“BECAUSE we are angry at a society that tells us Girl = Dumb, Girl = Bad, Girl = Weak. BECAUSE we are unwilling to let our real and valid anger be diffused and/or turned against us via the internalization of sexism as witnessed in girl/girl jealousism and self defeating girltype behaviors.”
That’s part of the 1991 Riot Grrrl Manifesto, published in Bikini Kill Zine 2. It’s an answer to a lot of questions: Why are you angry? Why do you need feminism? Why do you need punk rock? Why riot grrrl?
Riot grrrl, if you need a primer, was the punk feminist movement that sprung up in the Pacific Northwest and spread elsewhere in the early ’90s, with bands like L7 and Bratmobile claiming the aggressiveness and anger of punk for themselves. The beacon for riot grrrl, Kathleen Hanna, is the subject of a documentary released this year by Opening Band Films. The Punk Singer: A Film About Kathleen Hanna recounts her role in the birth of the movement and in Bikini Kill and Le Tigre, plus her personal struggles with falling in love with a Beastie Boy (Adam Horowitz) and getting diagnosed with Lyme disease.
I’m excited about so many things about The Punk Singer, but if I had to pick one to explain coherently, it’s that it’s heartening to see the women of riot grrrl staying rebellious as they age. Punk rock is a hard subculture to grow old in, and doubly so if you’re a woman, with all the expectations that you’re supposed to settle down. It’s unseemly to be a girl who’s exuberant and pissed-off and opinionated, let alone if you’re an adult woman with responsibilities. I’ve always assumed that liking punk rock has an expiration date, that I’ll have to give it up the way I got too old for pony rides at the fair. Seeing women like Hanna and Joan Jett and Kim Gordon continuing to rock out assures me that I can love this as long as I want to.
Riot grrrl might be the topic of documentaries, but its spirit is far from dead. This isn’t news to anyone who’s listening to The Gateway District or Kitten Forever or War on Women. In a time where singer Lauren Denitzio, of the Worriers and Measure SA, still gets asked if she’s “with the band” or not, we still need riot grrrl’s spirit, and we still need Kathleen Hanna and people like her.—Kate Whittle