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Riot Grrrl February 28, 2007

Posted by Rob Anne in Bikini Kill, Fat Feminism, Girl Power, Indie, Kathleen Hanna, Lillith Faire, Perez Hilton, Queercore, Rebel Girl, Riot Grrrl, Spice Girls, The Gossip, Third-Wave Feminism.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of Wikipediaing (yes, I made up that verb) about girl power/Third-Wave feminism related stuff and there is a FASCINATING world out there that I never imagined existed.

It also started like this: I have recently become obsessed with the bitchiest celebrity gossip blogger on the net, Perez Hilton and he has lately been promoting this band called The Gossip. I became intrigued with this punk/blues/experimental group who sound like a mix of The Killers to Le Tigre. The leas singer of this band, I Wikipedaed them after listen to a worthy sample of songs and stumbled on this underground world of feminist sub-genres that I didn’t know existed – Queercore, Buffy Studies, and the Fat Feminist movement. However, Riot Grrl, which I had heard of but didn’t know much about, struck me the hardest.

Taken explicitly from Wikipedia:

Riot Grrrl – “An indie-punk feminist movement that reached its height in the 1990s but continues to exert significant influence over alternative culture. Starting first as a reaction, personal and political, against the inarguably male-dominated music scenes of Northwestern American cities like Olympia and Portland, it quickly spread in popularity through a largely underground network of similar-feeling musicians, artists, and writers.

The term ‘riot grrrl’ is both a genre designation of the movement, and can also refer to individual self-proclaimed riot grrrls (regardless of actual gender, as there were/are plenty of males associated with the movement, too) who foster an aggressively independent Do-It-Yourself subculture by organizing and supporting female-centric bands, festivals and shows; group meetings, networking, collectives, support groups, free workshopping, self-defense courses (like Home Alive); activism (often with benefit concerts); and underground fanzine culture.

Bands would often reappropriate ordinarily derogatory phrases like ‘cunt’, ‘bitch’, ‘dyke’ and ‘slut’ (the very same words often received from male audience members), writing them proudly on their skin with lipstick or fat markers, thus nullifying their attempted offensive power and making them ultimately harmless and funny.

Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill, the foremost band of the genre, would later write:

It was also super schizo to play shows where guys threw stuff at us, called us cunts and yelled “take it off” during our set, and then the next night perform for throngs of amazing girls singing along to every lyric and cheering after every song.

So, what does this mean to me? It seems that a majority of the bands I like today seem to be so connected, if not directly borne from this movement I knew so little about – Alanis Morrisette, Auf der Maur, Distillers, Dresden Dolls, Fiona Apple, Gwen Stefani, Jenny Lewis, Lacuna Coil, Le Tigre, No Doubt, Paramore, Tsunami Bomb, The Veronicas, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

What I find so fascinating is that Riot Grrl died in the late 90s – just as the Girl Power movement was become a force in the media. Of course, Riot Grrrl seems to have been drowned out by more mainstream musical feminism like Lillith Faire and the Spice Girls. I think this movement was a stepping stone. Often, radical idea start out underground and dilute into something more pan-acceptable for the masses. It’s amazing to think that there was so much sexism in punk in the 70s and 80s, and now, so many popular and talented female-centric punk bands (and their soloist tweencore cousins – Avril Lavigne, Kelly Clarkson, Ashley Simpson) have made it big.

I guess I’ve taken for granted the power and the roles these bands have had in the media. It barely occurred to me that it would be a problem for a women to be a punk musician (or a metal musician, or a post-grunge musician, or an alt-country musician, or a post-New Wave electro-rock musician, or ska musician, or a Brechtian punk cabaret musician.) And It NEVER occurred to me that there would first have to be a movement in the punk world to make it okay for these women to exist in the scene.

I guess I’m about 20 years too late on this, huh?

And now, to leave you with this very class-related video from Bikini Kill called “Rebel Girl”.



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