A blog on the history of the Riot Grrrl movement

With the revival of 90’s culture and fashion creeping into aspects of today’s society, it’s hard to ignore the fact that feminism and girl empowerment amongst the hot topics of the youth. From Lily Allen’s much-discussed “Hard Out Here” and Beyonce’s new album referencing feminist issues, it’s clear that feminism has become almost fashionable, everyone’s talking about it, and most female musicians don’t just simply want to be seen as music icons – but instead – feminist icons.

But women have been fighting the feminist fight through the medium of music for many years now, it’s nothing new, despite the trend, and I think everyone should be informed of the women and ‘grrrls’ who have been at this – often with little credibility – for decades now.

ORIGINS

The 1970s: punk rock – a liberating and exciting musical movement – is born. Mixing youthful rebellion and anti-authoritarian ideologies with fast, hard-edged music, it’s quickly becoming a major cultural phenomenon, but with acts such as New York Dolls, Sex Pistols, Ramones, and The Clash dictating the scene, it’s apparent that males are predominantly and automatically assumed to be the voices of anarchy and revolution.

Or so it seemed…

The stance that “punk was not for girls” sparked in itself a catalyst of female rebellion against the rebellion – and so an array of female punk and rock musicians such as Joan Jett (and The Runaways), Siouxsie Sioux, Poly Styrene, The Slits, The Raincoats, Patti Smith, Chrissie Hynde, Mecca Normal, Lydia Lunch, and Fifth Column to name but a few, helped establish the musical foundation on which the riot grrrl ethos would (some years) later be built on.

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THE RIOT GRRRL MOVEMENT BEGINS TO TAKE SHAPE

‘Riot grrrl’ is far more than just a music genre; it is a political stance, cultural movement, and lifestyle.

The early 1990’s – The Pacific Northwest:

“BECAUSE we girls want to create mediums that speak to US. We are tired of boy band after boy band, boy zine after boy zine, boy punk after boy punk after boy… BECAUSE we need to talk to each other. Communication and inclusion is the key. We will never know if we don’t break the code of silence… BECAUSE in every form of media we see ourselves slapped, decapitated, laughed at, objectified, raped, trivialized, pushed, ignored, stereotyped, kicked, scorned, molested, silenced, invalidated, knifed, shot, choked and killed. BECAUSE a safe space needs to be created for girls where we can open our eyes and reach out to each other without being threatened by this sexist society and our day to day bullshit”

Young women (especially those involved in underground music scenes), in Seattle and Olympia, Washington, begin to articulate their feminist thoughts and desires through creating punk-rock fanzines (a D-I-Y publication produced and circulated by fans for fans) and forming bands. Due to the undeniable misogyny in the punk culture, these women feel to represent their own interests and thoughts, they have to create their own music and art.

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Kathleen Hanna, a twenty-two year old native of Portland, Oregon, is working as a stripper to support herself, and volunteering at a women’s shelter. She hooks up with zinester and friend Tobi Vail who’s been writing about her own experiences and struggles:

“I feel completely left out of the realm of everything that is so important to me. And I know that this is partly because punk rock is for and by boys mostly…”

After recruiting their friend Kathi Wilcox, the duo start working on a zine called Bikini Kill (which would eventually become a band, who, along with Bratmobile, are exclusively credited in many people’s minds as the creators and instigators of the riot grrrl movement).

“RIOT GRRRL”

The riot grrrl movement allowed women their own space to create music and make political statements about the issues they were facing in the punk rock community as well as in society. They used their music and publications to express their views on issues such as patriarchy, double standards against women, rape, domestic abuse, sexuality, and female empowerment.

Riot Grrrl Manifesto

Women in the movement would often attempt to re-appropriate derogatory phrases like ‘cunt’, ‘bitch’, ‘dyke’ and ‘slut’, writing them proudly on their skin with lipstick or sharpie.

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Bands associated with ‘Riot Grrrl’ include Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Excuse 17, Sleater-Kinney, Adickdid, Bangs, The Butchies, Calamity Jane, Dickless, Emily’s Sassy Lime, Fifth Column, The Frumpies, Heavens to Betsy, Huggy Bear, and L7. In addition to the music scene; zines, DIY ethic, art, political action, and activism are a big part of the movement.

DECLINE AND LEGACY

By the mid-nineties, riot grrrl had severely declined. Many within the movement felt that the mainstream media had completely misrepresented their message, and that the politically radical aspects of riot grrrl had been subverted by the likes of the Spice Girls and their “girl power” message. The term ‘Riot Grrrl’ was often applied to less political female-fronted alternative rock acts such as Babes in Toyland, The Breeders, PJ Harvey, Hole, and even No Doubt.

The legacy of riot grrrl is clearly visible in society today; as numerous girls and women (and men!) worldwide cite the movement as an interest or an influence to their lives and/or their work. Some are self-proclaimed riot grrrls (and riot boys), others are admirers, some play in riot grrrl tribute bands, others simply listen to and enjoy the music of a subculture thats impact has spanned two decades.

Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth

Boys That Just “Don’t Get It”

I use the word “boys” in the title instead of “men” because, to me, nothing screams ‘immature’ like an indirect comment written on a website about how “boring” women who “never shut up about feminism” are.

The same morons will also attempt to disguise or defend their uninformed ignorance by starting the snide comment with “I’m all for women’s rights and equality and all that…” well, clearly you haven’t got a clue, so let’s not even pretend you know what you’re talking about.

There are several things wrong with your argument. If you fully supported women’s rights (which is, essentially, a political movement against chauvinistic patriarchy), you wouldn’t find the women who “never shut up about it” “boring”, because it would be a shared interest and something you stood for and believed in yourself.

You’d understand that sexism is an important issue and if you were even slightly as intelligent as you play up to be, you’d also understand that things don’t get done and change doesn’t happen by ‘shutting up’. I mean, you’re actually part of the problem. You’re telling women to oppress their views and – lol – dismissing those who don’t, as “boring”.

It’s almost as if you believe that your opinion is valued enough to stop me talking about how important I find the issues or topics I tweet/blog about. Newsflash, your opinion(s) don’t mean shit to me. I initially thought you were alright, but you don’t uphold respect by being a thoughtless twit with pseudo-intelligence and a superiority complex.

Your opinion, as you wrote it, was an arrogant condescending hypocritical statement which contradicts every other sexist remark or misogynistic action I’ve previously seen from you. Tell me, are you just misinformed on the meaning of equality and feminism or are you merely a vapid moron who likes to think they’re super intelligent when in reality they’re actually pretty thick?

An exercise in self-censorship.

I totally agree with this post. I’ve been trying to cut out my usage of the c-word amongst other gender-specific sexist slurs and insults.

The use of the word “pussy” to exemplify cowardice or ‘being a wimp’ is something that, for years, has irked me. Same with the phrase “grow a pair!” which obviously refers to testicles – the most sensitive part of a male’s body – yet holds connotations of being ‘brave and tough’ and (gasp!) we all know that only men are allowed to be portrayed as such mentally and physically strong examples of humanity. Eye roll. “Don’t be such a female!”

Well… as Joan Jett once said; “I do have balls. They’re just higher up.”

what i noticed about (some) pop music

My friend Bekah wrote this very relatable article about sexism and misogyny in pop music. You should go read it.

what i noticed about (some) pop music.

I’d like to add that just a few weeks ago I was trying to explain to my mother why I was so appalled that she set ‘Scream’ by Usher as her ringtone. “Now relax and get on your back” he shouts, as an undoubtedly catchy chorus kicks in… but whilst the majority of listeners seem to be oblivious to the implications of the lyrics; I’m trying not to barf.

Well said Bekah, I couldn’t agree more.

Abercrombie & Bitch

I never liked Abercrombie & Fitch.

Come to think of it, I never liked any of those preppy, sorority-like clothes designers like Jack Wills, Abercrombie, or Hollister. Yuck.

For me, it conjures up memories of the popular girls at my high school donning their Jack Wills gilets and Juicy Couture handbags. I went to private school all my life, too, so as you can imagine – brands like these were pretty much every day gear for the majority of idiots at my school.

My sister was quite a big Jack Wills fan and she used to drag me into the store with her – something that physically made me cringe – the people behind the counter are everything that people like me despise. Especially the girls; with their judging eyes and overly-exaggerated helium voices. Ugh. If there’s ever any females who need lessons on “how to be nice to other girls” – it’s them. I should give them a Sylvia Plath book and lend them a few Bikini Kill CD’s. Their priorities and superiority-illusions are totally fucked. You aren’t better than anyone else just because you’re wearing a shirt with a dumb embroided pheasant wearing an overcoat and a walking stick on it. Going into that shop was never a comfortable – or pleasant – experience. But back to A&F…

I remember going into the Abercrombie & Fitch store with my mum and sister during a trip to London a few years ago. As you enter the shop, aside from being tempted to shout at one of the staff to “turn the effing lights on!” (it’s horrednously dim-litted), you even have the opportunity to get your photo taken with a topless male model as a souvenir. Have you ever heard anything so ridiculous? I remember trying to suppress my laughter and thinking “What the fuck am I doing here? It’s 9am and I had to get up early for this? P.S., ‘hot’ male model who thinks he’s so clearly above everyone else just because he’s working in Abercrombie & Fitch, you aren’t even slightly attractive, and your breath smells like shit.”

Now. As if my displeasure for these popular (dumb) brands wasn’t solidified enough – I just came across this picture via a friend’s Facebook and, whilst I’m not at all surprised, it’s still absolutely mind-numblingly gross… The mindset these people have… Who the fuck would want to advocate this message?:
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If being an exclusionary, hateful asshole is what “being cool” is all about to Abercrombie & Fitch, I am so evertly glad that I never have – and never will – fit that category; because, to be perfectly honest, I can’t think of anything worse than adopting and maintaining a mindset so warped, cruel, and vile as the one above.

Andy Warhol was right

In the future, everyone will be world-famous for fifteen minutes.

Everyone’s heard about ‘Tampon Girl’ by now, right? (If you haven’t — here’s a link)

So when I first heard this story, it conjured up images of the infamous Donita Sparks’ incident at Reading festival in 1992, but if I remember correctly, Donita’s excuse for what she did was not “cause it was a dare, and i wanted to get famous!” (yes, seriously):

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I can’t quite find the words to describe how I feel about this… sad? perplexed? confused? The fact she sucked blood from her own tampon doesn’t even shock me – realistically, it’s really not that disgusting in my opinion; there are far worse things on the internet.

No, the truly repugnant thing for me in all of this, was that this girl’s honest idea of ‘fame’ is, in truth, infamy. We live in a time where ‘fame’ is not necessarily always accompanied with talent, hard work, or distinctive greatness — instead, it’s measured by how many Twitter followers, YouTube views, or how much notoriety on a reality TV show you have.

Anyway:

Dear Giovanna, the backlash of this video, and the consequence of your actions will only come back to haunt you. What you don’t understand is how detrimental this could be to you later on. Enjoy your fifteen minutes of fame, but from me to you: forget about the internet for a while. Go to school, work hard, find a hobby, and strive for becoming famous for something truly important and relevant to the world. Peace.