"My Thoughts on Riot Grrrl"

Conversations with Drew have shown me that there is no quicker way to bore people to tears than to offer them a chance to hear my thoughts on riot grrrl, but there has been so much ongoing discussion around the idea of a “riot grrrl revival” in the so-called “blogosphere” that I feel like I can’t help but continue putting my opinions out there, especially because I seem to have found myself in the unpopular position of thinking that a “riot grrrl revival” is A) unnecessary and B) perhaps a bad idea.

I feel like whenever I have these discussions online, I have to throw in this obligatory, “But I love riot grrrl!” and yeah, I do. I came of age listening to riot grrrl records, riot grrrl heavily informed my personal politics, and I still have a heavy admiration for many of the musicians involved in riot grrrl. All that said, I feel that even from my first general moments of interest in the riot grrrl movement, I understood riot grrrl as something that existed as a specific cultural moment in time. I never wanted to call myself a riot grrrl, but I feel like my general detachment from the riot grrrl label did nothing to compromise my interest in the intersections of music and feminist politics. But, all that said, I still find myself getting apprehensive when I see all of the buzz about a riot grrrl revival.

I feel like there’s been a lot of talk about how “original” riot grrrls are protective of/territorial about the riot grrrl movement. That they are, perhaps, trying to keep all of the riot grrrl for themselves. I don’t think that is true AT ALL. In fact, I think that they are working to encourage parties who are interested in riot grrrl by telling them, “You are already valuable and should be doing your own thing,” and I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with that message. I think they’re also working to make people who weren’t a part of the original riot grrrl scene more cognizant of some of riot grrrl’s troubled history in the hopes of preventing a scene that blindly and unintentionally reproduces those same failings. While many people speaking out in the interests of having a riot grrrl revival have indicated that they are aware of these issues, there seems to be a general consensus that “we’re all more educated now and these things won’t be problems anymore,” which is an approach that really worries me.

Just because someone is well-intentioned and aware of their race, class, or cis privilege doesn’t mean that they are immune from saying/doing problematic things (we all know that no one is immune). More importantly, it also doesn’t mean that they are necessarily any better prepared to respond appropriately in the event they do or say something that is racist, classist, transphobic, etc. The volume of people I have seen saying that when it comes to the riot grrrl revival “race won’t be a problem, class won’t be a problem, transphobia won’t be a problem,” seems to suggest a complete and total lack of both interest and willingness to seriously engage around these issues and what they meant for riot grrrl/what they will mean for a riot grrrl revival, and that lack of serious engagement leads me to think that these issues will continue to be problems within the context of a “future” riot grrrl movement.

I’m also a little bit troubled by the general attachment to the riot grrrl name. To me, at this point in time, such an attachment suggests more of a brand name identification than anything else. I can be a girl, play a guitar, make a zine, write letters to friends, engage in community building, etc. all without calling myself a riot grrrl. Naming something is a very loaded act and I wonder, if we’re all so aware of riot grrrl’s problematic history and the bad baggage that the riot grrrl name often carries for working class girls, pocs, and transfolk, why we want to carry that name over into a movement that is supposedly more inclusive and aware.

While I understand the value in drawing both musical and political inspiration by looking backwards, I sometimes worry that by fixating so wholly and fervently on riot grrrl that we erase the women who were doing musical and political work before riot grrrl and who continue to do so in its wake. I feel like we do this even when it comes to original riot grrrls themselves. I mean, members of bands like Bikini Kill, Sleater Kinney, and Bratmobile have not stopped existing — in fact, many of them are continuing to work on their own creative projects. Yet many people continue to fixate on what they were doing 15 years ago as opposed to what they are doing in the here and now. I also worry about the tacit assumption that all lady punks have a vested interest in the riot grrrl movement — there are plenty of people out there who explicitly do not want to identify as riot grrrls and when we push their critiques to the margins in the hopes of “keeping it posi,” we effectively engage in the same silencing of marginalized populations that some of the original riot grrrls engaged in.

I’m in no way opposed to a movement that encourages girls/ladies/women/ANYONE to empower themselves, especially when that empowerment occurs through expressing themselves and creating work that reflects their thoughts and experiences. I am 100% for working to create an environment that facilitates girl-centric music, writing, and art, that isn’t afraid to both personalize and politicize those cultural products, that promotes networking between girls that helps to create an infrastructure where girls are more able to take their bands (or other projects) on tour, can connect with other girls who share their interests and beliefs, can share resources with each other & support each other, etc. What I don’t understand is why people feel the need to organize such a movement around the riot grrrl name. I’m all about intent and having a reasoned out though process, so I’m really interested in the why around all this. Why call it a riot grrrl revival? I’ve heard a lot of people saying, “Because I love riot grrrl,” and to me, that’s just not a strong enough response to counter the concerns that the riot grrrl name often evokes.

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About K.

25 year old book, comic, zine, and record enthusiast. Favorite things include: 7"s, books about teen sleuths, and rabbits.
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5 Responses to "My Thoughts on Riot Grrrl"

  1. Kathy says:

    >Thank you. I grew up sort of on the periphery of the whole riot grrrl scene. I already had the politics; I didn't get it from music. Maybe if it had reached me earlier in my teens, but then it was largely unavailable to a working class, Midwest girl not attending a liberal college, and in city with few resources. (Zines, record stores…)

  2. K. says:

    >Kathy — Thanks so much for commenting! I feel like while riot grrrl played a role in my political development, it was mainly helping to firm up convictions that I already had. The main "new" thing that riot grrrl brought up for me was connecting politics to a subculture — I think (and this is a lot of speculation because it's pretty hard for me to remember exactly where I was developmentally when I got into riot grrrl), that prior to riot grrrl I hadn't really considered how things like race, class, and cis privilege factored into the punk rock community.Thanks again for commenting! I've been really interested in hearing about the experiences of people who were on the periphery of riot grrrl or who didn't/don't classify themselves as riot grrrls, especially because it seems like in the ongoing discussion about riot grrrl revival that there's this weird assumption that no cool young punk rock girls will care about feminism if riot grrrl isn't there to motivate them, which is (at least, in my experience, and I think in yours), totally untrue.

  3. >obviously, i could not agree more. this whole thing was very well-put. loved it!

  4. K. says:

    >Thanks, Ciara! I've really appreciated so much of what you've contributed to the ongoing riot grrrl revival discussion — it's been so well said & I think you've brought a really valuable critical perspective to the table.

  5. annahell says:

    >Agreed, your writing kills me with its good-ness 🙂 I'm a bit more of an original riot grrl (ORG?) contemporary and, like you, I love the music and it had a profound impact on my life. I'm not really happy about it, but I think a riot grrl revival is inevitable and not for any really good reasons. People love to dig up the past and always seem to want to celebrate whatever happened twenty years ago. So we're due for that and for that (and prolly a grunge revival). I think someone starting a riot grrl band today would prolly have good intentions, e.g. they feel politically aligned, wish to show respect for the past, or feel like there should be more positive, pissed spaces for women. But I think they can do that without the label; anyone that labels themselves as such is thinking more about branding and marketing than the intersection of politics, feminism, and rock. Or, if there aren't enough bands that want to play, media outlets might create the revival on their own by labeling various "girl bands" as riot grrl revivalists. Sorry, I could talk about this for hours, but I need to catch my bus 🙂

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