blog comments powered by Disqus

So sang Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna in Alien She (1993) at the height of Riot Grrrl’s guitar-brandishing, underwear-exposing, female-fury-unleashing heyday. Like other female-fronted bands of the era – think Huggy Bear or Heavens To Betsy – Riot Grrrl’s brand of feminism was angry and outspoken, not filtered through marketing departments and, undeniably, cool.  

Of course, feminism shouldn’t be about cool. Really, does any right-minded person not want women and men to have equal rights? But a common lament among those brave enough to label themselves ‘feminists’ today is that the word has off-putting connotations. Despite media-friendly movements such as the global Slutwalks that took place after a US policeman accused an assaulted woman of “asking for it“, feminism is often seen as dreary, man-hating and glamourless. For a while, though, Riot Grrrls changed that.

But wait! What is this we hear springing up in bars and music venues across London? The non-saccharine lyrics of bands such as Chasing Girls, Covergirl, Throwing Up, She Makes War, Hysterical Injury, Fear Of Men and Good Throb singing about life, love and being a woman in 2012. They’re feminists alright, but are they Riot Grrrls?

To understand the original scene that spawned the likes of Bikini Kill, you need to invoke the wider, punk-inspired DIY ethos of the Nineties. This was an era when zines emerged from bedrooms, bands shunned the record-label gloss of the Eighties and ‘outsider’ groups of artists like Beautiful Losers stuck their middle finger up at the elitism of galleries and collectors. From this, an honest, messy form of feminism arose that didn’t need anyone’s approval and encouraged women to write, draw or sing without waiting for the backing of the establishment.

And something similar is taking place again. In London, feminist collectives, Riot Grrrl-esque club nights, female artists, musicians and writers are once more making a noise about gender inequality, regardless of whether their work will be picked up by the mainstream.

Verity Flecknell, 29, who lives in Hackney, founded feminist collective Storm In A Teacup in 2009. “It was a flash of inspiration over a pint in a dingy Camden bar with [co-founder] Elizabeth Martin,” Flecknell says. “As musicians, Elizabeth and I both felt disillusioned with the mainstream music industry and the underground music scene, due to the lack of representation of alternative women. 

%TNT Magazine% sluts

“We noticed there were lots of female-centric art projects popping up around London and we wanted to create links and bring people together to create a scene.”

Since then, Storm In A Teacup has been involved in organising a zine workshop at Southbank’s Women Of The World Festival in March; helping found the VV Collective to promote women in art; and jointly organising a benefit night for jailed Russian punk band Pussy Riot. Flecknell also regularly DJs at events, flying the female flag ever higher.

Girls Get Busy, another east London-based feminist collective, run by 23-year-old Beth Siveyer, holds club nights (expect handmade stickers and transfer-tattoos), workshops (such as video-making and skateboarding) and exhibitions, and publishes a monthly zine (girlsgetbusyzine.tumblr.com).  Full of poems and drawings from unpaid contributors, the zine’s content varies in its brilliance, but that is part of the charm. This is DIY culture; anyone can have a go.

Against this supportive backdrop, feminist, girl-fronted bands are making a comeback. Siveyer is a member of instrument-swapping post-punk band Chasing Girls. 

“We’re a self-consciously feminist, queer-positive band,” she says. “I hope we inspire other girls.” 

Before Chasing Girls had played their first gig, the band had amassed a following through the network of artists who are part of the grassroots feminist scene.

A common thread amoung this wave of London’s feminists is a desire to engage with the movement on their own terms. “Sometimes when I meet what I call ‘senior feminists’ I feel like I’m being tested,” Siveyer says. 



blog comments powered by Disqus

“I feel as if I have to give validation that I’m really a feminist. For me, feminism is just about believing in ourselves and being able to do what we want.”

Flecknell agrees. “I think for some people it can be quite intimidating getting involved with feminism. I still feel like I don’t know enough facts or enough feminist history. I think finding other ways of getting women involved in feminism, like through arts events, shows we can all explore feminism in our own way.”

But between the lack of tough political stance and the high proportion of hipness in the scene, isn’t there something a bit suspiciously trendy about this seeming return to Riot Grrrl? 

“I recently moved the Girls Get Busy events from Alibi to the Shacklewell Arms in Dalston, because I was worried people were just coming along to be seen,” Siveyer agrees.  “We even got some gross, lecherous men turning up.”

Over the last year, there has been a resurgence of Nineties music and fashion but, perhaps this trend goes deeper than the DMs and dip-dyed hair. 

“I think the whole DIY attitude to arts and activism has made a real comeback, buoyed by the internet improving the way we all share and communicate,” Flecknell says. “People are turning away from capitalist, consumer culture and are looking into their backyard to feel a sense of belonging.”

In Dalston’s Shacklewell Arms, at the recent benefit in aid of Pussy Riot, organised jointly by Not So Popular, Girls Get Busy and Storm In A Teacup, the audience is mixed. There’s a core of trendy 20-something girls in grungy jumpers, but there are also lots of guys and a contingent of less hip, older-generation feminists. 

The bill includes speakers from the East London Fawcett Group, which traces its roots back to suffragette Millicent Fawcett in 1866, and a performance from Viv Albertine of The Slits. The return of Riot Grrrl-style feminism has not created a closed community. Bryony Beynon, 26, from Brixton, is web editor for Hollaback! (ldn.ihollaback.org), the campaign to end the street harassment of women. She also plays the guitar in female punk band, Good Throb. An outspoken feminist, contributing to songs such as Shit Wife Day, Beynon is wary about Good Throb being labelled latter-day Riot Grrrls.

“The DIY idea that influenced the Riot Grrrl is a thread for many girl bands that continues today, but the movement was short-lived and the thousands of feminist punk bands active today take inspiration from a much wider pool,” she says.

“That is one thing that I think a lot of feminist punk musicians have learnt from the days of Riot Grrrl, which fell apart due to media distortions. People are a lot less naive now. The aesthetic might be popular, but those who actually take action to change things and create their own culture know that this isn’t important.”

So London’s zine-making, band-forming feminists have moved on from Riot Grrrl. The world in 2012 is not the same place it was in 1993. What the new scene has borrowed from its older Nineties sister is hipness and an ethos of Do It Yourself and, if that makes feminism more, well, cool, then that can’t be a bad thing, can it. ζ

%TNT Magazine% feminism

Page 2 – click to head back to page 1

“I feel as if I have to give validation that I’m really a feminist. For me, feminism is just about believing in ourselves and being able to do what we want.”

Flecknell agrees. “I think for some people it can be quite intimidating getting involved with feminism. I still feel like I don’t know enough facts or enough feminist history. I think finding other ways of getting women involved in feminism, like through arts events, shows we can all explore feminism in our own way.”

But between the lack of tough political stance and the high proportion of hipness in the scene, isn’t there something a bit suspiciously trendy about this seeming
return to Riot Grrrl? 

“I recently moved the Girls Get Busy events from Alibi to the Shacklewell Arms in Dalston, because I was worried people were just coming along to be seen,” Siveyer agrees.  “We even got some gross, lecherous men turning up.”

Over the last year, there has been a resurgence of Nineties music and fashion but, perhaps this trend goes deeper than the DMs and dip-dyed hair. 

“I think the whole DIY attitude to arts and activism has made a real comeback, buoyed by the internet improving the way we all share and communicate,” Flecknell says. “People are turning away from capitalist, consumer culture and are looking into their backyard to feel a sense of belonging.”

In Dalston’s Shacklewell Arms, at the recent benefit in aid of Pussy Riot, organised jointly by Not So Popular, Girls Get Busy and Storm In A Teacup, the audience is mixed. There’s a core of trendy 20-something girls in grungy jumpers, but there are also lots of guys and a contingent of less hip, older-generation feminists. 

The bill includes speakers from the East London Fawcett Group, which traces its roots back to suffragette Millicent Fawcett in 1866, and a performance from Viv Albertine of The Slits. The return of Riot Grrrl-style feminism has not created a closed community. Bryony Beynon, 26, from Brixton, is web editor for Hollaback! (ldn.ihollaback.org), the campaign to end the street harassment of women. She also plays the guitar in female punk band, Good Throb. An outspoken feminist, contributing to songs such as Shit Wife Day, Beynon is wary about Good Throb being labelled latter-day Riot Grrrls.

“The DIY idea that influenced the Riot Grrrl is a thread for many girl bands that continues today, but the movement was short-lived and the thousands of feminist punk bands active today take inspiration from a much wider pool,” she says.

“That is one thing that I think a lot of feminist punk musicians have learnt from the days of Riot Grrrl, which fell apart due to media distortions. People are a lot less naive now. The aesthetic might be popular, but those who actually take action to change things and create their own culture know that this isn’t important.”

So London’s zine-making, band-forming feminists have moved on from Riot Grrrl. The world in 2012 is not the same place it was in 1993. What the new scene has borrowed from its older Nineties sister is hipness and an ethos of Do It Yourself and, if that makes feminism more, well, cool, then that can’t be a bad thing, can it.



blog comments powered by Disqus