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  • Riot Grrl

    When most people hear the words “Do It Yourself”, the first thing that comes to mind is a home improvement project. They usually think of a man, usually in a tool belt, taking measurements around a dilapidated house, trying to envision an improvement on the structure that stands before him. “Do It Yourself”, in this context, seems to mean the improvement of something that already exists. But what does “Do It Yourself” mean in the world of music? The world certainly found out in the 1990s, when the movement known as “riot grrl” reached its fever pitch. “Riot grrl” was a form of music that promoted a new brand of feminism for a new generation of young teenage women.

    Spread through word-of-mouth and activist-like tactics, garage bands that were comprised of a large number of women spread different messages concerning such issues as body image, rape, discrimination, incest, sexism, and a score of other issues affecting young women today. However fresh the perspectives were and however new the method of spreading the message of feminism was, there were a great deal of influences from the past. Patti Smith, Yoko Ono, Joan Jett, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Aretha Franklin, Ma Rainey, Big in Japan, and countless other bands were often the inspiration for the multitude of “riot grrl” bands that emerged in the ’90s and that continue to make their music and strive to make their message of feminism and girl-empowerment heard.  As a result of this “riot grrl” movement, which was largely underground and contained within the world of independent record labels, a large number of fanzines were released.

    These fanzines were often nothing more than collages put together to send messages about topics such as homosexuality, eating disorders, vegetarianism, domestic violence, and other topics that the publishers of these fanzines thought were important to address. They provided an outlet for female thought where there had been none before the advent of these magazines. Touring for many of these “riot grrl” bands forced them to confront opposition to their pro-girl message. Though the standard concert found the guys in the mosh pit to the front of the stage and the girls farther back, the “riot grrl” bands asked that the boys in the mosh pit move back from the front of the stage so that they might clear a space for girls nearer to the front of the stage. Despite the simplicity of their request, they were barraged by a series of derogatory words towards women (though a good deal of the members of “riot grrl” bands were not female).

    They were deemed as “man-haters”, though they never denounced men in any way, shape, or form. They only sought to empower women, though apparently that seemed to threaten many of the men that attended their shows only to shout offensive words or tell them to take off their clothes during their set. Though they often encountered such animosity from male concert-goers, these “riot grrl” bands also played concerts during which dedicated female fans would be immersed in the music and cheer after every song that the band would play.

    Unfortunately, the “riot grrl” bands found themselves, around the year 1992, in the media spotlight. However, many of their ideas were skewed and magazines that had never interviewed any “riot grrl” band would start printing so-called-facts about them. No matter how much the bands tried to straighten out the misconceptions that were printed, the media would not allow them to have a voice. It would only concentrate on the outward appearance of the “riot grrl”, noting the fact that they often wrote derogatory words on different parts of their bodies and wore strange clothing. The media tried to portray them as young girls who only had shock value, and had no message behind their music and tactics. Because of this distortion of “riot grrl” due to the media, the genre of music has divided, though it continues to make a difference.

    While bands like the Spice Girls seem to continue the “riot grrl” genre with their “girl power” catchphrase, and tours like Lilith Fair supposedly offered “music by women, for women” (though there was often only one woman in each band), the old roots of the “riot grrl” bands live on. Old members of bands long separated are moving on to new projects, and old bands, such as Bratmobile (one of the “riot grrl” bands said to have been a pillar for the whole genre) are reuniting. Bratmobile reunited in 2000 and made two albums before their singer moved on to sing with another all-women band.  Though the members of old “riot grrl” bands may move on to new and different things, the impact of the genre is still felt in the present; females of varying ages still listen to the genre and some even form their own garage bands that embody many of the ideals that the first “riot grrls” had in mind.

    They wanted to empower women, and by playing their music for women, they wanted to encourage more women to pursue music just as they had. In the formation of these garage bands, it can be said that these wishes are fulfilling themselves, even though these bands may have stopped making music together years ago. “Riot grrl” music has more than made a musical impact; there are numerous references in pop culture, from movies to books to television. Though the original “riot grrl” music is years old, it still sends the message it first intended to send: self-empowerment.

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