Introduction to Riot Grrrl

Riot grrrl is an underground feminist punk movement that originated in the early 1990s in Washington state (particularly Olympia) and the greater Pacific Northwest. It also had origins in Washington, D.C. It is a subcultural movement that combines feminist consciousness and punk style and politics. It is often associated with third-wave feminism, which is sometimes seen as its starting point. It has also been described as a musical genre that came out of indie rock, with the punk scene serving as an inspiration for a musical movement in which women could express themselves in the same way men had been doing for the past several years.

Riot grrrl bands often address issues such as rape, domestic abuse, sexuality, racism, patriarchy, and female empowerment. Primary bands associated with the movement include Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy, Excuse 17, Huggy Bear, Skinned Teen, Emily’s Sassy Lime and Sleater-Kinney, as well as queercore groups like Team Dresch and The Third Sex. In addition to a music scene and genre, riot grrrl is a subculture involving a DIY ethic, zines, art, political action, and activism. The riot grrrl movement quickly spread well beyond its musical roots to create vibrant “zine” and World Wide Web-based movement, complete with local meetings and grassroots organizing to end ageism, homophobia, racism, sexism and, especially, physical and emotional violence against women and girls. Riot grrrls are known to hold meetings, start chapters, and support and organize women in music.

Like other third wave feminists, riot grrrls attempted to foster an acceptance of diversity within feminist expression. That relationship to feminism is evident through their use of lyrics, zines and publications, and taking back the meaning of derogatory terms. All three of these forms were claimed to be a source of empowerment for women in the movement.

The riot grrrl movement encouraged women to make their own place in a male-dominated punk scene. Punk shows had come to be understood as places where “women could make their way to the front of the crowd into the mosh pit, but had to ‘fight ten times harder’ because they were female, and sexually charged violence such as groping and rape had been reported.

In contrast, riot grrrl bands would often actively invite members of the audience to talk about their personal experiences with sensitive issues such as sexual abuse, pass out lyric sheets to everyone in the audience, and often demand that the mosh boys move to the back or side to allow space in front for the girls in the audience. The bands weren’t always enthusiastically received at shows by male audience members. Punk Planet editor Daniel Sinker wrote in We Owe You Nothing:

The vehemence fanzines large and small reserved for riot grrrl – and Bikini Kill in particular – was shocking. The punk zine editors’ use of ‘bitches‘, ‘cunts‘, ‘man-haters‘, and ‘dykes‘ was proof-positive that sexism was still strong in the punk scene.

Riot Grrrl is something that should have been introduced in Nigeria ten thousand years ago but better late than never, right?

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