What are some good riot grrrl bands

"Riot grrrls never die, every girl is a Riot grrrl!"

by Daniela Weißkopf

(from WIR WOMEN issue 2/2019, focus: girl power)

This is the cry of a revolutionary feminist movement that developed in Olympia, capital of the US state of Washington, at the end of the 1990s and quickly spread across national borders under the name of Riot grrrls. Even if the fire that the riot grrrls kindled did not burn for long, they paved the way for many women into music and their commitment continues to this day.

In the early 1990s, grunge, a mixture of rock, punk and metal, revolutionized the music scene. With "dirty" sounding, distorted guitar tones, bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden or Pearl Jam advanced to become well-known music greats. Young people of all genders felt at home in the rebellious music style of grunge. The sound was loud and harsh and made the audience let their emotions run free. What should actually be fun for everyone at the concerts, however, was a problem for many women, as they were often physically inferior to the pogging men. In the arte documentation "RIOT GRRRL" the girls tell of how they were pushed back and pushed at concerts. In addition, according to Allison Wolfe, singer with the band Bratmobile, the girls felt that many of their themes did not appear in the lyrics of the male grunge bands. So it came about that south of the grunge capital Seattle in Olympia, Washington's capital, a female counterpart to the grunge revolution developed, a feminist one, mind you. For bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile or Sleater-Kinney, punk rock was the mouthpiece with whose help they could get rid of their anger about sexism or abuse.

Their music was a protest and not only the lyrics, but also the stage performance testify to this. On old concert recordings, Kathleen Hanna, singer of the band Bikini Kill, steps on stage in underwear and has "Slut" written on her stomach. A man who tries to photograph her from behind is thrown out of the hall by her without further ado. With “All Girls to the Front” she asked women and girls to stand at the edge of the stage, and there were concerts only for women. In the documentary, Hanna reports on men who felt attacked by the way they performed and insulted the girls as man-hating feminists. For the girls and women who went to their concerts, however, it was important to see how the punks appeared unabashedly on stage. What had started with music gradually turned into a movement whose messages also spread beyond the region. In the mid-1990s, some of the bands from Olympia, including Bikini Kill and Bratmobil, went to Washington D.C. and joined the point meeting in the Positive Force House. The girls and women who met and networked there began to call themselves Riot Grrrls. They deliberately referred to themselves as girls because they did not yet feel like women and at the same time wanted to make being a girl understandable rather than weakness, but strength. In a feminist manifesto, they called on girls to raise their voices. In so-called fanzines, which can be traced back to the Bikini Kill band, they circulated their demands. The Riot Grrrls quickly became known on record labels and in the press. Magazines, TV stations and newspapers reported on the phenomenon of feminist music and especially focused attention on the female front singers of some bands. Kathleen Hanna, for example, is still a figurehead of the movement and the song "Rebell Girls" by Bikini Kill became the anthem of the riot Grrrls. However, the movement remained a relatively brief phenomenon in the press. This was mainly due to the fact that the girls decided to boycott the media because they felt more like they were being staged for a story than being able to spread their messages. Allison Wolfe sings in the song “Brat Girl”: “We're not going to be press favorites. I'm more likely to fall on my face! ”.

Feminists as pioneers
The girls who had belonged to the grassroots movement of the Riot Grrrls disappeared from the scene and their spirits lived on in the commercial cage. "Girl Power" - once the title of a Bikini Kill fanzine - became the Spice Girls' slogan. But the feminist origins of girl power faded. The musicians of my youth, the Millennial Generation, followed. Singers like Avril Lavigne, Christina Aguilera or Gwen Stefani were certainly not the driving forces behind feminism. Still, they offered a way to identify with women who were leaving some stereotypes. That helped me to get different perspectives on women, limited, but still in one important aspect - the external demarcation. Walking around with riveted bracelets, putting on black make-up, wearing a tie: these were all forms of expression that helped to defy common ideals of beauty - even if they did not attack the core of patriarchy, but only superficially demanded a more multifaceted design of femininity.

It was a strong picture when Avril Lavigne gave a concert at the MTV Video Music Awards wearing atypical clothes for a young woman and playing guitar as the lead singer of an otherwise male band. Her demeanor was cool and that made it possible for girls to let off steam when it came to their looks. Admittedly, it is difficult to recognize anything really feminist in it, at least in the sense of feminism as an urge for gender equality.

A girl who trained her own style of dress continued to be compared to what was considered masculine. Baggy pants, as worn by boys in the skater and hip-hop scenes, became “boyfriend” pants when girls started walking around in them. A skater girl was also a tomboy, a girl who behaves like a boy. Gender drawers were therefore by no means blown open. An unconventional clothing style like Avril Lavigne's was accepted, but was still considered "atypical for girls". Girls who wore skater clothes weren't just normal girls, they were more like boys. Everything that deviated from this picture, however, had to be explained. This became clear, for example, when the singer Lavigne developed an increasingly glamorous style and had to justify herself for it. Suddenly she was simply wearing a dress or high heels, so she was dressed more “ladylike” - and that didn't go with her tomboy image at all. Without a political message, as with the Riot Grrrls, the punk pop queens didn't really shake the world of gender-specific stereotypes. Nevertheless, feminists like the girls of the Riot Grrrl movement paved the way for women to be successful in music genres such as punk, rock and hip-hop, which were long considered non-girlish because they were rebellious, vulgar and rowdy. And not only that: Feminist music is no longer a niche phenomenon either. Direct followers of the Riot Grrrl movement like Gossip or the Pussy Riots, but also women like Sxtn, who do not see themselves primarily as feminists, celebrate musical breakthroughs. However, for many it still seems to be something special today when, for example, young women are successful as rappers. The German rap duo Sxtn is an example of this.

While the lyrics of their male colleagues are more likely to be discussed because of sexism, Sxtn says, that is Juju and Nura, that their lyrics are very provocative for female rap. In a #waslos interview with hiphop.de, the two say that their goal is not to provoke, but to make music that they personally like. Hip-hop played an important role in their lives and at some point they simply discovered that they rap better than most of their male friends. This self-confidence and the naturalness with which they accept their talent and simply do their thing, in this case rapping, can be inspiring for many girls - even though Sxtn do not declare themselves to be feminists and emphasize that they make music “without To feel pressure ”and don't feel like talking about her role as a woman over and over again. Nevertheless, it is understandable that some people long to understand their videos (e.g. for the track “Pussies in the Club”) and songs (“Hate Woman”) in a feminist way, because Juju and Nura rap about sexual equality and self-determination.

“You rap like a player, but you are not
Because if you come and she doesn't, she has fucked you ”
(Song: Undress)

He wants sex
You wanna fuck me
But you are not allowed to, because I forbid it
I'm too for you!
You want my tits
But you are not allowed to, because I forbid it
(Song: He wants sex)

The excitement over their music shows that rapping women are apparently still special. In the same interview with hiphop.de, Juju says the best thing is to “just do what you like and not defend yourself for it, then what you do becomes 'normal'”. Having to justify yourself over and over again can disrupt the naturalness with which women did their “thing” regardless of gender roles.

So benefiting from the legacy of earlier feminists and spreading feminist ideas yourself works quite well without calling yourself feminist. This raises the question of why many women and girls still refuse to call themselves feminists, and why the feeling arises that women have to justify themselves for feminist texts. What the music of artists says about their image of the sexes or whether it has a feminist message would actually be an interesting question for every artist, not just for women who move in a genre that has hitherto been male-dominated, such as hip-hop. In the arte documentary about the riot grrrls, Lauren Mayberry from Chvrches says it makes her sad when she hears a woman say: I'm not a feminist. “What she says then probably makes her one. Still, she's afraid of getting a stamp. That won't change if people don't understand feminism for what it is: the pursuit of equality. ”Catherine Connors writes in her article“ Why I Refuse To Call My Daughter A Tomboy ”that for them feminism is the belief in it that everyone has the freedom to define who they are without feeling restricted by gender. Those who can identify with these definitions may also ask what is stopping them from calling themselves a feminist.

1 The duo split up musically at the end of 2018.