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by: belle petajan

“‘OK, let’s just do a band. And it doesn’t matter if we’re not any good. It doesn’t matter if we make mistakes. Let’s just do it anyway, because otherwise we’re never going to be bold enough to get on stage.’ And it’s important that we represent ourselves.” Layla Gibbons, Skinned Teen

Like basically all feminist movements, the validity of the Riot GRRRL’s concerns were often minimized and they get shut down by many male counterparts.

Their validity as musicians is continuously undermined. If you talk about Riot GRRRL, often people will play

a fun word association game of name that angry women who “can’t play their instrument.”  The entire point however of Riot GRRRL is that is not supposed to be pretty! As women in society, everything we do is supposed to be manicured for easy consumption- the way we look, talk, dress, eat, and even our music. It is telling that the women who had musical and cultural ‘ respect’ during this time period were sex icons who catered to the male gaze. Even to say they were respected is an overreach… but they had labels, and playtime, and were compensated while making themselves easily consumable while the Riot GRRRLs got no credit. Women on the whole do not get the respect they deserve in the music industry— especially when the whole point of your music is to not make yourself consumable. For one of the first times in music history— men were made to actually think about and confront things without them being palatable on a sexy little plate and they were angry about it! So much so that the Riot GRRRLs weren’t booked at clubs, weren’t allowed at major shows, etc. Until they started their own DIY revolution and took hold of their lives. 

Riot GRRRL makes you listen and see the uglier truths about society as a whole.  Socially, Riot GRRRL is a rebellious movement so the public discourse is ever varying. From strong opposition to strong support— the public eyes views of Riot GRRRL change based on individual standing.

Riot Lite: How Grrrl Power Sold Out | by Olivia Lynch | Medium

As soon as they started picking up wind and grabbing success amongst their target audience— the general media started labeling Riot GRRRLs as deviants, and detrimental to society. Quick! Censor the media of your young girls before they will actually find media that respects and uplifts them! That could be horrible! Imagine all the things that would “go wrong” in our societal structure if young girls had representative and uplifting media through and through… even worse, imagine if our young boys saw women being represented wholly and not as sex icons catered to male consumption? The horror of a representative, equitable society that actually empowers women!

” I think I just have a better understanding of how the world works in general. So now I realize that things are f****d up, but I don’t really expect them not to be.” Nomy Lamm

Riot Grrrl - Louder Than Words: Rock, Power and Politics - LibGuides at Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum

The capitalist system that perpetuates a culture of racism and sexism upholds industries of dieting, cosmetics, clothing, etc. All of that would crumble. If we raised kids with an actual sense of self, especially in this music industry that so heavily influences pop culture and culture as a whole, having something that would completely deplete those industries would call for a completely different structure of society as we know it. Knowing this, it makes sense that people who benefit from the system would want away with the Riot GRRRLs during this time, as it would question and crumble everything they know. 

They saw Riot GRRRLs as a direct opposition to everything the American Women were supposed to exude. They were not quiet in the face of oppression, they were not made to be easily digestible in appearances or speech, and their music wasn’t delicate and easily accessible—- basically, their entire existence went in opposition to American gender roles, but that was the whole point. Their music wasn’t supposed to sound lovely. They were angry. They weren’t supposed to look how you’d expect; they were expressing themselves and opposing traditional beauty standards. They weren’t dulling themselves down to have their message be more ladylike or palatable, their message reached exactly who it was meant to. 

This is exposed in “Girls To The Front: The True Story of the Riot GRRRL Revolution” (a recommended read if you are interested in Riot GRRRL)  written by Sara Marcus. It is a primary source utilized in my research that exposes what it was like growing up as a girl in the 80s/90s and how Riot GRRRL came about in DC. Marcus says Riot GRRRL allowed for a safe space after she was abused and highlights the empowering nature. I think that this is such an important and often overlooked aspect of Riot GRRRL. 

As a political and musical movement, Riot GRRRL made space for discussion of the feminine experience and empowerment. This space allowed for growth and conglomeration of like-minded and like-treated individuals. 



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