Monday, March 28, 2011

Remembering the riot grrrls

Earlier this month the Women's Resource Center at MSU put out a really great Women's History Month themed newsletter. You can view the entire newsletter here. But I also wanted to copy one of the stories here. Most of the time when we think about history, especially women's history, we mainly focus on people and events in the more distant past. What we often fail to realize is that women are constantly making history as we speak.

This article is about women from just a couple decades ago who made waves in the music scene during the 90s through a movement they liked to call riot grrrl. Below is the entire story copied straight from the MSU Women's Resource Center newsletter, but first, here's a little taste of what riot grrrl sounded like:



-Kate

------

the herstory of riot grrrl

BECAUSE I believe with my
wholeheartmindbody that girls
constitute a revolutionary soul
force that can, and will change the
world for real*

During the early to mid nineties riot grrrl changed music history and feminism forever. It was during this time that a revolutionary underground network of education and self awareness - through writing, art, the DIY ethic, activism, and women-centered community - was formed in Washington, Oregon, and much of the Pacific Northwest. This particular feminist culture evolved from zines (small circulation publications of original or appropriated text/images) and groups of women with no particular agenda wondering what might happen if a bunch of women just met. Male domination of the hardcore music scene pushed women to decide that they no longer wanted to assimilate to what was said to be good music, writing, etc. Feeling marginalized in the increasingly violent atmosphere, they decided to make their own waves. At the forefront of the underground movement were punk rock bands such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Heavens to Betsy.

Riot Grrrl music revolved around the complete empowerment of women. Unlike other aspects of the feminist movement focused on issues of economics, riot grrrl was all about what it meant to be creative and young. Lyrics honed in on complex issues of female empowerment, sexuality, domestic abuse, and rape. Take the following lyrics from the Bikini Kill song ‘Jigsaw Youth’:

We know there's not
One way, one light, one stupid truth
Don't fit your definitions
Don't need your demands
Not into
Win lose reality
Won't fit in with
Your plan

The scene started with a bang, but excitement diffused with unanticipated media attention that overwhelmed the movement and tore apart its community feeling. Many of the women associated with riot grrrl felt that their aesthetic was being misrepresented by the media. They weren’t looking to create one definitive group or statement but rather to open up a discourse and to eliminate labeling. Unsolicited media attention on particular individuals – for example, Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill – Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus created internal divides. A popularized view of feminists, the media portrayed participants as “man-haters”. However, riot grrl was strictly pro-woman rather than anti-man. At some shows men were charged more for admission (unless they wore a dress) or were asked to move to a venue’s outskirts so that women could be the ones at the front of the stage. All of this was not to devalue men, but to give women the opportunity to enjoy a scene that was made by and for them. There were also those who felt that riot grrrl included only a certain demographic of women (see: white, middle class). However, when Hanna speaks of the results she claims that whether or not [they] changed the world is not the point; small differences matter.

Regardless of misrepresentation, misinformation, and various critiques of the movement, one thing remains true: riot grrrl encapsulated a moment in time when a group of ladies took on the world in their own way, with no apologies or hesitations. Wouldn’t we all love that freedom of expression to be up on stage, churning out a hot lick on the guitar, and belting out mantras of empowerment in front of an enthusiastic crowd of women who love music and want to feel empowered too?

There is a little riot grrrl in all of us. Do you hesitate to speak/write/sing/scream your mind? Why? In honor of Women’s History Month, let her out for a minute, an hour, day, or until your throat gets sore from singing . . . Come on. Change the world for real.

Want to learn more?

Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus.


Riot Grrl: Revolution Girl Style Now! By Nadine Monem.


Girls Guide to Taking Over the World: Writings From The Girl Zine Revolution by Karen Green, Tristan Taormino, and Ann Magnuson.


Girl Power: The Nineties Revolution in Music by Marisa Meltzer.


Don’t Need You: Herstory of Riot Grrrl (DVD—Urban Cowgirl Productions).


*last line of the riot grrrl manifesto published in 1991 in the bikini kill
zine 2.

Submitted by Maria Mattson, contributing writer for the MSU Women’s Resource Center.

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