Sarah Nielsen" />
side bar
Thursday, September 28, 2023

Life + Arts

Maintaining the Riot Grrrl movement

It was a strange thing to see author and historiographer Sara Marcus, a Columbia grad and soon-to-be Princeton doctoral candidate, cursing and stomping and caterwauling in front of a lecture hall, but the UH community was treated to just that.

Her biography of the Riot Grrrl movement, Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution, was the focus of her lecture on April 17, and she did feminism’s third wave awesome justice.

The Riot Grrrl revolution, while 20 years in the making, is rarely a topic in the common conversation on feminism.

The anti-corporation and capitalism movement by girls, for girls, and about girls, which continues to influence music, art, publishing, and fashion, to name only a few aspects of 20- and 30-something urban culture, is regularly misrepresented and misunderstood by corporate media and has been since its organic inception in Washington D.C. in the early 1990s.

This issue of misrepresentation was a central focus of Marcus’ lecture, which also depicted some of the core principles of third wave feminist ideology: anti-sexism, anti-corporatism, anti-violence against women, and anti-media manipulations and false representations of the feminine.

These aspects of a movement encompassing so many ideas, concepts, rebellions, and rights were frequently misconstrued during the first Bush administration into a man-hating, lesbian culture based solely on inherently anti-American values, much as the fight for women’s rights and equality is today.

These girls used their right to fight with and against words like slut, ugly and worse — the same words used to degrade women who stand outside the ever-narrowing social norm today.

Marcus succinctly reinforced this idea by encouraging women in the audience and everywhere to “stick to (their) own guns,” while warning us in our time that “if (a movement) turns into nothing but a meme,” then “it can’t affect change.”


Doing it for themselves

The original Riot Grrrls fought over-simplification and corporatization of their purpose and ideas by calling for widespread media blackouts on their goings-on, from coverage of musical performances to grrrl interviews with journalists.

Instead, the Riot Grrrls became their own media, publishing short magazines known as zines and openly mocking the mainstream-proposed and regularly accepted concepts of girlhood.


A grrrl nation: then and now

The original Riot Grrrls gathered en masse, hosting a nationwide conference in August of ’92, just one year after the idea came into existence, in order to create a nationwide space where an all-grrrl community could teach one another skills and endeavor to create their own personality, body politic, and engage in a loud response to what they saw as a perversion of grrrlhood by the American mainstream.

Marcus further tied the oft-misrepresented movement into contemporary events in the Houston music and culture scenes, particularly the development of Girls Rock Camp and its Houston branch, whose executive director is UH’s own Anna Garza.

The Riot Grrrl movement, while having so much to do with a DIY ethos, political stances, and different bands and musicians, also advanced and relied heavily upon their own faculties as a grass-roots movement created to promote and support women everywhere.

Similarly, while GRC was founded in Portland, Ore. by some original Riot Grrrls there, the movement has spread across the country in order to reach into new generations and bring girls up with a sense of pride and accomplishment in their own work.

The camp allows pre-teen and teenaged girls to come together in the creative and empowering process of making music, much as the original Riot Grrrls did in their own gatherings.

One of the key components of the Austin Girls Rock Camp was a young woman named Esme Barrera, who was brutally murdered on New Year’s day of this year. She was close companions with Garza.

I was introduced to Girls Rock Camp in the summer of 2007 by Esme when I lived in Austin. The positive empowerment of young women that she helped make possible through her time with GRC made her senseless death all the more applicable today.


Keeping the riot going

It is clear that Marcus and Garza continue to promote the necessary ideals of the Riot Grrrl movement in a time when women’s rights and dignity continue to be threatened in the American body politic and public.

This is especially true considering the lack of Republican reaffirmation of the International Violence Against Women Act — created smack in the center of the third wave and Riot Grrrl revolution —  and the recall of aspects of Roe v. Wade. The third wave of feminism stands in ever-greater relief as a necessary component in the conversation about women’s rights today.

Our continuance of what the Riot Grrrl revolution stands for is critical, so that sexual and physical endangerment of women will come to an end, in our world, our country, in Texas and on our campus.

If you aren’t convinced, consider the female UH student who was bodily assaulted off-campus by three masked men just hours after Marcus ended her lecture. That student deserves to walk without fear in our world, and without traumatic memories of the assault that she may bear forever. She especially deserves to walk with high dignity because she successfully fought off three men and escaped.

The Riot Grrrl movement exists to promote the end to such violence, and to support women in overcoming the gender bias that still prevails today.

[email protected]

6 Responses to Maintaining the Riot Grrrl movement

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top ↑
  • Sign up for our Email Edition

  • Polls

    What about UH will you miss the least this summer?

    View Results

    Loading ... Loading ...