Today Is Riot Grrrl Day (In Boston … And In Our Hearts)!
Today, the city of Boston is celebrating its first (annual?) Riot Grrrl Day, at which her royal Riot Grrrlness Kathleen Hanna will be honored.
Via AV Club:
The proclamation was made with the help of Joyce Linehan, Chief of Policy for the City of Boston, who says, “Kathleen was all about the collective, and it was a real team effort putting this together. There are a lot of Riot Grrrls in the building [at City Hall].” The Kathleen in question is, of course, unofficial Riot Grrrl-in-chief Kathleen Hanna, who will give a talk on “art, music, writing, trends, women, and more” at the Wilbur Theatre tomorrow night.
To be fair, for me, every day is Riot Grrrl Day. Or at least I try for it. Whenever I feel like a giant weenie (which is often), I throw on Bikini Kill’s “Reject All American” or 7 Year Bitch’s “¡Viva Zapata!” to remind myself who I actually am.
The fact that I hit middle school at a time when not only Riot Grrrl was happening, but also when even more mainstream artists like Queen Latifah and Salt ‘N’ Pepa were putting out a lot of “Fuck yeah, women!” shit is a thing I’m incredibly grateful for. Hell, even having people like Murphy Brown and Julia Sugarbaker on TV being like “I am a woman of the ’90s!” and having that be code for being a strong, liberated woman in charge of her own destiny and shit? That left an indelible mark on my subconscious, and has a lot to do with the woman I am today.
I mean, we say the messages you get at this age are really important, and they are. The messages I got were that women were awesome and could do great shit. Hell, even Barbie was going around saying, “We girls can do anything!”
I couldn’t really go to shows, but I did listen to the music. I bought zines — random ones by random women, better known feminist zines like Lisa Suckdog’s Rollerderby — which I’d find advertised in the back of Sassy. And yes, I totally wore baby barrettes in my hair, baby doll dresses, Mary Janes, carried a lunchbox as a purse, tried my darndest to dye my dark brown hair with Kool-Aid, learned to play guitar, started trying to make my own clothes despite the fact that I couldn’t sew, and would spend detention writing “RIOT GRRRL” on my knuckles in Sharpie. I admit that I liked the identity as much as the music, and that the identity made me feel powerful. Which hey, is pretty tough for a 13-year-old on most days.
The internet wasn’t much of a thing at that time, and I lived in a really small town, so I definitely had to really work to find out different bands and stuff, but it was worth it. Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear, Sleater-Kinney, 7 Year Bitch, Free Kitten — not to mention other bands that weren’t necessarily “riot grrrl” like Babes In Toyland and The Gits. Hell, even Hole. Yeah, that’s right. I liked Hole. A lot. Still do. Then later on, as one does, I got into the music that you might say inspired the riot grrrl movement — feminist post-punk like The Raincoats and Slits and Lydia Lunch. It was quite the education.
Riot Grrrl wasn’t just about feminism or about fashion or even about music, it was about learning to do shit for yourself rather than just take what was given. People always say that everyone who listened to the Velvet Underground went on to start a band, which I’m not sure is true. What I do know is that the women I know who listened to riot grrrl by and large ended up feeling stronger, and unafraid of doing shit themselves. There was a certain kind of populism to it.
It wasn’t immune to criticism, for sure. The “real” punks rolled their eyes, most media attention focused on the fashion, and then there was the problem of race. Riot Grrrl was very, very white — or at least the face of it was. There were certainly women of color participating in the scene (though not in my town where “the scene” literally consisted of me and one other girl), but they weren’t at the forefront, and that wasn’t cool.
What I would like, in terms of the way we look back on Riot Grrrl now, would be to view it in the larger context of feminist music of that era, and to have all of that celebrated. Because it was all really important.
Because sure, we had “Rebel Girl”:
But we also had “UNITY”:
And hell! As much as we sort of mocked the “pop feminism/woman power” tunes that later emerged, building on the successes of that movement…
At the end of the day, even that shit had its merits. I am absolutely cool with feminism being a hot trend! In fact, I want it to be totally mainstream, and not relegated to a clique or an underground music phenomena. Which is why I love seeing shit like this:
I don’t even care if people get their feminism wrong, or if they don’t know the entire history of everything, or if they’re only doing it because it’s the cool thing to do. I really don’t. Because I think, you know, at least that’s a step in the right direction. It’s better than nothing. Just like “We Girls Can Do Anything, Right Barbie?” wasn’t a perfect message, because yeah, Barbie isn’t the best role model, but it’s a place to start.
I’ve given it some thought, and the way I will celebrate Riot Grrrl Day is by remembering the bad ass I used to be. Remembering how hard I fought against feeling weak or scared or intimidated by anyone, and remembering that I can totally do shit myself. I encourage all women to do this, regardless of what music they listen to and how they dress. I found my way to my feminist self by starting off at riot grrrl–but it’s not the path you take but where you end up that matters.