Rock against men is music to the Riot Grrrls' ears: A new movement of radical young feminists draws its inspiration from man-hating, all-women bands, reports Hester Matthewman
Sunday 14 March 1993
Riot Grrrl bands have been grabbing media attention recently - Huggy Bear attacked Terry Christian, presenter of Channel 4's The Word, on the air, and fans had to be ejected from the studio.
But the movement is about much more than music, according to an east London Riot Grrrl, Suzie. 'The music is just part of it,' she explains. 'Sexism, racism, homophobia, everyday bullshit that you put up with - these are Riot Grrrl issues. We're all doing our own thing and giving each other support, talking, going to gigs together and just, you know, communicating.'
The movement has its roots in the United States. British Riot Grrrls are surprisingly elusive and try to keep their activities underground. The two main groups centre on London and Leeds. 'We're all pretty close, we meet regularly and we're always on the 'phone to each other,' says Suzie, 23, smiling and friendly in a
T-shirt showing a skull and a heap of bones. She has the words 'Do it]' - a key Riot Grrrl slogan - taped to her 'phone.
'Numbers change from week to week, some girls miss a meeting, others bring friends. We just talk about things, things we've done, things we want to do. We don't get together and say 'Oh, tonight we're going to talk about sexism' or anything like that. We don't have leaders - I'm not speaking for Riot Grrrls. If any of us speak, we speak for ourselves.'
Riot Grrrls communicate by fanzines - 'zines' for short - ranging from professionally produced glossy magazines to smudgily photocopied handwritten or typed pamphlets. Zines are full of passionate polemic, feminist manifestos, poetry, cartoon strips, contact lists. Suzie produces her own, Stinkbomb: 'It's my own personal thing, some people like it, some people don't. I tend to write things on the spur of the moment, sometimes I'm really angry, sometimes I'm bored, sometimes I'm really happy, or I'll be really sarcastic. I don't see the point of going back and rewriting things so I just leave them as they are. Anyone with a brain will just take it as they read it.'
But music is important: assertive girl bands 'destroy the myths that support boyrock - like that you have to spend your developing years alone in your bedroom playing along with your heroes', explains the Leeds manifesto, Bullet-teen. Energy is preferred to polish: the latest Stinkbomb exhorts: 'Any girls reading this who are thinking 'Oh, I'd quite like to be in a band but I can't play. . . .' STOP RIGHT NOW] Who cares about technical ability] Get together with a few like-minded girlfriends and get going]'
The New Musical Express published these guidelines on 'How to Play Any Instrument in 30 Seconds': '1. Plug it in. 2. Hit it.'
Going to gigs is essential. 'The girls all used to be at the back,' Suzie says. 'But a lot decided that if some guy was going to push them they were going to push back. If you want to go to the front you're not going to let the guys intimidate you any more.'
Theoretically you could be a Riot Grrrl in Laura Ashley florals. However, it seems unlikely, judging from the audience at last week's gig by Seven Year Bitch in Camden Town, north London. Black and denim were de rigueur. The audience was sparse but enthusiastic.
'I love the in-your-face sound,' panted Helen, breathless from dancing. 'It's so cool, these girls are beautiful. The Riot Grrrls thing is essential. Women are just thought of as the sexy backing singers, it's time girlrock was promoted in its own right. Rock is really sexist. Riot Grrrls bands say something. You can read them after and think 'Yeah, I'm into that'.'
Others, however, thought Riot Grrrl music was little more than a product of media hype. At the bar, Fay said: 'I hate it when men give me hassle but music's not the answer. I consider myself a feminist but I wouldn't buy a record to prove it.'
How to spot a Riot Grrrl:
They are angry (but unobtrusively). They drop their surnames - or change them to something more radical (Karren Ablaze], Fanny Lionheart).
Riot Grrrls say: 'Do it] Do it] Do it] Now]'
Riot Grrrls don't say: 'Excuse me.' 'Turn the music down a bit.'
Likely haunts: Elbowing males out of the way at the front of a gig in a sweaty club; at a photocopy shop, xeroxing 'zines.
Unlikely haunts: The front row of a Cliff Richard concert; Laura Ashley.
Essential reading: Angry Women, interviews with role models such as 'post- porn modernist' Annie Sprinkle; Stinkbomb, rants and ways to annoy your ex-boyfriend; Girlfrenzy, latest issue carries articles on Valerie Solanas of the Society for Cutting Up Men (SCUM), and the Ideal Snog Machine. Bert Weedon's Play in a Day Guitar Course.
Essential Listening: Huggy Bear ('Kid punk rockers give off organised and tactical aura known as Lad Repellent'). Shonen Knife (Japanese girl group; 'Do we have boyfriends? We are interested in delicious food and sweets. And animals like the cat.')
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