Don’t Need You: The Herstory of Riot Grrrl – Feminism, Punk Rock and Politics

Riot grrrl is an underground feminist punk movement that began during the early 1990s within the United States in Olympia,[1] Washington[2] and the greater Pacific Northwest. It also expanded to at least 26 other countries.[3] Riot grrrl is a subcultural movement that combines feminism, punk music and politics.[4] It is often associated with third-wave feminism, which is sometimes seen as having grown out of the riot grrrl movement, and has recently been seen in current fourth-wave feminist punk music.[5] It has also been described as a genre that came out of indie rock, with the punk scene serving as an inspiration for a movement in which women could express themselves in the same way men have been doing all along.[6]

Riot grrrl bands often address issues such as rapedomestic abusesexualityracismpatriarchyclassismanarchism and female empowerment. Primary bands associated with the movement include Bikini KillBratmobileHeavens to BetsyExcuse 17Huggy BearSkinned TeenEmily’s Sassy Lime and Sleater-Kinney, as well as queercore groups such as Team Dresch and the Third Sex.[7][8] In addition to a unique music scene and genre, riot grrrl became a subculture involving a DIY ethiczines, art, political action and activism.[9] The movement quickly spread well beyond its musical roots to influence the vibrant zine and Internet-based nature of fourth-wave feminism, complete with local meetings and grassroots organizing to end intersectional forms of prejudice and oppression, especially physical and emotional violence against all genders.[10] Riot grrrls are known to hold meetings, start chapters,[3] and support and organize women in music[11] as well as art created by transgender people, gays and lesbians, and other communities.

During the late 1970s throughout the mid-1980s there were a number of groundbreaking female punk and mainstream rock musicians who later influenced the riot grrrl ethos. These included Siouxsie SiouxPoly Styrenethe SlitsAu Pairsthe RaincoatsPatti SmithChrissie Hyndethe Runaways/Joan Jettthe B-52’sLiLiPUTLydia LunchExene CervenkaKim GordonUtNeo BoysBush TetrasY PantsESGChalk CircleFifth ColumnFrightwigX-Ray SpexScrawl, and Anti-Scrunti Faction.[12] The 1980s also featured a number of female folk singers from New York whose lyrics were realistic and socio-political, but also personally intimate.[12]

During the mid-1980s in Vancouver, the influential Mecca Normal fronted by poet Jean Smith formed. They were followed by Sugar Baby Doll in San Francisco whose members would all wind up in hardcore female bands.[13] Sassy magazine then premiered in 1987 and dealt with tough subjects that many conventional magazines aimed at teenage girls did not.[13] In 1989, an article titled, “Women, sex and rock and roll,” was published by Puncture, a punk zine edited by Katherine Spielmann, and became the first manifesto of the movement.[13] Two years later in 1991, Your Dream Girl, a radio show hosted by Lois Maffeo, debuted on Olympia, Washington radio station KAOS.[13]

During the early 1990s the Seattle/Olympia Washington area had a sophisticated do it yourself infrastructure.[12] Women involved in independent and underground music scenes took advantage of their platform to articulate their feminist thoughts and desires by creating punk-rock fanzines and punk bands. The political model of collage-based, photocopied handbills and booklets had already been used by the punk movement as a way to spread the names of underground bands, leftist politics and alternative (to mainstream) sub-cultures. There was a discomfort among many women in the punk movement who felt that they had no space for organizing, because of the exclusion of women in punk culture. Many women found that while they identified with a larger, music-oriented subculture, they often had little to no voice in their local scenes. Women at the punk-rock shows often saw themselves as the musician’s girlfriend or groupies, so they took it upon themselves to represent their own interests by making their fanzines, music and art.[14]

In 1991, young women coalesced in an unorganized collective response to several women’s issues, such as the Christian Coalition of America‘s Right to Life campaign against legal abortion and the Senate Judiciary Hearings into Anita Hill‘s accusations of sexual harassment by Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.[15] Young feminist voices were heard through multiple protests, actions, and events such as the formative opening night of the International Pop Underground Convention[16] and later L7‘s Rock for Choice.

Uses and meanings of the term “riot grrrl” developed slowly over time, but its etymological origins can be traced to the actual Mount Pleasant race riots in spring 1991. Bratmobile member Jen Smith (later of Rastro! and the Quails), used the phrase “girl riot” in a letter to Allison Wolfe.[15][17][18] Soon afterwards, Wolfe and Molly Neuman collaborated with Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail to create a new zine and called it Riot Grrrl, combining the “riot” with an oft-used phrase that first appeared in Vail’s fanzine Jigsaw “Revolution Grrrl Style Now”.[19] Riot grrrls took a growling double or triple r, placing it in the word girl, as a way to take back the derogatory use of the term.[20]

Published by amongthefray

News with a historical perspective. Fighting against misinformation, hate, and revisionist history.

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