Riot Grrrl: Girls Invented Punk Rock, Not England

Riot on the stage

At the end of Russia’s 2018 World Cup, something unexpected happened. On July 15th, 2018, two women and two men invaded, dressed comically as cops, the game between France and Croatia. Shortly after that, a Riot Grrrl group revealed through social media they were protesting against Putin by criticizing the absence of freedom of speech in his government. This resulted in preventive prison for at least three integrants of the collective.

Origins

The movement their represent, however, is a section of the punk movement which has spread worldwide in order give women voice. Known as the “feminist section of the punk movement”, the Riot Grrrrl movement became famous due to bands such as Bikini Kill.

Their main idea was to combine punk music and feminist ideals, singing about themes that ranged from rape to female empowerment and adopting an irreverent lifestyle known as DIY (instead of consuming). The movement initially emerged on the 90s in the region of Olympia and Seattle, inspired by women like Kim Gordon, Patti Smith and Siouxsie Sioux. On the XXI century, Riot Grrrrl movement has become internet based, quickly spreading its main ideas.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

The Riot Grrrl movement appeared because of a strong issue in the Punk scenario, which was often regarded as misogynistic, leaving little or no space for female organization. So, their intention was to point out the contrasts on mainstream and underground culture, uniting women and eliminating feminine rivalry.

According to “The Riot Grrrl Collection” Lisa Darms, “The idea of the movement was to reignite feminism, highlighting sexual and psychic violence, supporting young women’ sexual expression and their right to desire. A direct response to the domain of straight men of the punk scenario, Riot Grrrl encouraged women playing instruments, build and lead bands, write and distribute zines e share experiences in safe places to women”.

Why is it important?

Darms also points that the representativeness of the movement is low compared to the Punk and Grunge scenarios, because, although bands such as Bikini Kill are still recognized as masterpiece, Riot Grrrl has not been documented by academic periodicals or profoundly studied. But we can never forget its importance.

As a derivate of punk movements, Riot Grrrl was more like a lifestyle than just a music genre. Women did not just record their voices – they produced their clothes and their zines, which were actually a fuse to discussions on rape and abuse of the most varied natures.

It created a sense of identification with women in and outside the movement, who could acknowledge themselves as “not crazy”, as other girls did go through similar experiences. Riot Grrrl has been a way to converge culture and cultural industry and social movements - and it became undissociated from feminism.

Image Source: Flickr

Nowadays, interviews and, also, the features of collectives on the media revealed that Riot Grrrl is still a safe place for girls.

According to Leila Battaglia, a self-proclaimed anti fascist and punk girl, she first found out the movement in 2017, although she already knew Bikini Kill, one of the bands that she claims has changed her life along with L7 and 7 Year Bitch, because “their lyrics are very strong, especially on the relationship and empowerment topic. I was on an abusive relationship at the time, and, after researching the lyrics, I just put in my mind I didn’t need him in my life”. Leila also mentions she usually goes to political manifestations listening to riot grrrl music because, according to herself, “it encourages me to fight”.

On the other hand, however, Riot Grrrl is mostly a white movement, with little space to black women. That’s what Laura Mota, 15, says. She acknowledges, though, the importance Riot Grrrl music had in her life.

“Before, I was under so much pressure. I acted in a way I wasn’t because I know how people usually see black women. My persona was very shy, I didn’t say what I actually thought and often dressed in a way that I thought people would accept. But, when I started listening to Riot Grrrl music, I felt needed to change. To be who I was. To dress the way I wanted. And I started dressing like a punk kiddo and became part of a band in which I screamed a lot - and that bothered my colleagues. But I just didn’t care. It was very empowering. I think that’s the way Riot Grrrl affected me. It certainly empowered me”.