When the Third Wave of Feminism Went Bust


The ‘80s mentality was best summed up with a Michelob Light commercial: Oh, yes, you can have it all. The car, the career, the house, the husband, the kids--all of it by age 30. It was the quintessential yuppie American dream.

Then came the ‘90s, and with it, backlash. Slackers were the name of the game, and not only did they not have it all, they didn’t want it all.

Such was the case with Debbie Stoller and Marcelle Karp, 20-somethings who, in 1993, were having a hard enough time becoming women, let alone knowing what they wanted to be when they grew up. Looking around, they realized they were not alone--that there was “a whole heap of . . . late-20s, early-30s groovy girl-women” who needed to hear each other, and so they founded Bust, the now legendary zine that put a new spin on feminism--one that was sexy and fun.


“We thought we should make something that made women feel good about where they were when they were finished reading it, in the real voices that the women we knew spoke in, which was peppered with curse words and weird pop culture references. Just real,” says Stoller. The pair has recently released a compilation, “The Bust Guide to the New Girl Order” (Viking Penguin, $15.95).

Many of the book’s essays are reprints from early and hard-to-find issues, which were born from a group of girlfriends writing intensely personal essays about their bodies and their boyfriends, with numerous references to Judy Blume, “The Brady Bunch” and “Flashdance.” But with each issue, Bust grew to include submissions from women across the country.

“The most amazing thing about the Bust submissions is that everything comes from the heart,” says Karp. “These aren’t girls who write professionally, who need this piece to pay their rent. These are girls who are writing about their experiences and their lives. They’re incredibly personal stories that you know it took a long time to write.”

The writing covers such topics as “Sex, Lies and Tampax.” Contributions came from writers with such names as Scarlett Fever, Jane Ayre and Simone de Beaudoir--pseudonyms the zine’s founders encouraged them to use for maximum honesty (and minimum fallout) in expressing their views.

What Stoller and Karp hadn’t realized when they founded the zine was how on target they were with their message. At a time when being a feminist meant you were man-hating, bra-burning, hairy-legged and hysterical, Bust helped lay the groundwork for a third wave of feminism, along with the embryonic Riot Grrrl movement, Courtney Love and Sassy magazine.

“There were some tremors of this girlquake that were starting to be felt, but there wasn’t a place that was pulling this all together. Ms. was totally ignoring all these things,” says Stoller. “Here we were, feminists and smart, and realizing there was this group of rock ‘n’ roll feminist chicks starting to spark.”


In five years, Stoller and Karp have watched their zine grow from an “AA cup to a C,” the two joke. What began as a 29-page, copy-and-staple job with a print run of 500 has evolved into a 120-page glossy with a circulation of more than 32,000.

And their mantra is still going strong: “We must, we must, we must increase our Bust!”