Feminism is a word I hear more and more often these days. It seems a shift has occurred, both in print and online, that is making people stop and listen. It is an area I always used to be a little dumbfounded if asked about, yet now I feel more confident to discuss the topic and what it means to me. My feminist education comes from books, magazines such as Twin, and many online ‘zines. One that I came across was Pamflet, a fanzine style ‘pamphlet’, that revels in the female condition in a humorous fashion. Its creators are Anna-Marie Fitzgerald and Phoebe Frangoul. I caught up with the pair to find out more about Pamflet and feminism, as well as fashion.
They were inspired to start a zine as a 21st-century way of continuing the tradition of a long line of earlier bluestockings: Mary Wortley Montague, Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, the Brontës, Virginia Woolf and Margaret Atwood. Pamflet is the culmination of suburban London girlhoods gilded with fierce magazine-mauling, journal-writing, letter-scribbling, email-keying, scrapbook-keeping, book-devouring, indie-loving, outfit-styling and culture snacking.
When and why did you start Pamflet?
Anna-Marie: We met through a mutual friend at university in London and after graduation were both working in dead-end jobs in our early 20s and were pretty desperate for a creative outlet for our various frustrations. We had similar tastes in music and books and both loved girl-made pop culture and had always wanted to make zines (because we were into alternative/punk music as teens) so it made sense that our project should take the form of a fanzine. We are also both English Lit graduates, so books have always been a major reference point for us. The first issue of Pamflet was released in September 2005 so its seventh birthday has just happened! (The word Pamflet is our initials combined with the word pamphlet).
Anna-Marie Fitzgerald on the left and Phoebe Frangoul sitting on the right.
Who is your typical reader?
A-M: It’s always been safer for us not to wonder who our typical reader is so that we’re not tempted to self-censor and continue to just please ourselves! But if we had to guess she’s probably in her 20s or 30s, lives in London and is perhaps interested in intellectualising fashion a bit.
What does she do on a Saturday morning?
A-M: If she has a Saturday morning (and unless you’ve stayed out very late you should) then probably wearing clothes that are NSFW, doing some kind of exercise outside the house, going out for lengthy, elaborate breakfasts and looking at what people are wearing, flicking through the Guardian Review, making lists of all of the productive stuff she plans to achieve by Sunday night… Ok I’m talking about my Saturday mornings.
What topics are your favourite to discuss in Pamflet?
A-M: My favourite kinds of features to write (which I know is not what you asked) are tongue-in-cheek fashion bits like Try-Hard Trends which was a regular slot in the zine. THT reported on a mix of real and made-up zeitgeisty looks and lifestyle suggestions which were always really fun to write. One of the rules was that Kate Moss would always be pictured trying one of the trends out which only seems right really. I also enjoy putting a feminist filter on topics like shoes or 80s teen films or shopping. As you can probably tell, in the zine we could be fairly self-indulgent and topics veered from social observation (indie boys are rubbish) – to style (what our friends wear in bed), but we mixed it up with serious stuff too…
What does feminism mean to you, today?
A-M: It’s still as important to me as when I first discovered it in books as an 18-year-old, but what it means to me has changed a lot since then. My feminist enlightenment (corny I know) happened almost entirely through literature, as I started to see how women had been marginalised in that particular cultural history and then became conscious of other issues that I’d probably been fortunate enough not to really be aware of before. So to me feminism has always been primarily about supporting women-made music/art/books because those are the things I love and know about! For example, I was too young for riot grrrl but it’s been fun seeing it being referenced and revived by Kate Nash or Meadham Kirchhoff in the past couple of years and that’s the kind of thing I mean. We also only play girl-music at our parties and it’s rare that anyone notices that something might be amiss.
I think the overwhelming popularity of recent books like Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman has marked a shift in the general public’s and media’s perception of feminism over the past few years for the better. It shows that angry, funny women are not a crazy ‘niche’ and that in fact many ‘normal’ women are interested in living a kind of pragmatic feminism.
In the non-Pamflet/real world I support the Fawcett Society and there are some brilliant new lobby groups like UK Feminista doing important campaign work around workplace equality, family issues and reproductive rights too.
Phoebe: I’m interested in the different ways feminism is developing around the world – particularly in the Middle East, and how it’s not always ‘compatible’ with traditional definitions as we understand them. I’m inspired by the work of charities like Dignity! Period. and the Campaign to End Fistula which are doing amazing work to raise the standard of living for women in Africa. I also run a Brownie unit and I’ve been reading a lot recently about how the Guiding movement has always had feminist principles – long before feminism even became a coherent movement. I just read How the Girl Guides Won the War by Janie Hampton which showed through astonishing anecdotes how Guides and Brownies put their badass skills (including Morse code and engine maintenance) to good use during WW2 – proper feminist icons for me!
You have been asked before, but do you think fashion is feminist?
A-M: I think Phoebe’s probably best placed to answer this question, but as an observer (my day job is as a publicist in book publishing), I don’t think the fashion industry is particularly feminist – (this is v simplistic!) it’s about making money and design/innovation. However, there are many individual women (and men) within the business who I’m sure would consider themselves feminists and conscious role models for, and mentors to, younger women starting out in the industry.
It’s shocking that the fashion industry isn’t taken more seriously in the UK when it has such an impact on the economy and employs so many millions of (mostly female) people – and it’s something that we’re rather good at! That does bother me, particularly seeing the coverage that LFW just got on places like Radio 4. But perhaps that doesn’t matter as much as actually getting on with things and doing the job well. [P: I would add to what Anna-Marie said that the fashion industry contributed £21 billion to the UK economy last year – twice what car manufacturing contributed.]
On a personal level, I think clothes are an incredibly important part of my identity and I’ve always loved dressing up rituals like Saturday Nights and special occasions and absolutely respect the imagination involved in putting a cool outfit together. How I’ve dressed has helped me make friends, get jobs, start debates, make people laugh, make a point when I find it hard to find the words I want to say out loud… which is pretty important to me. So maybe I’ll put it this way – I think feminists don’t need to feel guilty about caring about what they look like!
P: I’m a fashion editor and a feminist so the short answer for me would be yes! But obviously it’s not as simple as that. I think what I find frustrating about this question (which we’ve been asked SO many times!) is does anyone ponder whether pharmaceuticals, car manufacturing or farming are feminist – why is it always fashion? Fashion is enjoyed by millions of women – many of whom might not feel they have any form of self-expression other than the clothes they choose to wear every day. That choice can be powerful, so I would argue, if pressed, that fashion can be feminist on a personal level and as an industry if the right choices are made – but we should be looking at all industries and asking the same challenging questions of them too.
What magazines, print or online, do you both read religiously?
A-M: SO MANY. I subscribe to Vogue, Elle (since I was 14) and Harper’s Bazaar. Although I am by no means an uncritical reader and am always silently threatening to terminate my subscriptions. I also get the American magazines Bust (cute, glossy, feminist lifestyle mag) and Bitch (a revelation – a quarterly subtitled ‘feminist response to pop culture’) and have subscribed to them both on and off for about 10 years. In terms of UK indie mags I love The Gentlewoman and Betty and Canadian fashion journal Worn too. And Rookie is the ultimate teenzine online – it’s the only thing that makes me jealous of teenagers today. They have Rookie; we had Sugar.
P: The magazines I spend money on are: Vogue, Tatler, Harper’s Bazaar and The Lady. I like mags to be funny, intelligent, inspiring and escapist and those four deliver for me on all counts.
What is The Pamflet Salon?
A-M: Pamflet’s had a party element since we started – we’d have a launch to mark the publication of each issue and then started finding excuses to party and put on gigs in between issues and would occasionally DJ at non-Pamflet events too. When we took a break from the zine at the end of 2010 we still wanted to do Pamflet happenings but in a setting that involved more talking than dancing! We’ve been part of a very fun book club since 2010, read a lot and wanted to somehow combine book chat with booze and get lots of friends together and that’s where the salon came from. We usually have a speaker followed by a Q&A and then a book club-style discussion afterwards on a text that’s been ‘assigned’ in advance (yes we give homework). Our regular venue is our fantasy/imaginary-living-room Drink, Shop & Do, but we’ve adapted the format elsewhere for our events at Port Eliot Festival for example.
One of our ultimate Pamflet icons, Luella, was our first ever salon guest and read from her Guide to English Style. She was as lovely and funny as you’d imagine from her writing and designs. We’d love to do more salons and more regularly so keep an eye on our website for updates. Our problem – like many people – is that we have lots of ideas and not enough time…