Riot Grrrl: Where Gross-Out Feminism Got Its Start


Yesterday The Guardian ran a great, but rather nostalgic, article on the ’90s Riot Grrrl scene.

Laura Barton gives a pretty comprehensive history of the Riot Grrrl movement, which started in the early 1990s as a feminist reaction to the male-dominated music scene. She writes:

Broadly speaking Riot Grrrl was about the female voice. It was about music – being in bands, not watching them or being groupies – but it was also about finding a voice through writing, via fanzines; and it was about a political voice: anger about society’s treatment of women, with domestic abuse, rape, sexuality, the need for safer streets, abortion rights and equal pay among the issues.

Barton interviews DC-based musicians and writers from the Riot Grrrl movement, like Sharon Cheslow, guitarist for Chalk Circle, and Kathi Wilcox of Bikini Kill. Cheslow says that feminist theory was key to her understanding of performance and even her identity as a musician, saying: “I thought about what it meant to be a female in the public gaze, performing on a stage. I thought about how our lyrics reflected our experiences as women, because up until punk and post-punk, most rock lyrics represented a male-mediated experience.” For the Riot Grrrl musicians, the movement was about disturbing the accepted order, and loudly and boldly proclaiming their transgressive status as female hardcore musicians.

Riot Grrrl movement “ended” in 1994, when I was only seven. However, like many girls I know, I started listening to the Riot Grrrl bands in high school, long after the movement was supposedly “over”. I sometimes feel like I missed something amazing, but as Barton points out, there’s a lasting legacy of the Riot Grrrl movement. Sara Marcus, who is currently working on a history of the scene, argues that Riot Grrrl gave younger generations a way to discuss feminist issues without being ruled by theory or academia: “The women’s movement didn’t have a language for reaching young women. The language and ideas of Riot Grrrl have permeated the culture and made this more participatory, messy, vernacular feminism available to everyone.” For those of us who came a little late to the party, Barton’s piece is a nice reminder that today’s loud, messy, in-your-face, gross-out feminism has its roots (at least in part) in the third-wave feminists of the Riot Grrrl movement.

Grrrl Power [The Guardian]

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