“I belong and you belong”: A Conversation with Girl’s Club

NOVEMBER 4, 2016

By Amelia Wong-Mersereau

On April 23rd, 2016 I sat down with Emmett Rose and June Moon of Girl’s Club Inc. to discuss their T-shirt initiative and the community around Girl’s Club. Emmett and June are Montreal-based artists who founded Girl’s Club as a T-shirt company and an inclusive space for femininity. In our conversation, the founders explain how the company started, and go on to discuss the intersecting oppressions that prompted the project and that continue to inform their work.

Amelia: So what is the Girl’s Club project? Could we talk about how you both got involved? Was it an idea that you had together?

Emmett: It sprang up together. I remember we used to meet in Parc Jarry and just talk about June settling in to the city. It was my first summer in Montreal too, and [we were] just constantly talking to each other about the boys’ club that we felt we had landed in, in the city. Kind of joking, I said, “They don’t know what’s coming for them, they don’t know that the girl’s club is coming.” And it was this joke of solidarity between us, so that we didn’t feel that we were drowning in the boys club. And then I remember being in my studio one day and being kind of pissed off, like, “Fuck it, we need to do it! We need to make the girl’s club, it needs to be something that happens!” And June said, “Let’s do it. Let’s make T-shirts.”

Johnny DeCourcy was living upstairs from me and he prints T-shirts, and we knocked on his door and Britt Wacher, who is an amazing fashion designer, opened the door to his studio! And we were like, “Um hi! Is Johnny home?” and we ended up chatting with her and becoming really good friends. It all worked out so perfectly. Johnny printed the T-shirts, it just happened!

Amelia: That’s so great! And when was that?

June: Probably in July. It happened pretty quickly. I also remember you [Emmett] and our other friend Ouri saying that historically, women have been in isolation and working on their craft or their potential or their ideas in isolation. So we were kind of just like, “Where are all the girls?” Hanging out, [we knew] there’s no way that there’s not a ton of amazing, talented, beautiful, influential women that we want to know. But there’s no structure, there’s no community. Whereas historically, men have always had that.

Emmett: And the idea of fraternity, right? Where women get pushed out of fraternal spaces, and then we have to work twice as hard to try to get back in them. But what’s the point of trying to join the boys club? You know, there was a line I wrote, that we can’t afford to reproduce the violence of masculinity in order to join their club. The errors of masculinity are not something I want to reproduce. Yes, women are a main part of that, but it’s just femininity in general that gets pushed out.

Amelia: That’s sort of the funny thing about approaching that problem. It’s either, do we want to join? Or obliterate and rethink? It’s always one of the main issues that divides feminist approaches. So, you mentioned that the idea that you felt the need for a girl’s club because of not wanting to have to join the boy’s club. Can you elaborate on that?

Emmett: It’s exhausting to try to join the boys’ club your whole life because you’re never going to be a part of it, no matter how much you try.

June: And it’s also not going to be fulfilling either.

Emmett: You have to erase the most incredible parts of yourself in order to be a part of something that is not as good! [laughs] You know?

Amelia: Yeah! Not as good as a girl’s club maybe.

Emmett: Or not as good as what you could potentially create being surrounded by strong, amazing, like-minded fucking feminine bad-ass people.

Amelia: Right. So what is Girl’s Club then? Girl’s Club is all of those things? A community, creating visibility? How are the T-shirts important for the main idea of the club?

Emmett: Visible solidarity. Basically it’s a signifier that says “Hey, I see you. I belong and you belong.” It’s something you can see walking down the street and just know that even though that person may be different from you in a lot of ways, that there is something that bonds you. It’s your oppressions that bond you, it’s your need for recognition that bonds you.

June: And as a visual signifier, it’s claiming space. Whether you have a shirt or you don’t have a shirt, you know about us or you don’t know about us, it is such a powerful message that resonates with people.

Emmett: It’s kind of instant.

June: Turns people on! I have this tattoo that says “more love”, and I’ve had a similar experience where you catch people looking at it and automatically there’s this positive reaction. And you see that with the shirts too. I’ve had such amazing experiences selling the shirts and meeting people through the shirts. 99.9% of the time they feel like they belong and it inspires them to be more involved.

Emmett: People want to be involved! When I meet up with people to give them a shirt in Montreal, people want to chat! They want to talk about their experiences, they want to talk about their own trauma of having to repress their femininity. It’s really kind of amazing… and you meet people and make these connections that feel like they matter.

Amelia: On that note, how do you feel about the idea of a ‘club’ or calling it a Girl’s Club? A lot of people feel like feminism is something that is difficult to break into. Have you had people that are unsure if they fit into the club, when the idea is really to be inclusive?

Emmett: You’re already part of the club. [laughs] I sold a shirt to a guy recently who is a musician in Montreal, and he said “I saw the shirts and I wanted one so bad but I felt like I wasn’t allowed to have one, because I didn’t want to feel like I was taking away from something women have.” I told him “No, femininity is something that gets pushed out or extorted from all of us, depending on your position in society. If you saw it and it resonated with you, then you’re already part of the club.” For me, even though I represent myself in a feminine manner, I don’t personally feel like I am any more feminine than I am masculine. As a queer person I refuse to mask my femininity in order to be visibly queer. So for me, being inclusive to male-bodied people, to men, to women… we decided that calling it a ‘club’ is important because people want to be part of a club!

Update: The person Emmett mentioned above now identifies as trans, and recently sent this message to Girl’s Club: “wanted to tell you that girl’s club and what you’ve said about it are the main things that led me to realize/come to terms with being trans. i’m still very much figuring myself out but i couldn’t have gotten to the level of comfort i’m at now without your influence. the shirt is super important to me because of that, it reminds me of how safe i am and what a good community of people i have around me. you’re the best <3″

Amelia: It’s not a movement of being exclusive or exclusionary. A club can be so inclusive and welcoming, especially for people that have been oppressed. You need a club for the people that have been oppressed.

Emmett: I think we’re past the point of defining ‘girl’ by the shape of somebody’s body. [laughs] We’re not an old-school feminism girl’s club.

June: You just move however you want to move, and be whoever you want to be, and you’re already here with us, and we have been here the whole time waiting for you.

Emmett: We wrote the other day… a girl is somebody who exists in unsafe space, and against all odds, rises. That’s what a girl is.

Amelia: That’s lovely! I just have a technical question now about the access to the shirts. You said that you meet up with people to give them T-shirts – is there an online store? Is that how it functions?

Emmett: Yeah, since June has been gone, I have been doing deliveries locally. Our online prices are catered for across country shipping or to the U.S. I don’t want to overcharge people, if I can just meet up with them and not deal with shipping….  There’s also an email on the website, or you can direct message the Instagram girlsclubinc for Montreal pricing. We also have a sliding scale for gender affirming pricing. So if gender queer kids are like “hey I want a shirt, can’t afford the 25 bucks”, they can get in touch with us.

Amelia: Cool! So, aesthetically now, can you tell me about the ‘Girl’s Club’ sign and who designed that?

Emmett: It happened in two seconds. I do everything on Pages, on my computer. I’m a Pages wizard! So I literally just wrote ‘Girl’s Club’, picked one of the standard fonts that comes with Pages, [set it to] pink, and then was like, maybe an angle? And we were like, yep! [laughs] It was literally the first design.

Amelia: I’m wondering if you can talk a bit more about how you came to the project from other things you were both doing before. You mentioned feeling the need for this club, but are there specific projects that you were doing before that maybe brought you to this?

Emmett: Girl’s Club was the first thing I did before I did any of the Sluts against Harper stuff. We were each artists our whole lives… I guess I was painting always.

June: And that definitely has featured in the whole [process of the project] coming together. Especially as solo female performers just trying to carve our way. That was a huge reason – the boy’s clubs within the art scenes, and how exhausting it is [for us], the confidence you need to find, and the armour you have to put on. So many times I’ll be the only woman on the bill of a show, and so I’m in the green room, and it’s just all men. There’s just a lot of archaic bullshit that still goes on.

Emmett: I remember I was still reeling from the Vancouver painting scene that I had left two years ago that I never felt I was a part of. I always felt like I was an outsider artist, even though I went to Emily Carr. I had a solo show in Vancouver with these huge paintings, and it was a great show, but I felt like I couldn’t do a show with other people because I didn’t feel welcome. My work was seen as feminine or feminist. I felt pegged at the same time as my work being too feminine and my work having to be feminist.

Amelia: And if you start to do feminist work you have to continue to have that voice, and be consistent in your beliefs all the time.

Emmett: Yeah, I felt like I was kind of put in this place where I was the feminist, so I was expected to say something. People thought I was going to say something so they were already tired of hearing it. And I was like “I’m just trying to paint!” you know? There are a lot of female painters in Vancouver, but I felt at the time that the ruling class was male painters, and the only women they were associating with were women whose work was often modeled after their own. And I thought, “I don’t want to imitate male painters in order to-”

Amelia: Get into their club!

Emmett: I came here wanting to get out of that, and I still have yet to have a painting show here. I’m still curious because I want to collaborate, but I don’t know who with. That’s where the question came, like “where are the girls at?” How do we connect, how do we know where to find each other and support each other?

Amelia: Yeah. I feel like a lot of feminist spaces for these conversations or for people to find each other, it’s really not easy to find because we’re also at a moment where we are all going online. I feel like there’s this issue of where do we want to be more, or how do we do both at the same time. And it’s so exciting that you guys have this online presence, but then the T-shirts are-

Emmett: They’re tactile. They’re in real life. Which I think is important because in real life you bump into something and it’s kind of like a small daily reminder in real space. How are you going to claim space if you’re not embodying real space?

Amelia: Do you guys prioritize one more than the other, or do you feel like you’ve got to continue to do both?

June: I think it’s just organically existing simultaneously, but I think it makes it really special that it started out with a T-shirt. I’m so excited that it’s fanning out! I know how much this T-shirt, and finding Emmett, and the two of us coming together, how much that has actually changed my life.

Emmett: All you need is two, and then you’re not alone anymore. For me, I’m excited to meet people in the community and have the T-shirt and the website be the kind of vessel to stimulate this real life community…. I’m excited to finally meet all the amazing women in the city that I’ve been wondering about.

Amelia: Once it’s out there, what kind of crazy or amazing things do you see happening for the Girl’s Club?

Emmett: I think it would be amazing to just add to this wave that we’re already seeing of amazing women and queer people rising up and using their voices and coming together through black girl magic and all these beautiful movements. If Girl’s Club could just be part of that wave that is already happening, and just add to this idea of creating space. It would be amazing if it could grow!

For me, my passion for the project kind of spread off in different ways, supporting female artists, but there’s also just supporting young women, supporting queers… For me, a big part of this whole visual solidarity thing was the idea of support and trauma. Going through trauma last summer and still going through it, I needed to know personally that I wasn’t alone, and not alone in my trauma. So a part of my heart can’t decide. Am I supporting gender affirmation? Am I supporting community for people surviving trauma? Do I want to empower young women? Do I want to create space for female artists? Do I want to create media that doesn’t conform to this cis, white, heteronormative patriarchy? Do I just want to feel like I’m part of something? So what that looks like, I don’t know! I never pictured myself having a T-shirt company, but it’s just everything that I care about and everything that I needed just came out through a T-shirt.

Amelia: I think that’s so special.

June: It’s a totally new landscape right? Because for the first time in history, it’s actually safe for us to come out and it’s not just –

Emmett: How safe? [laughs] Never safe! … Feminism isn’t new. But I think this is the first time where feminism isn’t binary. It’s not enforcing the binary of women coming together against men. For me, it has nothing to do with gender.

June: Patriarchal society is very much “us against them”, and it’s about differences. But we’re moving into a new time where it’s about embracing difference with unconditional equality, unconditional love, compassion for everyone.

Amelia: Humanity. Yeah absolutely. I certainly feel this idea of a new and different time for feminism, and that there are new and different things. We’re moving past a lot of the old archaic bullshit, finally! But what do we do now with that? You don’t want it to become inaccessible and you don’t want feminism to feel like a movement that’s just for women moving forward. We want to be able to bring everyone with us into this new age of embracing and including all kinds of difference.

Emmett: That’s where the spelling of the shirt kind of became important. As Charlotte [Forbes, Girl’s Club photographer] so beautifully explained, having it spelled “girl’s” breaks the myth that girls are all included in one lump, that it’s a unified movement. You know? So whatever the hell she needs that club to be, it’s hers. It brings it back to this ownership idea, and autonomy, to the choices of that girl, rather than a unified “we’re all girls.”

Photos by Charlotte Forbes and Maiko Rodrig

An undergraduate
feminist art & art history