“Suburban Jewel”: A Guide for the Modern Young Woman

Passing in front of the window of a large bookstore on her way to work, Sara Hébert, researcher and director at ICI Musique, to whom we owe the collective Stinking sentimental pain (Somme tout, 2019), got dizzy seeing a giant poster of suburban gem. With its candy-pink cover, lemon-yellow lettering, and mannequin that looks like it’s from an old Simpsons-Sears catalog, the book doesn’t go unnoticed.

“He hasn’t even come out yet!” exclaims the holder of a master’s degree in Hispanic studies who describes herself as a subversive scrapbooker. I’ve been making zines for a really long time in a little basement punk community, a community that I know where I don’t have any stress about what the critics are going to think because I’m like a bubble there. »

My book is a UFO. It’s not a novel, not a comic, not an essay. It’s a bit of a parody of a guide, but it’s not that either. I’m in no category, but that’s okay because I don’t fit in the boxes in life.

Drawing on the imagery of the 1960s, Sara Hébert has concocted an unclassifiable book in which, under the name of Madame Bijou, her alter ego “30-something white heterosexual feminist from the suburbs”, she looks at “typically feminine” problems. All in the form of excerpts from a diary, advice, reflections and quiz. Any resemblance toCanadian Women’s Encyclopedia (1966), by Michelle Tisseyre, or guides to propriety and personal growth intended for the fairer sex is absolutely not fortuitous.

“My book is a UFO. It’s not a novel, not a comic, not an essay. It’s a bit of a parody of a guide, but it’s not that either. I’m in no category, but that’s okay because I don’t fit in the boxes in life. I’m proud of what I do, but I was crying when I was writing my book. I was curled up and wondering if people would understand. »

Punk and feminist

By retracing Sara Hébert’s journey, we understand better where the hybrid form of suburban gem. Thanks to a friend who took her to the Expozine show in 2010, the future collagist discovered late on — she said so — zines, self-published works with limited circulation from the punk movement.

“I couldn’t believe I met all these people there. cool ! remembers the fan of punk music. In Saint-Janvier, there was not much; I had no friends who were in bands, who were artists. I drew, I wrote a little, I painted with my grandmother; my mother, who sews, was very crafty. I was embarrassed, I didn’t have great self-confidence. It took me a long time to do stuff with people. »

The zine format appeals to him because it reminds him of mixtapes and the epistolary exchanges with her correspondents abroad that she had in primary school. A perzine (personal zine) on Sophie Laplante’s breakup touched her so much that she had the idea of ​​making one. Her then-lover convinces her to take action. Among his most popular works are Sow salad, Hot Astronaut and Fruit of the plot — the lady has a gift for titillating titles.

Even if we consume fewer magazines, we find on some Instagram accounts all the violence conveyed by advertising: you are too fat, too ugly, too hairy, you stink. The danger is not to stink, it is elsewhere.

Less trash than her zines — she’s the one who says it again, suburban gem plays on the gap between the advertising aesthetics of the 1960s and a feminist discourse firmly rooted in our time.

“With my collage work and all my zines, I have a lot of old magazines. Even if we consume fewer magazines, we find on some Instagram accounts all the violence conveyed by advertising: you are too fat, too ugly, too hairy, you stink. The danger is not to stink, it is elsewhere. I like to use the vocabulary, slogans and structures of that time to make them say something else. It makes me crazy happy and I find it funny. We know and we repeat that we live in a sexist world and it’s boring, but I find that reversing the roles, putting humor in there, it makes you think. There is like a resumption of power. »

Female solidarity

From 2010 to 2013, Sara Hébert and her friend Sarah Gagnon-Piché hosted on CISM The preliminaries, where they openly address sexuality: “When we became single, we took over the show and we said to ourselves that we were going to document our lives. We wrote two-minute diary entries that we read on the radio. For suburban gem, I came back to this exercise because we always talk about what we are going through when we want to do good to people who are going through the same problems. A bit like the mail from the heart of Janette Bertrand or Louise Deschâtelets. »

Thanks to the radio, Sara Hébert meets Daphné B. and Marie Darsigny. Dreaming of creating a feminist publishing house, they founded the magazine Missile Girls (a nod to the poet Josée Yvon): “Each text we received, the three of us commented on it. I learned a lot with the girls about the writing process. Many people who have contributed to the magazine have published their first essay, novel or collection afterwards. »

With Sarah Gagnon-Piché and Sophie Bédard, she strives to free women’s voices with the feminist editorial project Magic caresses “I had brought a copy of the first collection to a colleague with whom I was working on a TV project; I saw in the eyes of those who leafed through it the desire to talk about their sexual problems. Family jewel, it’s an encyclopedia inspired by an old trick, but has it changed so much since our mothers, our grandmothers? I have the impression that there are plenty of things that are still very difficult to approach. There are a lot of problems to which I don’t see a solution, but I tell myself that in general, if you don’t ask for anything, you get nothing. »

Far from pretending to help women, young and old, with her advice, even if she affirms that she would have liked to give it to herself when she was younger, Sara Hébert believes that she has remained faithful to itself by going from zine to book.

“I had made a little zine, How to become a big doginspired by guru Layla Martin, according to whom women who are called bitches are women who prioritize themselves. So I started toying with the idea that it was okay to be a female dog and I figured it would be cool to make a book that summarizes some of the issues that I’ve been talking about for the past 10 years. »

suburban gem

Sara Hébert, Merchant of leaves, Montreal, 2022, 354 pages. In bookstores November 7.

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“Suburban Jewel”: A Guide for the Modern Young Woman