On July 5, 1909 British sculptor and illustrator Marion Wallace-Dunlop went on a hunger strike after being arrested for wilful damage. Her crime? She stencilled a passage from the Bill of Rights on the wall of the House of Commons – she wanted to send a message to the king.
No one told her to do it, or forced her subsequent refusal to eat, but what she did set a precedent for political activism in the first-wave feminist movement; hunger striking became standard suffragette practice in the fight for the vote.
The title of Melbourne-based feminist zine Eat If You’re Hungry references the often-vexed relationship between women and food, and the potency of creativity in protest. It nods to its forebears while pushing “another wave of feminism that is about creativity,” says co-curator Tori Hermitage, who started the zine with close friend Ellie McCooey.
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“The point of it is that we wanted it to be a creative take on feminism,” Hermitage says. “Moving away from journalism and making it as creative as possible.”
The zine is published yearly (“basically whenever we have time”) and Hermitage describes it as “a big old anthology” of short stories, non-fiction, memoir, poetry, excerpts from plays and plenty of artwork – around 20 pieces in total, all with a feminist bent.
“[We’re] really trying to move away from your average opinion piece,” she says.
One hundred and nine years and a day after Wallace-Dunlop used food in the fight for women’s rights, volume three of EIYH – titled Entanglement – will launch at Collingwood’s Schoolhouse Studios on July 6.
The theme is one of relationships, specifically how strong, often-clashing views on women’s rights and feminism can be navigated within them (the second-wave feminist slogan “the personal is political” springs to mind).
To coincide with its publication, local filmmaker Gianna Mazzeo has created a “distasteful film” testing women’s relationship with food, and society’s assumptions about it.
“We are taught to eat in a certain way,” she explains, highlighting antiquated traditions around table manners, for example, which apply to women and not men.
Mazzeo’s film challenges those norms, exposing viewers to unsavoury, sometimes confronting images of women – all EIYH contributors – abandoning their etiquette. A banana smeared across soft-pink lips, Cheezels crushed between bare toes, a glass of hard-boiled eggs.
Mazzeo collected all the props herself (South Melbourne “radical-design” brand Steelotto lent the furniture, a couple from Gumtree living in a “time capsule” in the suburbs parted with their blinds) to create the “weird, modern” fantasy world on to which the women are superimposed.
Using “real women who dressed themselves and did their own make-up” means “the concept is the hero rather than focussing in on the way the talent looked,” says Mazzeo. “We thought that was really unimportant.”
Midway through the film, the mess of food the women have ingested with abandon seems as though it’s about to come back up.
“Vomiting is kind of this impulsive urge that’s uncontrollable. We wanted to show that when people are released of these societal pressures, and when women can finally be themselves, they’re more able to let their creativity flow and have the freedom to express themselves without fearing judgement,” Mazzeo says.
And what emerges from their mouths isn’t half-digested beans … it’s art: the sodden, crumpled pages of Entanglement.
“The main point of the name [Eat If You’re Hungry] is responding to the feeling,” says Hermitage, “an unignorable feeling – something that builds up inside you.
“[Creativity] can be scary and grotesque and stressful, but it’s about something that you can’t ignore.”
Friday’s launch will include an opening word from the zine’s creators, readings from its pages, and a few words from Esther Davies-Brown of the Victorian Women’s Trust, an advocacy organisation for women and girls, which will receive 50 per cent of the project’s profits. The remaining 50 per cent will fund EIYH’s next outing.
Around 250 copies of Entanglement, which Hermitage describes as “more refined” than its predecessors, will be available and it includes work from many writers published around Melbourne. It’s pay as you feel – or can – so everyone can get a copy and talk about it.
“We want to make it a little bit confronting and weird, and pro that,” she says.