I walked into The Victoria for the screening of The Punk Singer and was surrounded by a mixture of different people young to old but mostly young with an equal amount of men and women. To be honest I was surprised there were so many young people. It helped me realise that a lot more people are interested in the scene than I initially assumed.
As the riot grrrl scene in the 90s was filled with predominantly white females, I noticed a row of black and mixed race young men sitting and watching. It made me think about how we have come such a long way; we haven’t reached the goal of equality however it’s obvious that riot grrl’s screeching unapologetically hasn’t been forgotten by the next generation.
So what is the fascination with this movement? I think the youth of today want something that filters out the lies. From Nick Clegg lying about tuition fees to David Cameron’s alienating boys club approach to politics, no one is sticking up for the people who are being oppressed in society.
Riot Grrrls were savagely honest. We’ve gone from music, which was a tool for speaking out and championing change to auto-tune songs that sing about partying, love, or heartbreak. Things that people do go through but if you look outside of that there is a whole other reality of things that need to be addressed.
People say punk is dead but young people today have seen how effective the era in the 70s was. Things are going backwards again I feel like there is something definitely bubbling. However, there is also the way this entire revolutionary scene has been latched onto and turned into a fashion; which just shows how stylised and looks conscious this generation is turning into.
Rather than looking deeply into influences and meanings, people only care about what’s in trend and copying what’s gone before. I have faith that a new revolution will kick start because to be honest I don’t think it can get any worse than it is and people are a lot smarter than being twitter cyber spaced out twits unaware of their crumbling surroundings. We’re culturally starved and I think we’ll eat again.
“I’m your worst nightmare.” exclaimed a confident young Kathleen Hanna in 1991 with the word ‘slut’ scribbled across her stomach. Not a girl who was going to fade into the background she used her words as an activist/artist. Her powerful spoken word so raw and emotional, you could tell her compelling words were the early makings of her later route into songwriting.
Kathleen was outspoken and had a way with words. Her friend was assaulted in 1989. She was at Evergreen College at the time and did a feminist fashion show as well as feminist art. She found it disgusting her friend had experienced and represented that horrible traumatic event in photography printed dresses with statements like ‘as he dragged her upstairs by her neck.’
Kathleen Hanna was very much an artist she also created art pieces with juxtaposition of young girls with ‘pretend you like it’ boldly above it, these pieces were censored at her college. Very much like the juxtaposition within her art piece she was a valley girl with feminist ideas.
Kathleen is known for her statements and zines. She had been making zines for years, there’s one she made when she was 19 which is a short book with a page stating ‘the most beautiful girl is a dead girl’. These words say so much about how society treats women and how they may as well be dead since men just want a non-opinionated sex object.
Her need for change was deep rooted and obvious at an early age. People might argue that our new form is blogging but I think there is something so authentic and great about having something you can take with you. In the riot grrrl scene this was something they needed to rely on, to inform people of where they were playing next as well as their views.
Bikini Kill was made to start a girl riot and it achieved way more than that; a subculture, Riot Grrl. Rejecting pop culture music, they all started with a strong DIY ethos. Sexism was ever so alive and well, male bands would comment on them and say, “they can’t even play their instruments” to which they replied with “yeah…” Unphased and carefree they played because they wanted too.
Before riot grrrl there was anti woman anger and aggression, it just reminded people that girls get angry too and have a lot to be angry about. Flipping the gender roles and creating a space where women were favored over men a place very rare to find.
“Girls to the front be cool for once in your lives boys!” she shouted. Katheleen also felt protected with the girls at the front row oozing sister solidarity. Mosh pits for girls were physically an ordeal. Men would purposefully beat girls up, bruising them and feeling them up. Even if they wanted to escape in the music or do what a man could do, say crowd surf, they might get sexually assaulted in the process.
Kathleen used a sample of a vile man talking about rape and claiming, “they’re asking for it” in regards to how a woman chooses to dress; I think it made everyone feel her anger. They made music for people who never had a voice. Bikini Kill highlighted things no one had really talked about in the grunge scene at the time. Riot Grrrl was a manifesto any woman, anywhere could take and do whatever they wanted with. Kathleen used this form and showed her own take on feminism.
Kurt Cobain was friends with Kathleen and was the only one who believed her about her stalking drug addict ex boyfriend. She was the strong voice of a movement and didn’t feel like anyone would believe her but Kurt did. He infact came out of feminist art punk, releasing the audacious song ‘Rape Me’ repeating “Rape me, I’m not the only one” which was frowned upon from many of his naïve fans who thought he was condoning it. He also pointed out a man who was feeling up a girl at one of his gigs and made the whole crowd laugh at him as he was getting dragged away by security.
He spoke out and was very much a feminist; “Rape is one of the most terrible crimes on earth and it happens every few minutes. The problems with groups who deal with rape is that they try to educate women about how to defend themselves. What needs to be done is teaching men not to rape. Go to the source and start there.”
Being a feminist back then was not some cool word that Beyoncé used as a backdrop at one of her shows, it was a word people used to make them different from most people, It made you an activist.
The grrr in Riot Grrrl is reclaiming your inner little girl, the over-sexualisation makes you lose your inner little girl before you can even notice you had it. It’s also about not being afraid about being deemed as a ‘slut’ and feeling comfortable with how you use your sexuality.
Kathleen was a stripper and looked at it like “McDonald’s and being a vegetarian, stripping and being a feminist” It’s her choice what she does and how she uses her body. She was prone to getting hate mail and death threats from men who obviously couldn’t handle her voicing her views. She also received reviews from women journalists, which criticised their physical attributes and what they were wearing when they performed. This proves how brainwashed some women and how caught up we are in the male imposed beauty ideals. There was also media uproar about Kathleen’s lyrics about her dad who was sexually inappropriate to her but they then twisted it and the media made out that he had raped her. The band all stopped answering their phones but the great thing about her riot grrrl meetings and gigs is that the truth was revealed at her shows.
Kathleen Hanna shows the way women are always questioned, deemed to be liars and not taken as seriously when they speak out.
“You hit like a girl”; taking that word and making it powerful, I feel like right now the reason her story is so intriguing to young people right now is because that kind of raw power she exuberated has disappeared and another movement is a brewing one that can refer back to Riot Grrrl and combine it with the modern current problems we’re facing.