentwood, and Comet Ping Pong near Tenleytown. The Rock and Roll Hotel on H Street NE is another favorite for sure, and Amsterdam Falafel in Adams Morgan as well. I also dig Malcolm X Park in Columbia Heights as well as the Washington Peace Center in the same 'hood; those places have played big roles in my understanding of DC and my personal radicalized politics. Damn, I should probably add the Lookout near Key Bridge in Georgetown too-the big graffiti'd rock outcropping along the Potomac that gives you an amazing view of the city and friendly Virginia right across the border. Take any of those for my answer, I know I've given you a lot!

M: I’ll take all of them; that’s a great travel itinerary for people looking to get out and about. So what motivated you to make these zines?

S:  Well, I've been dreaming of becoming a zinester for a long time. It just happened that I can do a creative project for my Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies senior capstone project. I do a lot of work relevant to conceptualizing safe spaces, the public/private divide, and dominant/subaltern discourses, and for the past couple of years I've focused more specifically on rape culture and the way that as a society we are socialized into it.

I began thinking I wanted to do a project specifically on women's use of public transit and fear perception, but then opened it up into the realm of discourse analysis when I began to observe how often my female-identified friends and I said "Sorry" for things. I started asking, "For what?", and a lot of the time we either couldn't come up with an answer. It was like we had to apologize for even beginning to speak, and we doubted ourselves even when we did begin to speak (how often do you hear a girl start a sentence with "Sorry, this might be wrong, but..." or some variation of it?). We apologize as well for even being in a public space-for people running into us, for taking up a seat on a train, and if we are to look at the intense stigma and societal gaze on women's bodies in public, we apologize for garnering any kind of attention based on our bodies in public (harassment to physical violence).

Women are socialized to be the apologizers-to be passive, to exist in public only as it has been created by men historically. I wanted to figure out how externalized and internalized apologies of women when navigating public space relate to rape culture. I figured that the best way to do that would be to ask women to tell me themselves, to create a dialogue between women and public space that would counter the dominant narrative of inclusive and equitable public space, because psychologically and physically public space can really weigh on women as they use it.

A zine is a great format for this project because women can express themselves however they'd like, and in order to counter a culture that teaches us to be silent and take what's handed to us, an all-women's discourse is necessary. It doesn't have to be a "rational", linear paper-style argument in order to be taken seriously. Women's voices matter in all capacities. This zine seeks to encapsulate that.

M: What other zines have you made? What’s your editing-layout-publication process like?

S: This is my first zine! I'm stoked about it but also nervous about the physical production process. I'm focused right now on advertising the submissions drive and collective submissions, but I also have a lot of amazing friends and connections who have already said they will help me with the physical publication process when the time comes. However, I'm really enjoying creating posters to advertise my submission drive. 

I've always been into the physical creation process of creative projects but have abandoned a lot of my personal writing and art during undergrad. It's nice to get back into it and learn about the way zines are produced by hand-it's way fun!

M: Do you have an expected publication date for GRL VS? How can we get our grubby paws on it when it comes out?

S: I'll probably be publishing GRL VS at the end of the semester, and will start with a limited run until I can get my hands on some decent funding for printing. I might set up a gofundme or other crowdsource funding site so I can distribute it more thoroughly through DC. I'm planning on distributing them on campus, but also in record stores (Crooked Beat and Smash! for starters), performance and café spaces like DIY house venues, Busboys and Poets, Emergence Community Arts Collective, and maybe even public libraries, and hopefully in fun places like newspaper bins near bus stops-in the hopes that people will read GRL VS on public transit and at concerts, the sites that GRL VS will be exploring. More information about GRL VS including news about publication and distribution will be available on the GRL VS Facebook page and Tumblr!

M: Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to add?

S: The deadline for submisisons to GRL VS's three fall installments - Unapologizing My Body, GRL VS TRANSIT, and GRL VS MOSH PIT! -  is October 24th. You can submit your art, poetry, prose, and photography to grlvszine@gmail.com.

And there you have it folks. Steph is getting academic credit for actively deconstructing the system. Well done, Steph.

Are you doing something cool with words and art? Do you want to discuss it in a semi-public forum? Email me at ms2972a@american.edu.