Thursday, December 16, 2010

Should we romanticize Riot Grrrl?

From the now seven-year-old edition edition of Sisterhood is Forever. I'd never read this anthology before Actually, I had my reservations, as I thought it was a lot of the same voices, which is kind of a problem in feminist circles. It turns out there are some really great essays in it, including these salient points from Katheen Hanna on riot grrrl's early days:
The riot grrrl movement I knew in the 90s wasn't ever really the cohesive political movement many reporters claimed it to be. It was more like a music scene, one that used politics to shape itself. It created feminist songs and 'zines, benefit concerts and parties; it raised consciousness. But it didn't formulate policy, or even protest much outside the parameters of underground music. This led to a self-referential insularity that often confused personality conflicts and petty intrigues with serious dialogues about race, class, and power dynamics as they played out in our collective activities.
This is a big part of why riot grrrl never appealed to me.  The things that came to define third-wave feminism -- punk rock, 'zine making -- weren't available to all girls, so a lot of people were shut out.

I write a lot  about riot grrrl's insularity and inaccessibility, but offer few solutions. Solutions are kind of moot for a movement forever rooted in 90s culture.

I guess what I'm saying is stop romanticizing it.

This is what I wrote on my Tumblr yesterday when I was trying to work out this post. I know I'm becoming a little one-note, but I think this is important:
Unlike a lot of women my age, riot grrrl wasn’t my avenue into feminism. I’ve always felt a little silly even writing the words, “riot grrrl.” I had no idea what RG was until long after the fact, and the media had reduced it to a sartorial statement.

Ergo, it isn’t mine to write about.

But it is because I never felt that riot grrrl was something for me: a working-class kid, living in a conservative part of the country and not attending a liberal college. Riot grrrl was insular, not accessible to everyone, and fell victim to some of the same problems of second-wave feminism. Everything I know about RG is decidedly unromantic. But for generation of women, now in their twenties and thirties, criticism of riot grrrl is anathema.
I understand wanting to curate something that meant the world to many girls who felt that feminism was something antiquated, but for a lot us, riot grrrl was just as exclusive as our mothers' feminism, which has taken a fair amount of heat (and rightfully so) for addressing the needs of only straight, white, cis, middle-class women. We can do better than that.

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