Friday, 20 July 2012

The Riot Grrrl Movement

Riot Grrrl is a musical and political movement that came out of the Pacific Northwest in the '90s. It was a feminist-focused musical movement, intended on helping female musicians and music fans establish a presence in the musical scene that viewed them as equals.

Riot Grrrl bands and publications also dealt with many issues that were oriented toward women and were often taboo, including surviving rape and sexual abuse, eating disorders and a healthy body image.

The Founders

Riot Grrrl as a movement didn’t have a name or a rise to prominence until the early ‘90s, but its foundations were created much earlier by a strong female presence in the punk scene.
In Britain, strong female performers like X-Ray Spex and the Slits were established in the punk scene in the ‘70s, with the U.S. contribution to the cause coming from bands like the Runaways (which featured a teenage Joan Jett), X and punk rock poet/priestess Patti Smith. These performers helped smash illusions that punk was a men’s club by essentially ignoring the idea that they were women first. Instead, they were simply musicians.

Coining the term

The actual term “Riot Grrl” comes from the title of a zine, put out by members of seminal Riot Grrrl bands Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. In fact, zines were as much a part of the political voice of Riot Grrrl as music was, and zines like Girl Germs, Riot Grrrl and Bikini Kill, usually put out by the members of Riot Grrrl bands, allowed for an expanded explanation of the politics of the movement.
The Riot Grrrl message was one of female empowerment. Through the music and writings of members of the Riot Grrrl movement, they broadcast the message of women’s equality within the punk scene, and also addressed a wide range of complex issues heavily oriented toward women, such as surviving rape and sexual abuse and gender equality.

Sadly, the bands often encountered sexism within the scene, including audience members who hurled derogatory slurs at them. As part of their response, many Riot Grrrl bands removed the weight of these words by performing with them written on their skin. Many live photos from the era show bands with words like “slut” scrawled on their arms in lipstick. This was part of this movement.

The After Effects of the Movement

oday, the movement is largely dissolved as are the prominent bands, but many of the members of those bands are still heavily involved in the music industry and in broadcasting political messages. Most notably, Kathleen Hanna, the one woman who came closest to being the figurehead for the movement, now fronts the electro-influenced political band Le Tigre.
Even without the centrally located movement, the message of Riot Grrrl thrives in today’s punk scene. More and more female musicians now perform in punk bands, and the idea that it’s a “boy’s club” continues to diminish. When I interviewed Barb Object of the political hardcore band I Object!, she addressed the issue in a way that echoed the Riot Grrrl message: I feel pretty lucky that I have not had to deal with sexism within the DIY scene. If anything, being a woman fronting a band who is vocal grabs people's attention more so than a male sometimes, and I use that factor to my advantage to speak my mind.
Sexism is still prevalent in punk and the only way to cut it out of our lives is to address issues and comments when they happen and say we don't stand for that in our scene. Being an active aggressive member of our scene as a female hopefully inspires other girls to get involved and brings the issue to light that girls play instruments, write zines, put on shows, etc.

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