Saturday, January 22, 2011

Stealth Feminism*

(An earlier version of this was posted to my Tumblr.)
Riot Girl’s musical mainstays – Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy in the US, and their UK counterparts Huggy Bear – had been broken up for years, but their sound and messages made them iconoclasts. Their mere existence retooled feminism and punk for new generations of music-obsessed girls, showing young women they could start bands and put their lives, frustrations and inspirations into song – and that you didn’t have to be a virtuoso for it to be powerful. (The Guardian)
I write a lot about my apathy towards the riot grrrl movement and the current nostalgia surrounding it. Without taking away from all the good it did, I hate the impression that for women who came of age in the early 90s the only path to feminism was through riot grrrl. Back then I had no idea who those bands were. I had no access to ‘zines or the punk rock underground, and frankly, listening to that music now — the feminist punk rock that I should have drawn strength from when I was 18 or 19 — it just makes me feel more like a victim. I felt a greater sense of agency listening to TLC’s “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg,” which was all over the radio at that time and deemed nothing more than a “silly pop song.”

Whenever I read misty-eyed accounts of riot grrrl's heyday, I feel screaming, "That's not my nostalgia!" Maybe it's because I'm only now old enough to have a nostalgia that isn't borrowed from older siblings that I'm fighting against the narrative that's provided for me: Bikini Kill, Liz Phair, Courtney Love, My So-Called Life, Daria and Clueless. (The last three I know have nothing to do with riot grrrl -- at least not explicitly -- but come included in the 90s nostalgia press packet.) I also think it does a disservice to women making feminist-inspired music today to imply that all that's in the past.

I was introduced to feminism in small doses through mainstream media in varied and sometimes embarrassing ways: Darlene's character on Roseanne, Queen Latifah's "U.N.I.T.Y." and "Ladies First," Jem and the Holograms, Miss Piggy, and a copy of Nancy Friday's Women On Top that I stole from my mom. I was a consumer of the kind of pop culture people my age rally against, and I yet I still managed to have some kind of feminist awaking. I first read about HIV and gay rights in my mom's Redbook and Glamour magazines, of all places. This doesn't take the onus off women's magazines pushing unrealistic body ideals, or television functioning as wallpaper, but it does show that the message is there, albeit hidden, and can lead to better things.

*I credit the term "stealth feminism" to Tiger Beatdown and Yes Means Yes blog)

1 comment:

  1. Love this post. I was not cool enough for Riot Grrls and zines, but I credit all the sources you name as well as my incredibly badass mom for turning me into a feminist.