Posted by: *carrie* | April 16, 2010

Riot Grrrl / Women in Rock

Earlier this week, I read the article Relive through this: the return of riot grrrl (Is summer’s dirtbag aesthetic about a riot grrrl renaissance or just a faux-punk refashioning?) I also just read Why Can’t I Be Making Love Cause I’m In It? Or, The Phair, Cuomo Conundrum, part of Tiger Beatdown’s Ladypalooza. (You should read them both, but have copies of your old Bikini Kill records and your scratched up Exile in Guyville CD handy).

I absolutely love Riot Grrrl bands from the 90s. They have their own playlist on my iPod that remains in high rotation. I don’t think Riot Grrrl is making a comeback, I think it’s just been long enough that it’s being revisited. I also think that much of the spirit of Riot Grrrl is becoming prevalent once again. The punk rock aesthetic never really goes away – there are always things that need fought for and against, there are always youth who have limited ways to channel their frustrations and anger, there are are always those people who are just ‘different’.

DIY projects are pretty hip right now, in part because of the economy, in part because of environmental concerns, and in part because they just are. Young feminists aren’t exactly regularly super visible in our daily media, but they do emerge (thank you Amy Poehler, for example).

Women’s rights are still being challenged all the time. Girls and women are sent conflicting messages about themselves, their bodies, their careers, everything. Sometimes girls and women get sick of it. They fight back within the systems available to them, and challenge the systems that aren’t.

This feels very much like one of those times. It’s updated to include blogs, ezines (although old school ‘zines are actually still pretty common), and twitter.

In Prickett’s article, she says:

…two thoughts rub together:

1. If wicked all-girl bands don’t also want to be wicked feminists, why should they have to be? Can’t they just be girls —  people — playing guitars?

2. If wicked all-girl bands don’t also want to be wicked feminists, who will be?

I have some answers for Prickett.

1. Absolutely. You can have your own politics and you can choose to make those an active part of your art form, or you can choose not to. You can play music for the sake of the music itself, for the satisfying way a guitar fits in your hands, or a bass line emerges. Totally valid.

1a. You don’t have to be political in your art to claim you are a feminist. The two will probably overlap a bit, but as long as you are not directly contradicting yourself, you shouldn’t be ashamed of the label feminist.

2. First, see 1a. Second, I think there will be artists who identify as feminist and are explicit about it. How could there not be? For some girls, boys, women, and men – these are bands that they will identify with, that will empower them, that might even open their eyes to something. There will also be those artists who don’t preach their feminism. They will be more mainstream, they will be, most likely, more radio friendly. (I’m tempted to mention the Spice Girls here, but that leads to the discussion of how feminist their messages, often mixed, could be. Plus I never listened to them). They will reach a much broader audience with a positive message and image of women. Or at least, that’s my hope.

I mentioned the Liz Phair article because it raises another interesting point about women in music: how we allow them to be relevant to society. We tend to view women in music as coming from very personal places – we might relate to their story because we’ve had a similar set of experiences. Men in rock? We allow them a greater voice – we will relate to their story, because it is assumed their story is universal. Despite the fact they are often writing from just as personal a place as a woman, we don’t frame their music in this light. We should recognize that men often write personal stories, and sometimes women write universal ones – that’s right, men, they might even apply to you and not be solely “lady issues”.

So, briefly, back to the Riot Grrrl article, which quotes Jaime Sin, as saying:

I’d say that today’s bands are less interested in provocation and confrontation.  But that could be a symptom of the times.  It could just be that the girls are now simply comfortable playing with the boys.

I know from experience that I’ve never been uncomfortable playing with the boys. I also know from experience that, sometimes (and not as often as you might expect, actually) the boys are uncomfortable playing with the girls. Riot Grrrl bands did not form because the young women thought “man, I don’t know if I can hang with these dudes”. They formed because so many dudes made the environment unwelcoming and uncomfortable for women to participate in. So these women created their own spaces. Playing with all girls is a different experience entirely than playing with all boys. Playing in a mixed group, where there are more than 2 members of each sex represented, is even a different experience from either of those.

We don’t refer to all-male rock bands as “male bands” (although we do have the moniker “boy bands”). We do refer to all-female rock bands as “female bands” (or “girl bands”). The default rock band is, then, all male. The ‘other’ rock band is the one with at least one woman playing. It’s no wonder that Rock Camp for Girls is so popular (and how many of us wish we could have attended something so awesome in our own youth?). There are always new musicians emerging and looking for an environment that will nurture their skills and help them grow.



  1. […] do refer to all-female rock bands as “female bands” (or “girl bands”). The default rock band is, then, all male. The ‘other’ rock band is the one with at least one woman playing. It’s no wonder that Rock Camp for Girls is so popular … […]

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