• Devika Ayyappa


Devika Ayyappa

Raw. Real. Badass. Punk.

Riot Grrrl is an underground feminist punk movement that began during the early 1990s within the United States in Washington and other Northwestern states. It also expanded to at least 26 other countries. Riot Grrrl is a subcultural movement that combines feminism, punk music, and politics.

It all started when a group of women in Olympia, Washington, held a meeting to discuss sexism in the punk scene in the 1990s. The women decided they wanted to start a “girl riot” against a society they felt offered no protection or validation of women’s experiences. And thus, the Riot Grrrl movement was born. The Riot Grrrl movement believed in girls actively engaging in creating their music rather than following existing materials. The bands associated with Riot Grrrl used their music to express feminist and anti-racist viewpoints. Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Heavens To Betsy were some of the most prominent bands of the Riot Grrrl era.

These bands were all female and mostly focused on deeply personal and powerful issues like rape, domestic abuse, incest, eating disorders, etc. Allison Wolfe and Molly Newman of the band Bratmobile were the first to coin the term “Riot Grrrl” signifying the underlying anger behind the movement, reminiscent of a growl.

“I feel completely left out of the realm of everything that is so important to me. And I know that this is partly because punk rock is for the boys and by the boys mostly and partly because the punk rock of this generation is coming of age in a time of mindless career-goal bands”, says Kathleen Hannah, lead singer of Bikini Kill which went on to become one of the faces of this punk movement.

The Riot Grrrl movement was mainly made popular by the advent of “zines”, short for “fanzines”, which were handmade publications, circulated in a limited circle. These zines contained cutouts from magazines, slogans, and issues that were taboo to the public. The zines also allowed women to connect and form groups to further spread the movement. The first band to start a controversial fanzine that gained huge popularity was Bikini Kill and the zine was written by Kathleen Hannah. It contained a list of motivational and hard-hitting quotes that spoke to a lot of young women of that generation.

Some excerpts from the Riot Grrrl manifesto as given in the bikini kill fanzine:

>"BECAUSE we don’t wanna assimilate to someone else’s standards of what is or isn’t."

>"BECAUSE we are unwilling to falter under claims that we are reactionary “reverse sexists”. "

>"BECAUSE doing/reading/seeing/hearing cool things that validate and challenge us can help us gain the strength and sense of community that we need to figure out how racism, ableism, ageism, speciesism, classism, sexism, antisemitism, and heterosexism figures in our own lives."

>"BECAUSE we are angry at a society that tells us Girl = Dumb, Girl = Bad, Girl = Weak."

>"BECAUSE I believe with my whole heart, mind. and body that girls constitute a revolutionary soul force that can, and will change the world for real."

The movement was not concerned with fame and success but with bringing about real change at the ground level. And they did just that. The zines and songs they wrote provided resources for queer youth and victims of sexual assault and mental illnesses. It moved Feminism from academics to the raw, dirty stages of punk rock. It caused a stir among teens and women who were looking for a voice.

Broadly speaking Riot Grrrl was about the female voice.", says Laura Barton, a journalist.

Riot Grrrl also had a humongous effect on the music scene. Bands like Sleater Kinney, Bikini Kill, and Heavens To Betsy went on to become America’s top Indie Rock bands. The movement garnered a lot of attention to these bands and also boosted the careers of younger artists like Alanis Morisette and Fiona Apple who spoke out about empowerment and feminism in the later 90s. Discussion of women and Feminism became acceptable in the mainstream.

Apart from being one of the world’s largest revolutions in music, Riot Grrrl not only focused on bringing up women in punk but also changed the way women thought about themselves and society. Girls from schools and colleges were holding meetings, starting bands, destroying the wall of norms that society had built around them. They started living recklessly. The movement gained so much attention that it was covered on every news channel and in papers like the Newsweek and The New York Times. But because of the false representation of the movement, The Riot Grrrls were labeled as man-hating, violent feminist youths who were destroying society. This did not sink the movement.

The original Riot Grrrl Movement had died down by the mid-90s, but its after-effects continued. Kathleen Hannah went on to form another feminist band called Le Tigre which was hugely popular in the late 90s and 2000s. Even to this day, bands draw from the Riot Grrrl movement exist and some of them even identify as Riot Grrrls.

It caused a much-needed revolution and all of it was unabashedly feminine. It brought about a huge change in music culture and changed the way people viewed women of punk. It gave courage to the vulnerable and encouraged the concept of Feminism. It invited more female voices into the industry and provided a worldwide platform for change.

So, are you a Riot Grrrl? LET’S DO IT GRRRL STYLE.

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