The blogosphere has been buzzing for the past few days with news of Kathleen Hanna’s recent donation of treasured papers to NYU Library’s Special Collections. Hanna has gifted her writings, zines, and other ephemera from the late ’80s/early ’90s riot grrrl scene, which will serve to establish the Riot Grrrl Collection–the first collection of its kind (at least in academia).
News of the donation was excitedly received by many sectors of the internet, from feminist twitterers to punks on social networks to hipster music bloggers. Though everyone has pretty much been celebrating the same things (Riot Grrrl being recognized as a legitimate feminist movement, libraries continuing to be awesome despite massive cuts to their funding and staffs), there’s a small but growing voice that goes further to ask, “Will 2010 be the year of the Riot Grrrl revival?” A very good question, indeed.
Young Creature was the first to posit the possibility of a revival when news broke on Friday, pointing out that the donation comes on the heels of Kate Wadkins’ (ex-Carnal Knowledge, ex-Cheeky) announcement that she’ll be officiating a panel on the Riot Grrrl movement for Sarah Lawrence’s Women’s History Month Conference in March. 2010 is clearly the year of the long awaited Riot Grrrl comeback!!, wrote YC’s jacqueline mary, and in a typical fashion, that idea spread out across the Internet over the weekend.
Most are hesitant to be as blunt as jm, however, tweeting instead hopeful “Revolution grrrl-style 2010?”-type questions in a way that kind of annoys me, to be honest. Because if we wait for the Sanctioning Body of Riot Grrrl to give its blessing, that revival we all want probably ain’t going to happen. More importantly, if you’re waiting for someone else to take the lead on starting said revival, then it definitely isn’t going to happen. And you’ve missed the point completely, to boot.
You’re probably thinking, “Well then, how CAN we start the Riot back up again, Debbie Downer?!?” Lucky for you, I’m a pushy Jewess with no shortage of opinions on the matter.
First, let’s review the roots of Riot Grrrl. As you probably already know, the Riot Grrrl movement was, in its beginning, a reaction to the sexism of the DIY punk rock scene of the late ’80s/early ’90s. Women were traditionally absent from the stage of most hardcore shows, and were pushed into the sidelines by the violence of the mosh pit, but not for their lack of dedication to the scene. Early ladypunks were laughed off stage by their male counterparts for a lack of technical mastery, which forced them to funnel their energies primarily into the development of fanzines instead.
A few short years later, it was zines that brought the forerunners of the Riot Grrrl movement together. In those pre-Internet days, most young punks traded news of bands and record distros and even ideologies through writing and trading zines. Zines are how Bratmobile and Bikini Kill founders found out about the youth-centric, do-it-yourself (DIY) philosophies of DC punks Minor Threat and Nation of Ulysses, and they are how those young women fleshed out their own philosophies of feminist living and art before they were put to music.
These young punks quickly inspired others to pick up instruments and start bands of their own. Seeing their friends on stage spewing forth breathless feminist rhetoric and confronting dudes of the scene with all their bullshit sexism was a revelation for many. News of these ladypunks–now called “Riot Grrrls”–spread across the world relatively quickly through zines, and a movement was born. Women and men all over the world were now part of a “boy-girl revolution,” and all it took to do so was to get together with some friends, borrow some instruments, learn how to play a few notes, and put on a show in your parents’ basement.
Punk was finally liberated from the dudes who insisted on conformity to a particular sound or set of abilities, and it was politicized in a way that feminists could identify with. Which brings me to my next point…
The next step is realizing that Carrie Brownstein, Allison Wolfe, etc are not rockstars. They really aren’t any different from you or me. I know that we all have a tendency to put people we admire up on a pedestal and think that there’s no way we could do what they do. Without minimizing the Riot Grrls’ collective genius, I have to call bullshit.
Literally: I could have done that. And so could you.
Besides, do you really think that our Elders even go for this reverence that we have for them? Do you think they would really want us to defer to them on what makes for good Riot Grrrl? I don’t think they would…
Further, it needs to be pointed out that one doesn’t have to be a guitar virtuoso to create a song like “This is Not a Test”:
You just have to have something to say and enough confidence to get onstage.
So, while it’s valid to wish for a Bikini Kill reunion (I’d personally give my left tit for one), it is truly more “riot” to start a Bikini Kill cover band. Or, better yet, start a band that plays your music.
All it takes is an idea, some free time, friends with instruments (or your own), and some dedication. That’s it. You don’t even have to know how to play, you just have to have something to say. You’re thinking, “What could I possibly have to say?” and the answer is this: have you ever thought, “Why isn’t anyone singing about ________? It’s a really important issue.” Whatever you fill in that blank with is what you have to say/sing about. So fuckin’ do it already!
I mean, other people are already doing it, they’re just not called “Riot Grrrls.” Look at Des-Ark, Cheeky, Zombie Dogs, Condenada, Bromance, etc. They’re playing their own instruments, writing their own songs, organizing their own tours, distributing their own records, and making their own merch. They’re overtly DIY, feminist, and are finding a good home in the punk houses and non-profit spaces that have been around for years. You can do the same!
Realize that we are the nu-Riot Grrrls. The sooner we start jamming with our friends and blogging about our tours and making our own shirts and living outside this stupid slacktivist system we’ve all bought into, we will really be Riot. We need to make friends with ladypunks (and duderpunks) who are into feminism and social justice and anti-racism causes the same as we are, we need to support their shows and buy their records, and we need to be just as committed as they are to documenting our beliefs in our music. That is, quite simply, how you build a scene or stage a revival.
Face it, we NEED a revival. No less than Carrie Fuckin’ Brownstein herself was on her own soapbox in November (we shop at the same ‘box boutique), decrying the marshmallow beard-rock that shies away from engaging in the uncomfortable or confrontational. And Pitchfork celebrates, even elevates, apolitical musicians above the rest, leaving us all to think that there’s no place for politics in our scene.
I say, “Fuck that.” And, while we’re at it, “Fuck Pitchfork” and “fuck co-opting of the female experience” (how many all-dude bands out there are called Girls or Religous Girls or Women??). We need confrontational, feminist music now more than ever, what with the continuous assault on reproductive rights, equal rights for lgbtq individuals and immigrants, the erosion of workers’ rights, and many, many other human rights issues. What better way to spread word and awaken consciousness than through some catchy friggin’ jams?
So, in the Age of Information, why don’t we stage a rebellion? Let’s use all these great tools we have at our disposal–Facebook, Ning, Twitter, etc.–to look for possible bandmates, record our songs, write about our records, create our own art, distribute our CDs.
LET’S DO THIS, PEOPLE.
Let’s get organized. So, what is it that you can offer? Do you want to start a zine or contribute to a blog? Are you aching to start a band? Do you have the means to start a collective to put out records and hold art shows? Do you have a garage that could serve as practice space for yours and other bands? Can you organize a consciousness-raising night for ladypunks in your city? Will you teach other women how to use Photoshop (or, better yet, the open-source alternative, Gimp) so they can make their own show flyers and CD covers?
The possibilities are endless. Let’s “stop bitching,” as they say, and START A REVOLUTION.
Leave it in the comments or hash it out on Twitter w/ the tag #riotrevival, if you’re down.