In honor of Women’s History Month, this week’s column is dedicated to all the ladies who used their musical powers to curb stomp the patriarchy. Honestly, this one’s a little much less of a musical analysis, but history is important in music!
The Riot Grrrl movement is a facet of third-wave feminism that sprang up sometime in the ‘70s with the advent of punk. Punk is generally seen now as having a very progressive culture and following, but its origins are very predominantly male.
If someone were to tell me to just spout off punk bands I’d probably say Sex Pistols, Social Distortion, Bad Religion, Tiger Army, NOFX, blah blah blah men.
Enter the first influences of the Riot Grrrl movement: Patti Smith and Joan Jett, the ‘70s rockers who are arguably the pioneers and primary influences. They established the classic femme punk aesthetic, with Joan’s hair and dark makeup and Patti’s unkempt, subtly masculine look (and unshaven armpits). Smith particularly was a proponent of the entire punk rock movement, which is interesting seeing as how the punk scene became notoriously misogynist.
Then there were all the ‘90s Riot Grrrl bands that were the main part of the movement. The official beginning was with Bikini Kill and front woman Kathleen Hanna. This was a time where copy-machine made zines fueled feminist dialogue, and Bikini Kill’s own zine did not fall short. The band took everything about the punk movement and feminized it, arguably propelling third-wave feminism into what it has become today.
Next Riot Grrrl of note: Kimya Dawson. If you didn’t know, she’s the prominent voice on the Juno soundtrack. In the white-male dominated world of folk-punk, Dawson puts her own spin on the genre as a woman of color. She embraced her motherhood by producing a folk-punk children’s album that’s probably the best kid’s music ever. Recently, Dawson showed off her feminist ways on Twitter by not only participating in #BlackOutDay, but completely owning it.
Now let’s talk about Pussy Riot, because there is no way around that.
These women are undeniably badass. There isn’t a strong enough term. The group’s entire ideology revolves around activism, and in Russia, that’s a very dangerous area to tread. Members of the Russian group have been arrested for “hooliganism” and subsequently went on a hunger strike in jail. What’s more punk rock than that?
When I was really involved in the punk/hardcore/metal scene I noticed women were only really seen as the girlfriends of the dudes in bands, and the few bands that had girl singers in them were often made fun of. I desperately wanted to start a band but nobody wanted to do it out of fear of being made fun of. These women undoubtedly felt the same at some point, but decided to smash the patriarchy with their music, paving the way for women in punk rock.
Megan Osborne can be contacted at [email protected]