Feminist Songs…: Day 12, Riot Grrrls

Alyson Spurgas is an Assistant Professor in SIUE’s Sociology Department and has been involved in the Women’s Studies Program since her first semester here. She has written several blog entries for our program on injustice and within her specialty, medical sociology. Here, she discusses the Riot Grrrl movement and presents one of her favorite tunes. 
–Alison Reiheld, Director of the SIUE Women’s Studies Program
Bikini Kill is just one of the most integral bands within the “Riot Grrrl” movement in punk rock. Originally based in Olympia, Washington, the band consisted of Kathleen Hanna, Kathi Wilcox, Tobi Vail, and Billy Karren (the only male-bodied individual in the band). This all girl/queer band was one of many that turned the male-dominated punk rock scene upside down in the early 1990s.
bikini-kill-611x480

Spanning the U.S., but with strongholds in Olympia, Portland, Seattle, and Washington, D.C., the women, girls, and self-identified queer and genderqueer folks associated with this movement addressed issues such as sexual violence towards women (including child abuse and incest), rape culture (before that term was used!), slut-shaming, same sex love and queer relationships, and a general emphasis on the intersectional empowerment and liberation of marginalized survivors of sexism, racism, and homophobia. Often not perfectly in tune and rarely formally trained as musicians, riot grrrls embodied a new punk ethos at the turn of the 21st century — they used DIY (“do it yourself”) political activism in the form of art, music, and circulated writings (“fanzines” or later just “zines”) to express themselves and draw attention to what they saw as the most important issues that women, girls, and other folks oppressed by heteropatriarchal culture are confronted with and survive every day of our lives, which tended to be ignored in the larger punk movement, and which they argued were certainly not addressed within mainstream culture, media, and by national governing and policy-making bodies.

Although I grew up outside of Baltimore, I was close enough to D.C. to have access to these bands and to go to their shows, and used mail order catalogues to order zines, cassette tapes, t-shirts, posters, 7 inch records, and eventually compact discs by bands like Bikini Kill, Huggy Bear, Heavens to Betsy, Excuse 17, Bratmobile, Team Dresch, and later Sleater-Kinney and Le Tigre. These bands and their empowering words gave me life and hope as a culturally isolated teenager growing up in the suburbs, where hanging out at the mall was the only way to associate with other young people. I owe my politics, my ethics, and my commitment to social justice to this movement, as it exposed me as a young teenager to what would come to be called “third wave feminism.”

In addition to the revolutionary message, riot grrl music itself is also great — super fun to feel your rage and angst to, awesome to jam out to, and perfect to dance to. I hope you enjoy “Rebel Girl” — a favorite by Bikini Kill: “That girl thinks she’s the queen of the neighborhood. I got news for you — SHE IS! They say she’s a slut, but I know, she is my best friend!”
The video isn’t embedding correctly (too rebellious?), so FOLLOW THIS LINK to the video.
LYRICS
That girl thinks she’s the queen of the neighborhood
She’s got the hottest trike in town
That girl she holds her head up so high
I think I want to be her best friend, yeahRebel girl rebel girl
Rebel girl you are the queen of my world
Rebel girl rebel girl
I think I want to take you home
I want to try on your clothesWhen she talks, I hear the revolution
In her hips, there’s revolutions
When she walks, the revolution’s coming
In her kiss, I taste the revolution!

Rebel girl rebel girl
Rebel girl you are the queen of my world
Rebel girl rebel girl
I know I want to take you home
I want to try on your clothes

That girl thinks she’s the queen of the neighborhood
I got news for you, she is!
They say she’s a dyke but I know
She is my best friend yeah

Rebel girl rebel girl
Rebel girl you are the queen of my world
Rebel girl rebel girl
I know I want to take you home
I want to try on your clothes

Love you like a sister, always
Soul sister, blood sister
Come and be my best friend, really
Rebel girl
I really like you, I really want to be your best friend
Be my rebel girl

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