I got a proposition goes something like this:
Dare ya to do what you want
Dare ya to be who you will
Dare ya to cry, cry outloud
“You get so emotional baby”
Double dare ya, double dare ya, double dare ya
Girl fuckin friend yeah!
When I heard the lyrics to Bikini Kill’s Double Dare Ya, it felt like a call to arms. I double dared myself to look in to the Riot Grrrl Revolution a few months ago, and I’ve been researching ever since. I’ve become obsessed with the Riot Grrrl bands that dominated (and essentially, invented) the female punk scene in the early nineties; Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and Huggy Bear are just a few of the names I have encountered. After reading Sara Marcus’ ‘historical rockument’ Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution, I felt like the momentum behind the Revolution needed re-embracing. The ground work has been done, we just need to remind ourselves why the message is still relevant. So, here’s a condensed list of what I think the Riot Grrrl Revolution is all about:
- DO IT YOURSELF, AND SPREAD THE WORD HOWEVER YOU CAN.
“Most important, twenty-first-century feminism is alive in everyone who made it through the horror show of adolescence with the help of Riot Grrrl’s ideas about empowerment and DIY, however they came to us.” – Sara Marcus
Like many girls I know today, the Riot Grrrls were tired of the sexism and indifference they faced in their schools and local towns. They decided to save themselves by working together to start challenging the oppression they faced.
The majority of Riot Grrrl bands like Bikini Kill, taught themselves how to play instruments, organised their own shows and printed their own ‘zines. They handed out their literature at gigs and on the streets to inform other girls where they were playing and more importantly, where they were holding Riot Grrrl meetings. These meetings provided a safe environment for girls to talk about the things that had happened to them. Many of them had suffered sexual abuse at the hands of family members or boyfriends, and others simply despaired at the sexist attitudes of their peers or their parents. Through sheer determination and desire to change their circumstances, the Riot Grrrls spread their message and reached out to other girls, providing them with a sense of empowerment and belonging.
Now, in the age of the internet and social media, it has never been easier to reach out and contact other girls. The Belle Jar is my ‘zine, and it’s provided a space for honesty, support, connection and debate that was previously missing from my life. Belle Jar is a platform for me, just like the original ‘zines were for the Riot Grrrls:
“Riot Grrrl, by encouraging girls to turn their anger outward, taught a crucial lesson: Always ask, Is there something wrong not with me but with the world at large? It also forced us to confront a second question: Once we’ve found our rage, where do we go from there?” – Sara Marcus
- SUPPORT YOUR SISTERS.
I owe a lot of what I know about Bikini Kill and the Riot Grrrl Revolution to Rebecca, my older cousin. She was the lead singer and guitarist in her band The Jelly Babes, and she introduced me to Bikini Kill, who she had seen in London on one of their UK tours. Rebecca jumped on stage mid-set and was embraced by lead singer Kathleen Hanna, who invited her to sing vocals with her. Rebecca’s antics landed her in the centre pages of NME. I mentioned to Rebecca in an online message that I was considering investing in Bikini Kill’s music. Within a week she had sent me two of her Bikini Kill CDs.
This kind of induction was not only super helpful, but super personal. I felt like I was inheriting a piece of family history. This ethic of sharing and openness is how the original Riot Grrrls came together, but unfortunately, not all Riot Grrrls demonstrated such support or encouragement.
The mass media had a wonderful habit of comparing the physiques of Riot Grrrls, and many journalists, male and female, misrepresented the girls in magazines and photo shoots. This, understandably, caused severe tension between members of different Riot Grrrl groups.
The most famous example of backlash against the Riot Grrrl movement came from Courtney Love. Love had an ‘open antipathy’ for the movement and wanted complete disassociation from it. It’s speculated that this antipathy stemmed from her dislike of Bikini Kill’s Kathleen and Tobi, who were friends of her husband Kurt Cobain. There were other, more low profile, but equally as damaging instances of disregard and selfishness within the movement, which is what eventually led to its change in momentum.
Reading about these disagreements and arguments made me realise that criticising girls who make different choices to you doesn’t make you a better feminist or a better person. We should all make more of an effort to consciously break the circle of in-fighting (which, coincidentally, patriarchal society actively encourages). Without my cousin’s support, or the Belle Jar team’s encouragement, I wouldn’t be writing this blog today. Supporting your fellow females pays off.
- RIOT GRRRL WILL ALWAYS BE RELEVANT.
Even if you’re not a fan of punk music; the messages behind the sounds of Riot Grrrl bands like Bikini Kill and Huggy Bear have a universal, feminist appeal, which shouldn’t be discouraged or ignored. Songs like White Boy and Facedown are still hauntingly relevant. I recently read an article that discussed the lack of female visibility on the modern punk scene, which shows that the Riot Grrrl Revolution is far from over.
The ideology behind Riot Grrrl is the same ideology behind feminism: speak up, be heard and be equal. It is only through miscommunication or misrepresentation that this message is diluted. I’ve spoken about what I’ve learnt so often that people now approach me to talk about it. Most recently, the DJ at my local watering-hole gave me his original Bikini Kill and Huggy Bear vinyl. When I asked if he wanted them back, he told me there was no need; he’d given them to a good home. (He also advised me that they were selling for up to £25 each on eBay; but I’m pretty sure I’d be breaking some kind of feminist, punk code if I even contemplated selling them on for profit.)
Rebecca’s memories, Sara Marcus’ writings, and the survival of the Riot Grrrl’s songs have led me to tell my own stories. Just like the original Riot Grrrl’s inherited the ‘battles left behind’ by the first wave of feminism, we too can start where they left off and continue the Revolution, whoever or wherever we are:
“Maybe right now you’re in the van on your first cross-country tour, or you’re in a bookstore while you’re waiting to perform on a spoken-word night, or you’re sitting up late in a silent house, reading and rocking until your baby falls back asleep. Or maybe you’re escaping lunch again by hiding in your school library, wedged between the books on feminism and the emergency exit, trying to get through the day, desperate for something that will save you, or help you save yourself. Whatever the case, I know you can do it. This very moment contains all you need. Everything you’re hearing right now, where you are – the van backfiring, the bookstore crowd murmuring, the baby breathing slowly, the bell ringing for fifth period – this is the sound of a revolution.” – Sara Marcus.