Fourth wave feminism is a nebulous beast. Shape-shifting, label-changing, name-calling, it’s an inclusive, exclusive, girls club which spends more time gazing into the camera at its own Face Tuned reflection than practising the love it preaches in vowelless Instagram hashtags.
Thank god then for independent magazine Girls like Us, which we first wrote about back in 2014 although as founder and editor Jessica Gysel explains, the magazine, which is now in the ninth issue of it’s second volume, started life way back in 2005. “So far we made two volumes, a first one of eight issues between 2005 and 2009, and then a second volume — this is our ninth issue of this volume — between 2010 and now,” she says.
In the 12 years since it started, Girls Like Us has seen more changes in positioning than appearance. “It started more as a lesbian and queer fanzine,” Jessica says. “We did a fundamental redesign for the second volume to reposition as a feminist arts magazine, but of course still strongly grounded in its queer roots.” These days, Girls Like Us is defined through a manifesto which Sara Kaaman, the magazine’s graphic designer, originally scribed for Brno Design Biennale. “_Girls Like Us_ is more or less female,” it begins, acknowledging the slippery, non-binary nature of gender. “_Girls Like Us_ talks to each other and asks questions about possible futures, ways of living and sharing. Girls Like Us is an investigation in the form of a magazine.”
Past issues have explored family and bodies, with the latest issue themed around dance and dancing. We caught up with Jessica to find out more.
Tell us about the team behind the magazine. What part do men play in Girls Like Us?
Girls Like Us started as a two-women publication, to grow into a more collective group working on the magazine. At the moment we are five people, three in Brussels – myself, Katja Mater and Marnie Slater and then two in Stockholm (Sara Kaaman and Stina Löfgren – they work on the graphic design part mainly). We also have some assistants and a bigger network in different cities all over the world who all help with content, distribution, feedback, organising events and so on.
We do work with men too. Cis men, queer and trans guys. But the content of the magazine is “more or less female”.
How do the team go about putting an issue together?
We work with themed issues, that we define upfront. Themes we have covered so far are Work, Play, Generations, Secrets, Body, Family and now Dance and Dancing. We have Future and Economy in the pipeline. Once we decide on the theme, we try to come together with the whole group to discuss and make a loose map of all the topics. Then we start to filter it down, and fill it in on concrete level. We work a lot with Skype and Google drive as we’re not all in the same city, and also travel a lot for our other jobs. We try to talk over Skype at least once a week.
This issue marks the first time you’ve worked with a guest editor. How did that work out?
I guess it’s still a bit early to say, as the issue is just out, but the process was great. Emma Hedditch, the guest editor, approached us last September with the idea of making and issue centred around the New York dance scene and we took it from there. Initially we were thinking about making it a “hors series” kind of publication, but we thought this too complicated, so it simply became Issue 9, although we decided to change the format. I’m not sure what will happen next — if we’ll keep the new format or not. We’ve got a lot of great feedback on the format change so far…
Run us through issue 9 — what excites you about this issue?
I like very much that is very focused around the contemporary NYC dance scene, and researches its past, present and also future from a mostly queer point of view. I think it’s very inclusive, featuring people from all colours and backgrounds, and moves between dance floors, performances and studios. The act of dancing and the architecture of where to dance are equally important, and I also love the idea of dance as resistance as a tool for liberation and sharing.
What makes a great issue of Girls Like Us?
A lot of topics in the latest issue are a red line in most of our issues: different generations meeting, using the body as an activist tool, being in touch with nature and your surroundings, being inclusive… We really try to offer different routes towards a non-patriarchy via a creative and “gentle gender” approach, and that makes up a great issue, or at least I hope so.
In what ways does the magazine reconstruct gender?
Our subtitle (if we should have one) would be: “More or less female” (we have a t-shirt with the slogan, our bestseller ;)). From the early beginning of the magazine we’ve been really supportive towards trans people, which morphed into non-gender conforming people, genderqueers and every possible other gender construction. We’re called Girls Like Us, as a wink to the famous book and movie, but of course the word “girls” has gotten so much more meaning the last years (think of the series with the same name, of the black trans movement’s hashtag “Girls Like Us”). I think we believe in the feminist power the word “girls” can have, but we’re not supporting the gender binary as such, we want to be much more open.
You’ve worked with an impressive list of names already — Fatima Al Qadiri, Peaches, Tavi Gevinson, Nina Power, Richard Kern, Ryan McGinley… What’s the secret to securing such big names?
I don’t know. Some of these people we’ve been following from the very beginning of their careers, so you build up a relationship – like with Peaches for example. We’re quite straightforward in our approach, and I think a lot of people like to be featured because we give a lot of freedom content wise, and also don’t over-edit, but try to keep the personal voices and point of view as intact as possible.