The new feminist zine “Off-Brand” empowers girls in high school


The new “Off -Brand” feminist magazine was started by English teacher Sophie Gorlin due to writing from students in her Craft of Writing class last year.

Since the 1960s, and reaching peak popularity in the 1990s, feminist “zines” have served as an outlet for women and other minorities to express themselves through activism in the form of written pieces. Now, Brookline High School has its very own zine. Off-Brand: A BHS Feminist Zine empowers readers to feel seen while confronting feminist issues.

English teacher and Off-Brand advisor Sophie Gorlin said that she received powerful writing about feminist themes from students in her Craft of Writing class last school year; she felt students needed a place to discuss these topics together.

“I hope that when my daughter starts high school, she can read these pieces. I feel they were the sort of work that could really help a young teen find their path,” Gorlin said. “I thought, ‘if I want my daughter to be reading these works, they should really have an audience.’”

Seniors Elsie McKendry and Sophie Harris started the high school’s new feminist zine over the summer. This image was the first issue’s cover

With that, the idea for Off-Brand was born. Gorlin reached out to fellow English teacher Ali Dondero, librarian Shelley Mains, and seniors Sophie Harris and Elsie McKendry to begin building a feminist zine for the high school.

Gorlin said a piece of art created by McKendry sparked a vision for the content she hopes Off-Brand will represent. This mixed-media piece, featured on the inside front cover of Off-Brand, depicts photos of a young McKendry accompanied by visual representations of common experiences that young girls face.

“I felt like a lot of the work here was just naming and describing things that I had experienced growing up that weren’t really named or described then. This vision was a way of identifying our experience and empowering people to name it and own it and move beyond the toxic parts of it,” Gorlin said.

So why “Off-Brand”? According to both Dondero and Gorlin, the name itself is crucial to their vision.

“I thought this could be such a good way to capture the feeling of not quite fitting in or feeling pressure to be a certain way and redefining how to be a woman or what gender even really means,” Gorlin said.

Dondero said that she feels the phrase “Off-Brand” has freeing and unrestrictive connotations to her, and these are values that she hopes the zine can convey.

“Often I have felt I can only be one thing as a female-identifying person and that my brand has to be consistent, and I push back against that. I rail and rage against that,” Dondero said. “I can be many things; as Whitman says, ‘I am large, I contain multitudes.’ We can contain multitudes. So pushing back against that brand and that imposed consistency from the patriarchy feels so important.”

Gorlin said that she learned a lot from her students about their perspectives on gender as a performance as well as how new waves of feminism are arising.

Dondero said that she found it refreshing to see many students opening up about mental health in their pieces.

“It felt like a deep breath, like we were finally naming this thing that I think a lot of students struggle with, that I think a lot of staff and a lot of people in the world struggle with,” Dondero said. “I think there was a lot of comfort in that transparency.”

Harris said that while editing and publishing Off-Brand, she felt that some of the submissions she read reflected her experiences as well.

According to junior Hannah Lowe, who spent a lot of time reading Off-Brand and writing essays on its content for her ACE English class, she had found comfort in the pieces as they taught her that she was not alone in her experiences.

Harris, too, said that she felt these issues are often left unacknowledged and undiscussed. Even though the experiences of a teenage girl in high school are widely felt, she said that it is rare to get true insight into people’s feelings.

Junior Isobel Farone, who studied Off-Brand alongside Lowe, said that she liked that the zine addresses the experiences of women that don’t necessarily involve men. Lowe said that the zine had shifted her ideas on this idea.

“I thought that feminism was so focused on men and what men were doing wrong and how women are suffering because of it,” Lowe said. “Instead, this is about women empowerment.”

Lowe, Farone, and junior Tarike Bos-Sullivan all expressed gratitude to the authors of the pieces in Off-Brand for their bravery and vulnerability in sharing such personal experiences.

Harris said that a goal of Off-Brand is to cultivate a safe, empowering, and inclusive space to create connections with others. Dondero said that she recognizes the potential of Off-Brand to unite people in their shared experiences.

“These issues are perennial. These are issues of growing up, navigating friendships, understanding oneself and of body image. All of this combined with family and stressors and college and expectations,” Dondero said. “There’s so much that we all share, and I don’t think that we really talk about it. So here’s this very tangible, beautiful way to say, ‘I get it too.’”