Riot Grrrl: The Feminism of a New Generation

 

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Third Wave Feminism

In Your Face Politics

Networking

 

 

 

Third Wave Feminism

One of the main goals of riot grrrl within the third wave movement was to make feminism cool again in the hopes that it would spur young girls to get involved. By the late 80s feminism had faded from popular culture and been laid to rest in the mausoleum of academic discourse. The only people still talking about it were intellectual types who's expressions had become far too complicated and high-minded for the general public to understand or care about. Riot grrrl brought real, everyday, down-to-earth, issues back into the feminist spotlight and befan to re-involve the people they affected. The punk/DIY scene was the perfect way to attrace young, angry women to an arena where they could put the angst of teenage-girlhood to positive use in changing the landscape of gendered culture in their communities and the larger world.

The third wave feminist movement in the North America and Europe began in the late 1980s and was at it zenith during the first part of the 1990s though it technically encompasses feminist pursuits that continue today. The third wave of feminism began in a time when the trend was to refer to everything as “post-feminist.” It was widely posited that feminism had done its job and was no longer a necessary political or social force in the “developed” world. Due to this thinking, along with its relative advent, third wave feminism is not studied as often or given as much respect as the first and second waves. While it is true that the third wave has been less defined by specific legal and political platforms as the first wave was by suffrage and the second was by reproductive rights, it does have a concrete set of values and platforms if one chooses to look for them. Third wave feminism in many respects worked to change the systems that the first two waves fought to gain rights from. With many, though not all, of the legal barriers destroyed the third wave sought to bring down the ideologies that bred them. It was not enough for the laws of white men to grant permission for women to vote or allow them the rights to decide matter involving their bodies, these new feminists wanted to remove men from the status that gave them the right to decide those matters in the first place.

The main platform of the third wave feminist movement was to combat the cultural ideologies that trained women to be subservient to men regardless of their legal status.  One major representation of this struggle was in the area of rape and other crimes against women. Rather than petition the men who run the courts to avenge these wrongs against women, the third wave feminists wanted to put women in a position where they would no longer be victims in the first place. The main method for achieving these aims also sets the third wave apart from the second wave. Rather than highly organized protests and rallies the new feminists relied on change at a more personal level. They emphasized the importance of having individual voices heard rather than a concrete political message. They organized workshops and conferences to teach women how to take up more space in the world. These conferences were meant to encourage women to throw off the patriarchal ideas of femininity as quiet, small, obliging, weak, etc. They wanted individual women to discover their voices and be able to express their political views more effectively without the fear of being labeled as “bitchy,” “difficult,” “annoying,” etc. They were focused on taking the legal powers that had been won by their predecessors and retrain women to take them on. What good are legal powers if women still don’t feel as though they are “good enough” to exercise them? Because it focused more on the ability of women to participate in a political discourse rather than a set political platform many critics argue that it is not a legitimate political phenomenon. This idea however just plays into the patriarchy that keeps women from being taken seriously throughout political discourse. Because it involves women teaching and communicating with other women outside of the traditional framework of patriarchal politics it was invalid. But for the girls and women who participated in it, it was as real and legitimate as any movement before it. It was their attempt to create a political and social climate where women could truly be equal citizens of the so-called developed world.

 

 

In Your Face Politics

Rape was possibly the most well defined issue of the third wave feminist movement. Third wave feminist thinkers saw rape as both a side effect and a contributor to institutionalized patriarchy. Rape, they assert, is not a random crime or a fact of life. It happens because women are made to feel helpless by societies training. If women feel as though they are helpless against men they often don’t even attempt to put up a fight, assuming that they can’t stand up to a male attacker without even trying. So in this way, patriarchy makes women feel inferior and pre-defeats them in their own mind as well as the mind of the attacker. Conversely, rape is not only caused by patriarchy, it contributes to it. Riot Grrrls often felt that talking about rape and related issues was a huge step in preventing it. It was a very unseemly topic and one not often given exposure in the mainstream media. Riot grrrl gave women a platform to talk about what had happened to them and people they knew and discuss ways to stop it from happening to other people. Topics such as rape and abuse are often considered to be "innapropriate" especially in the media culture of the United States and for that reason they are shoved to the side. Many politcal powers also argue that rape is a personal issue, an issue to be dealt with on a case by case basis by the courts and the justice system, not the government. Riot Grrrls saw it as a very political issue and challenges lawmakers and enforcers alike to place a much higher stock in making the streets, bars, and mosh pits safe for women. Fear is a tool used by the patriarchy to keep women in their place when laws have failed to do so and as such, is the last great hurdle for the women's movement. The riot grrrl movement and others like it are about taking the symbolic legal battles that have been won and making them mean something real for the lives of young women.

Another area of great focus within the riot grrrl movement was what they called "weight descrimination." Weight descrimination involves the ways in which society tries to convince young girls that they have to achieve a certain wieght and body type in order to be attractive and even valuable. Another issue that is generally deemed "personal" or "cultural," the riot grrrl movement aimed to show how it affected the lives of women in very political ways. By keeping women constantly worried about weight and appearance the patriarchy can keep them out of its way. It has veeb proven time and time again that these ideals are damaging not only to individuals but to women as a group. Picking up the second wave mantra of "personal as political" the riot grrrls charged that it was everyone's responsibility to destroy these damaging societal constructs.

 

Networking

A large part of the riot grrrl movement was communal. Its not surprising that the Underground Pop Convention is viewed as a major landmark in riot grrrl history because so much of the riot grrrl spirit came from its intense interconnectivity. More than anything else riot grrrl was a way for a lonely teenage girl sitting in her bedroom having revolutionary political thoughts to find others who were doing the same thing. As a large part of Riot Grrrl had to do with the DIY spirit of girls breaking into the world of cultural production these productions formed a perfect route for a discourse in a demographic that is often lacking in outlets. Before the internet became as popular as it is today and forums and social networking site abounded, riot grrrl gave young women another way to get in touch with each other even if they never met. The music, the zine, the films, and any other products of the movement were all ways in which riot grrrls networked. Once established, this network was put to a variety of uses by different sectors of the movement. Conventions were held regarding everything from zine production methods to starting your own record label. Classes were taught in women's self defense and even just confidence. The sense of interconnectedness ran throughout the movement itself aswell with each individual aspect aiding the others. Self-defense classes were taught at concerts and written about in zines while zines were distributed as conerts and often featured interviews and articles about bands. The whole movement worked together to spread awareness about the issues and recruit help. The issues themeselves changed often and it is difficult to pinpoint a riot grrrl agenda because with so many different types of women and girls involved there're bound to be more than a few differing opinions. But regardless of the specific issues the riot grrrl machine was truly god-like in its ability to convey information quickly and cheaply through one of the most disconnected demographics of the time.

 

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