By Danielle Eisenman
Allison Wolfe is considered to be one of pioneers of the Riot Grrrl movement. Raised in Olympia, Washington, Allison created the influential zine Girl Germs with Molly Neuman, with whom she later formed the band Bratmobile. Allison has since recorded a number of albums and singles with other bands, notably the Washington D.C. based Partyline. She also initiated Ladyfest, a music and arts festival for female artists.
Danielle Eisenman: I’ve done some feminist-y stuff like writing a few songs and poems myself. I’m fond of the whole “Olympia” way—that you got to experience in your young adulthood—of doing stuff for fun, not really having to be like, you know—
Allison Wolfe: To be a professional.
AW: Yeah, I’m very fortunate for growing up in that town– a small, liberal-arts focused college town with the history of interesting people and artists and women trying to be doing things. A lot of people would just kind of perform, or read a story at parties, and there would be parties with themes where people were supposed to stand up and do a quick performance. And there was never any approach for it to be professional sounding or skilled in any certain way. Just the idea that anyone can and should be creative and should have something to say, and that it can sound interesting and cool or whatever and not have to be super skilled… I think I was very fortunate to have been immersed in that community. Otherwise I don’t think I would have thought that I could be in a band, or that I could actually do anything around something that I was very amateur at. It supported amateur creativity.
DE: Revolutionary bands like Bratmobile, Bikini Kill, Bangs, or just any other Riot Grrrl band hold a very important place in my heart and mind, and I feel it should be the same for everyone!
DE: How did the punk message relate to Riot Grrrl?
AW: Yeah, punk rock had a lot to do with– how we (Riot Grrrls) saw the world with our politics and our daily beliefs and things. I think at the time we were very politicized and thought that politics and the political aspects of music were important to us. And I think a lot of us come from a punk rock history. And I think that that sort of history of punk is really bringing down the barriers, tearing down the walls, and confronting authority, and looking for a world that is more based on equality. That is what everyone was always taught growing up, that everyone is equal and blah, blah, blah. But when you grow up and look around, you can see that no one’s equal. No one’s treated equal and no one has been given equal qualities in life. We live in a very higher-optical society. And a lot of that is the problem of corporate capitalism. I don’t know, I think that these days, it’s hard to be, I mean, I am older, and not as involved in the music scene as I used to be, but I still go to see bands play, and sometimes I still play myself. But I haven’t lately. I don’t really see that there are very many bands now, in general, that are coed or all girl bands who are very political.
DE: There are a lot of “modern rock” boy bands that are good for nothing but easy listening, and not that many really political bands; male or female. It’s disappointing.
AW: Not much. There is a cool girl that I know named Karen who puts on shows that are very decidedly feminist. She’s really cool. I think her organization that she runs is called “Strength and Numbers.” You should be able to Google that; just “Strength and Numbers.” She’s very feminist and very confident about it. She really goes for having events that are more politicized in an outward way, you know. But you’re right. It is disappointing and I feel disappointed, about that too. I just don’t see anything going on. Even though there are a lot of bands now and they sound pretty, they just don’t—they’re not very political and it’s been going on for a while. I think there was a huge political backlash in late 1990’s after Riot Grrrl had ‘come and gone’ after Grunge and everything. Everyone had started trying to be un-political. But then we had had eight years of the Bush administration. They were horrible times, really. They were being really conservative and really hard on a lot of people. I feel like people should have been screaming on the streets and doing a lot more. I mean there were a few massive protests, but it just never felt like enough. I feel like the punk rock and alternative music communities should have stepped up and spoken out more. There weren’t any overtly political bands during the first eight years, you know during 2000 to 2008. I suppose now, with Obama, people think that they can just do what they want, but Republicans are taking over Congress. Before, they had at least eight years to do whatever they wanted and they were completely un–apologetic about it. Why should we work with them now? They just want to take away all of our rights as citizens. And human rights as well. I just think the music scene should talk about these issues and be more confrontational.
DE: I’ve gone around at school asking people what they thought about feminism. Usually, their first reply is “What’s a feminist?” Yes, it’s just a name, a label, whatever. But I still feel it’s a pretty basic thing that people just don’t address. Usually, with boys I talk to, they come up with the worst excuses. Somebody that I asked replied with, “Girls have all of the rights they need! You know what they can do that men can’t? They can give the gift of life!”
AW: Well, people who don’t see what we (girls) do are always going to say something like that. They just don’t understand. They have no clue what being a girl in society is like at all. People who haven’t had to live it or experience it are often completely ignorant about what it might feel like, and the privileges he has, he thinks are just normal and everyone has that. But, I think people who are privileged are blind. They don’t see how other people experience the world. Unfortunately, this society will never make men learn what it’s like to be a woman. It won’t be able to make white people know what it feels like to be a person of color. Or, rich people won’t know what it’s like to be poor. The list goes on and on…
DE: Most boys don’t have the normal, everyday worries that us girls do. They don’t hear the voices in their heads telling them “You’re not strong enough to do this!” or, “You can’t learn this!” or, “You’re not worthy enough!”
AW: It’s also just that, the professors of our society get more subtle impressions and get the more obvious things from our past, but that’s not really the problem. The thing that people don’t think about is that even though women are seen as somewhat equal and are populated in equal numbers, we still aren’t paid as much as men for any job. It really can’t be argued. Women just really aren’t paid as much as men. We don’t have equal economic power. And, on top of that, women are still raised in this traditional role where we are exposed to unfairness in the media. We are told that our bodies are our selling points and having to look a certain way is the most important thing. And even if our parents try hard not to raise us that way, TV, ads, and billboards… everything still points to basically the explanations of women’s bodies. Half the women you see in the media are women half-clothed, whereas men are mostly fully clothed. And that’s difficult, you know? That is why it is not equal: the images are not equal. And on TV, it’s always the woman’s dead body that starts the story– it’s never men. Women always end up murdered by their husbands, boyfriends and ex-boyfriends. Domestic violence is a huge issue. But no one ever wants to realize it, or talk about it. You know, it’s just like, God! And you just have to deal with all of it.
DE: My mom works in an office where she is the only woman. She says that there’s a HUGE difference between the way she’s treated and the way her male co-workers are treated. What do you have to say about that?
AW: It’s similar with women in music. More and more, you have women in bands, but you still don’t have a lot of all-girl bands. And the bands which are mixed genders tend to be received better and get more airplay. They are taken more seriously. Their musical abilities aren’t as questioned as much. With all-girl bands it tends to be more that if people think they’re good they’ll just act all surprised, and be like “Oh wow! She can actually play guitar!” They never say that about men. And I’ve seen so many bad boy-bands who are bad in so many different ways. Whether it’s either performance, or the lyrics, or their skill, or whatever, and they play every night at every bar, or every club. And no one ever sits there going “Oh wow, they are such a bad band,” or “I’m surprised that he can actually play the drums.” But, girls in music are always talked about in that way. Because no one can believe that they can actually do something.
DE: My mom has always shied away from the term “feminist.” It’s like feminism has been somehow passed off as man-hate, or wanting to be a man.
AW: Well, some people have that idea, but I think that if you just look at the study of feminism, you would quickly find out that that’s not the truth. I think that the only reason reason it could be called man hating is because men feel threatened by it, so they call it man hate. I think that if a man feels threatened by feminism they probably have a sexism problem and maybe he should check himself out, you know? I just feel that to reject feminism is to kind of reject yourself. It’s almost like self hate. We live in a society that encourages that. It encourages people to second guess themselves and to hate themselves and to fight against each other. We are taught that we must all compete for that one position, that space available for only one of us. Men are given all of the room in the world. They’re always taught that the world is for them, that the world is their oyster and there’s room for all of them, you know? But women are always confined in space and we’re told to fight against each other and to compete because there is not enough room for all of us.
DE: I heard that being a Riot Grrrl had a lot of downsides and the live shows were pretty violent, at least for Bikini Kill. It seems like any band with powerful women would have problems, like Hole, for instance. Was that true with Bratmobile, too?
AW: I heard about some violence and stuff at Bikini Kill shows. It wasn’t Bikini Kill’s fault, and they certainly did not instigate the violence at their shows. It was usually men having a very strong reaction to Kathleen Hanna’s confrontational lyrics. Unfortunately, a lot of people reacted negatively to that. I think it wasn’t any more violent than it is out there in the world in regular society. I think that there are a lot of violent men that are kind of violent all the time, but they look for places (like Riot Grrrl shows) to let it out. If they’re going to feel threatened at Bikini Kill show, maybe they’ll let it out there. Bratmobile didn’t really have too much trouble with that. I mean, I don’t really have great eyesight, and my hearing isn’t too great either, and on stage, the lights from the club are often pointing directly into your face, so I can’t always see what’s going on out there. There probably were some weird things happening, and some guys being gross or something, but I wasn’t always aware of it. I was pretty oblivious. The great thing about being on stage or being a headstrong Riot Grrrl is that you have the microphone, and you have the power to be louder than anyone else. They have to listen to you and you don’t really have to listen to them. I didn’t usually witness or see any of that. Although, the second show that we ever played was opening up for the Melvins and I know that Kathleen was in the audience and she told me that a lot of guys were really bummed that a girl band was opening up for the Melvins. And they didn’t get it; whereas, the Melvins loved having a band like us. They didn’t like all of these stupid boy bands opening for them anyways. I think their audience was a little freaked out by us. Kathleen said that she could hear people yelling in the audience that they wanted to kill us. Luckily I didn’t hear any of that at the time.
DE: Did stuff like that do anything to your self-esteem? Did it make you shy away, or want to fight back even more?
AW: I think it usually had the effect of making us want to fight more. At first, it’s a little disappointing to hear that people don’t like you or your band. But we just thought “Okay, they’re really scary, ignorant people,” and yeah, it just made me want to fight back and just be louder, and more obnoxious. I know one time, when Bratmobile was touring with the Donnas during the first Bush election, if you want to call it an election. We were in Dallas, Texas, and I said something against Bush on stage, and afterwards, our rhodie came up to us who was selling our merch, a little guy, and he said “Hey, a bunch of big scary jocks have been coming up to me, yelling about the things you said on stage.” They said ‘Hey, this is Bush country and you should tell your singer to shut up,’ and they were really threatening him. My response was to just talk more about Bush on stage, and I yanked out a pen, blacked out one of my teeth, and I drew a mustache on and just kind of was being crazier. Often, that is my reaction. I’m just like “Okay, you want to fight?” you know? Not that I want to be violent, or anything, I’m sure I would probably get beat up in two seconds if I tried to fight, but I believe in being confrontational to our society and that you should always just step up the confrontation if people are trying to shut you up when you know that you’re right.
DE: Was there anything you gained from Riot Grrrl? What good things did you get from it?
AW: One thing that was important that I got from Riot Grrrl, and from being in the different bands that I was in and writing fanzines, is self-esteem within myself and other girls. I think that a lot of girls suffer from self-esteem problems during the middle school years. I felt that in my own life. Being in a band and yelling on stage and stuff—it did help with my self-esteem and stuff. Riot Grrrl was kind of encouraging more self-esteem in all girls. And it was just kind of reminding people, you know, don’t keep it all inside. If you’re feeling really crazy, or if you’re feeling like the world is against you, or you really have something to say, you’re not crazy, you’re not wrong, and it’s really just the society that’s messed up; not you. Don’t let the society mess you up and make you think that you’re wrong, or that you’re a bad person or that you’re insignificant, or you’re not equal, or something, you know? I think it’s really important that it was helping girls raise their self-esteem, and it was also a great community. We sat around a lot where we had meetings and did activities and talked about politics, you know, all sort of politics. It was a really important political awareness time for all of us and a community building time. We would network with a bunch of girls and bands all over the country and that was before the internet. We were doing that through fan mail.
DE: Did you ever doubt yourself in Riot Grrrl?
AW: Oh yeah! I still doubt myself. Probably less so then because we were at an age where we felt like we could take on the world, and we were all in women’s studies classes and various political classes in college at the time. We were learning so much, and you feel so self-righteous when you realize how messed up the world is. We were given all of the tools we needed and the words to talk about it in an academic sort of way. So, I think we felt pretty righteous in what we were doing and felt that it was important, and it meant the world to us. We thought it should mean the world to everyone else, too. I think, in a lot of ways, we were pretty confident, but we didn’t think that we had all of the answers and we knew that there was a lot more to find out. We also knew because of our own personal experiences and backgrounds that our experiences were limited. We knew that we could reach out to a lot of girls who were sort of alternative minded and in to punk rock music. We didn’t think that what we were doing wouldn’t speak to all girls and women in the whole world. I think we just saw ourselves as a strain of feminist struggle. You know, one small part, but still an important part. I thought that even if we could just change the attitude and the hearts and minds of people within our own town, we could beam within our own community, you know?
DE: Is there anything else you want to add?
AW: Just that it was a strain of what people call “Third Wave Feminism,” but it was still primarily girls who were in a somewhat punk rock scene. It was really just a type of feminism where we were struggling against sexism within the punk rock scene. But also, we were interested in academic feminism and often taking classes at universities about feminism. But, I think we often felt that sometimes, the language of academic feminism didn’t really speak to our lives in a simple, young girl, punk rock sort of way. The thing I think we were trying to do with Riot Grrrl was to find (or create) an intersection/cross-section between punk and feminism. We felt that the punk rock scene was still somewhat of a boys’ club (sexist, as society is) and that the academic feminist world didn’t always speak to our experiences as young punk girls. So basically, we wanted to make feminism more punk, while making punk more feminist. Much academic feminist dialogue seemed to skip the experiences of young girls altogether, or to not really validate girls until they come of age as adult women. We also believed in reclaiming words, images, portrayals that had often been used against women or had been seen as sexist, and using those things to confront a sexist society and expose a more complicated feminist consciousness. It seemed more realistic and exciting, provocative.
DE: Okay, thank you so much for giving me the chance to interview you! You were the model interviewee!
AW: You’re welcome! No problem!
I was a little nervous about going to the riot grrrl archive at NYU’s Fales library. I had just seen Citizen Kane the night before and the scene where the journalist goes to Kane’s archive and he’s sitting alone in that giant room going through documents with that creepy security guard watching him freaked me out a little. But I knew that seeing these zines up close, reading them, and being inspired by them would be well worth my feeling a little out-of-place.
After a few minutes of wandering around in the periodicals room of the Bobst library, I managed to find Fales, where I was unsurprised to find that I was the only person in the room younger than the documents themselves. After stashing my bag in a locker (no bags allowed) and exchanging my pen for a pencil (no pens allowed) I settled down at a table, notebook open and ready to be filled with nuggets of riot grrrl wisdom.
Zines were the voice of the riot grrrl movement, a DIY way for riot grrrls around the country to share their views, publish their art, and organize projects and events. They were distributed by riot grrrl bands at their concerts and mailed out to their bands’ mailing lists. They were shared between friends and riot grrrl groups.
I started with the very first issue of Tammy Rae Carland’s zine, I (heart) Amy Carter. I didn’t really know much about Tammy Rae going into this except that there is a Bikini Kill song dedicated to her and that we shared the same middle name.
The publication of the Amy Carter zine (with five issues published between ’92 and ’94) followed the breakup of “Amy Carter,” a band consisting of Tammy Rae, Kathleen Hanna, and Heidi Arbogast. The zines, which were sold by mail for $2.50 or more depending on the issue, focus on Tammy’s girlhood crush on Amy Carter (President Carter’s daughter) and the importance of female role models for girls and women. In an interview featured in the 3rd issue of a different zine, “Keroscene Kelly’s” zine Thorn (co-founded with Tammy), Tammy says that “girls and women are trained to idolize people of the opposite sex. It’s important for us to have female heroes because it broadens our perspective of power.” This is an idea that I think is crucial to feminism and that I’ve actually been thinking a lot about lately. I have friends whose closest thing to a female role model is Katy Perry, and it really does make a difference.
So, captivated by the idea behind the zine, I continued reading. The zines, which were the original layout pages, are quite basic: typewritten articles and graphics pasted onto graph paper with typos corrected with black pen and decorated with blue sticker stars like the ones Rachel Berry puts next to her name (ok you caught me, I’m a total gleek). In this first issue Tammy defines Amy as a “politically active girl artist who makes paintings about race and gender” and laments the fact that Amy is not “queer”.
Though Tammy makes it clear that she is obsessed with Amy (as evidenced by the articles and musings about her throughout the issues), she writes that she didn’t “desire her” but instead “wanted to be her. I wanted to become her because she wasn’t me.”
The pages of the zines are littered with art and graphics: a woman flipping the reader off, a chainsaw with the words “girl power” written on it, a photo of a girl standing on a horse. There are articles taken from newspapers and magazines, mostly gossip columns about celebrities and their lesbian affairs. A particularly hilarious article is from an unmarked newspaper about the lesbian population of Northampton, MA, renamed “lesbianville.”
Original pieces include an article on female AIDS, statistics on rape, interviews with girl artists and musicians. There’s a glossary of “gay terms,” clips of love letters, quotes from female authors including my personal favorite from Dorothy Allison, “dykes with guns, that’ll scare ‘em.”
In the 2nd issue, Tammy writes that “zines are a great networking system for projects and ideas as well as one of the most effective ways to take control of representation.” The idea of “networking” is clear throughout all of I (heart) Amy Carter. Every issue includes pleas for submissions, heads-ups about touring girl bands, and in later issues, advertisements for other zines and women activist organizations. More than networking, this zine aims to support other girls and women, whether it’s in their creative projects or their physical health. One issue asks if any readers have any information on lesbian serial killer Aileen Wuornos for a project Tammy was doing on female murderers. Or is that murderesses?
I (heart) Amy Carter is equal parts feminism, gay rights, and artistic creativity. It is activism at its best: a network of girls and women from around the country with a common purpose sharing information, opinions, and art with each other. In Tammy’s words, “it’s about having butterflies in your belly and biceps in your heart. It’s about girl love + girl power + girl sex + girl friends.”
The Riot Grrrl archive is housed in the Fales Library at NYU. For more information, click here.
Riot Grrrl Weekend has officially begun! To kick off this very exciting weekend, I thought I would post one of the most important riot grrrl documents of all time, the Riot Grrrl Manifesto. The Riot Grrrl Manifesto was published in 1991 in the Bikini Kill zine #2. Bikini Kill was a zine published by the members of the band Bikini Kill.
The Riot Grrrl Manifesto (via Rebel Grrrl):
BECAUSE us girls crave records and books and fanzines that speak to US that WE feel included in and can understand in our own ways.
BECAUSE we wanna make it easier for girls to see/hear each other’s work so that we can share strategies and criticize-applaud each other.
BECAUSE we must take over the means of production in order to create our own moanings.
BECAUSE viewing our work as being connected to our girlfriends-politics-real lives is essential if we are gonna figure out how we are doing impacts, reflects, perpetuates, or DISRUPTS the status quo.
BECAUSE we recognize fantasies of Instant Macho Gun Revolution as impractical lies meant to keep us simply dreaming instead of becoming our dreams AND THUS seek to create revolution in our own lives every single day by envisioning and creating alternatives to the bullshit christian capitalist way of doing things.
BECAUSE we want and need to encourage and be encouraged in the face of all our own insecurities, in the face of beergutboyrock that tells us we can’t play our instruments, in the face of “authorities” who say our bands/zines/etc are the worst in the US and
BECAUSE we don’t wanna assimilate to someone else’s (boy) standards of what is or isn’t.
BECAUSE we are unwilling to falter under claims that we are reactionary “reverse sexists” AND NOT THE TRUEPUNKROCKSOULCRUSADERS THAT WE KNOW we really are.
BECAUSE we know that life is much more than physical survival and are patently aware that the punk rock “you can do anything” idea is crucial to the coming angry grrrl rock revolution which seeks to save the psychic and cultural lives of girls and women everywhere, according to their own terms, not ours.
BECAUSE we are interested in creating non-heirarchical ways of being AND making music, friends, and scenes based on communication + understanding, instead of competition + good/bad categorizations.
BECAUSE doing/reading/seeing/hearing cool things that validate and challenge us can help us gain the strength and sense of community that we need in order to figure out how bullshit like racism, able-bodieism, ageism, speciesism, classism, thinism, sexism, anti-semitism and heterosexism figures in our own lives.
BECAUSE we see fostering and supporting girl scenes and girl artists of all kinds as integral to this process.
BECAUSE we hate capitalism in all its forms and see our main goal as sharing information and staying alive, instead of making profits of being cool according to traditional standards.
BECAUSE we are angry at a society that tells us Girl = Dumb, Girl = Bad, Girl = Weak.
BECAUSE we are unwilling to let our real and valid anger be diffused and/or turned against us via the internalization of sexism as witnessed in girl/girl jealousism and self defeating girltype behaviors.
BECAUSE I believe with my wholeheartmindbody that girls constitute a revolutionary soul force that can, and will change the world for real.
By Sophie Rae
If there’s one thing anybody who’s ever seen Amy Klein perform knows, it’s that she’s having a really, really good time. Grinning widely and bouncing up and down with the beat, her happiness is infectious, and you can’t help but smile.
When I tell her this after her band, Titus Andronicus’, set at South Street Seaport’s 4Knots Festival last Saturday, she seems pleased. “I like making people smile” she says. We walk around the pier and, it being the lovely day that it is, all the benches are taken, so we sit on the ground, overlooking the East River just as it begins to meet the Hudson on the tip of Manhattan.
As the Black Angels play the last set of the day, Amy tells me about her musical beginnings which are, coincidentally, also the beginnings of her life, since she started playing violin at the age of three. But she only became truly passionate about music when she was twelve. “I was obsessed with Radiohead,” she tells me, “I know, it doesn’t make me sound very obscure– everyone loves Radiohead– but I loved all the weird sounds Jonny Greenwood could produce from the guitar.”
As a teenager, she also listened to a lot of female driven punk from her sister’s record collection, like X-Ray Specs, Bikini Kill, and Bratmobile, who not only made her want to play the guitar, but made her feel like she could play the guitar. “It’s gratifying when you hear other women or girls playing. You start to imagine yourself in that position.”
She says that Riot Grrrl music also helped form her identity as a teenager who didn’t care as much about being “cool” as other kids at her school. “I thought about being cool but I secretly knew I didn’t give a shit about it. Like Bratmobile says, ‘cool schmool.’”
Amy says that when she listened to Riot Grrrl music as a young teenager, she wasn’t explicitly thinking about feminism, but she was thinking about power. “The music made me realize that there were ways for me to be powerful, loud, and assertive, even as a teenager.”
Over the course of her adolescence, Amy began to think more seriously about feminism and its relationship with music. “The first purposely feminist thing I did was at college, when I started Harvard’s first ever– and only one since– female punk band. I wanted to do something totally D.I.Y. and show that girls at our school could be smart, and also be messy and loud and out of control, and that the two sides didn’t cancel out.”
After graduating, Amy received a fellowship to study feminism and female musicians in Japan, where she spent thirteen months interviewing and attending concerts by Japanese female musicians, an experience which she described as “nothing short of magical,” on her blog (which, by the way, is pretty amazing). When she returned from Japan, she worked in a NYC government office that investigates misconduct by the police. It was during this time that Amy reconnected with Titus Andronicus, for which she had played violin on their first album years before.
“I bumped into Patrick (lead singer/guitarist of Titus Andronicus) at a punk show at Death By Audio. He asked me to quit my job and join Titus, and I was like ‘yes, please!’” Just as she says this, a hipster-y looking guy walks up to us, shakes Amy’s hand, and tells her that she is “a magnet” on stage. She thanks him and turns back to me, “where was I?”
We resume our conversation, and Amy eagerly tells me about her most recent musical endeavor, a band with her friend Catherine
(whom she met at Harvard), called Hilly Eye. “It’s very different from Titus,” she says, “Today there were hundreds of people watching Titus’ set. We had a Hilly Eye show and there were two people there.” She says that this discrepancy is disconcerting, but
that it’s a good lesson about why she plays music. “You do it to be creative and to have an experience that validates you personally. I don’t ever want to do music to get validation from other people. That’s not the reason to create something.”
As a boat of screaming tourists pulls into the dock, we start to talk about Permanent Wave, Amy’s feminist group, founded in 2010, which recently helped stage a protest against the acquittal of rape charges against two NYC police officers. Amy says that these types of cases are women’s issues, as well as city-wide issues, because they show how difficult it is to convict anyone of rape. “People take the stories of rape victims with many grains of salt,” she says.
Permanent Wave is also working on a tribute album to Poly Styrene, singer for the punk band X-Ray Spex, who passed away from cancer in April of this year.
A Permanent Wave accomplishment which, according to Amy, is not to be underestimated, is the network of creative women and women interested in activism they have built. “I really hope to expand it to teenagers,” she says.
For the most part, what has enabled Permanent Wave to create this network is its use of the internet. “Some feminists think that if you just talk about these issues online, nothing will happen in real life,” says Amy, “but I think that social media can really help make changes in the world,” citing the recent protest against the acquittal of the NYPD rape charges, which started as a Facebook event and gained hundreds of attendees in under twenty hours.
Amy thinks that blogging likewise has a lot of potential as a tool for feminists, “You have no idea if your story is going to reach someone who feels isolated and confused,” she says. “You could really help someone.”
For the past few months, Permanent Wave has been organizing a show series called Sound Wave, which features female performers and musicians, with every show benefiting a different organization that helps women and girls in our community. The next show is tomorrow, a benefit for the International Women’s Health Coalition, at which Amy herself is playing.
Stop by and say hello!
I am so happy to post this, especially because just this morning Kathleen posted about my band, Care Bears on Fire, on her blog! Squee! Thanks, Kathleen!
Kathleen Hanna is an influential NYC-based musician, writer, and activist. Both through her work in the bands Le Tigre and Bikini Kill, and as a vital voice in the punk/DIY-infused Riot Grrrl movement in the early/mid-90s, Kathleen has played an important role in shaping a feminist dialogue that continues to inspire, empower and educate. Last year she donated much of her archive, including a significant portion of her own personal writing/journals/zines, to the Fales Collection(housed at New York University’s Bobst Library), for a collection they’re curating which chronicles the Riot Grrrl movement. At the moment, Kathleen and her new band, The Julie Ruin, are recording a full-length album (they hope to release a 12″ in August) and Oscilloscope Laboratories has just released the DVD “Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre On Tour,” which chronicles Le Tigre’s 2004/2005 international tour. We’re really happy that Kathleen agreed to answer some questions from Derick Rhodes, one of the Listgeeks co-founders (and a huge fan of her work). After you read through the below, be sure to check out her lists!
Derick Rhodes/Listgeeks: I’ve been thinking about the impact of your work, and concepts like “nostalgia” and “legacy,” and I wonder if, for you, it feels like the issues you and others were addressing have changed significantly, or if you feel we’re still dealing with the same fundamental problems/tensions? In the recent NYTimes piece, there’s a sense of looking back on the riot grrrl days almost as if a set of conclusions were reached collectively, somehow, but it also feels like the work resonates today as much as it did at the time, and that there’s still such a long way to go.
Kathleen Hanna: I think RG stuff IS really resonating for girls/women today in a way it didn’t five years ago. I am guessing it has something to do with kids being into “the 90′s” and that opening up the Riot Grrrl door to a new audience. I am happy when people get interested in feminism however that happens, nostalgia style or whatever. I am most excited about these girls who’ve been doing this project called International Girl Gang Underground because they are trying to use RG stuff as a platform to build something new for their generation that is smarter and better than what we did, rather than just fetishizing our clothes or our records. I do feel like things have changed, especially when I go to shows and it seems normal to see women on stage and in the audience.
Bikini Kill – “Rebel Girl”
DR/LG: As a father to two young girls, I spend a lot of time thinking about their exposure to different models/potential sources of inspiration. I feel like they experience a broad range of positive female influences, from all-girl teen pop/punk bands like Care Bears on Fire to compelling, DIY artists like Robyn and Khaela Maricich (The Blow), but at the same time they’re also clearly drawn to more manufactured pop music/singers (Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, etc.). It’s a little disorienting at times, because I want to both support their interests/expose them to a wide range of things and encourage them toward things that feel more healthy (especially in terms of body image/sexuality) at the same time. I realize you’re not an advice columnist, but . . . any thoughts?
KH: I played with Barbies till I was 15 and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. What damaged me most was not being able to tell the adults in my life the creepy shit that neighborhood boys/older men did and said to me. I think the important thing is having your kids trust you and want to tell you when they are happy/angry/upset because they know you are interested in what happens in their lives, the good, the bad and the ugly. To me having good communication with them is way more important than what music they listen to. I mean if they like Katy Perry that’s what they like, it doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. But I played with Barbies till I was 15 so do you really want to listen to me?
DR/LG: Oscilloscope Laboratories released “Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre On Tour” (directed by Kerthy Fix), which chronicles Le Tigre’s 2004/2005 international tour just last week, and at the moment you’re making your first post-Le Tigre album with your band The Julie Ruin. How far along are you in the recording process at this point? Could you describe some of the differences between how it felt to work/perform with Le Tigre and how it feels to work/perform (so far) with The Julie Ruin? Are you enjoying being back in the studio again?
KH: We have the basic instrumental tracks to like 13 songs done and one song has vocals on it and is almost all the way done. We might put a 12″ out with the new Oscilloscope Laboratories record label in August, which is super exciting. It’ll be one song and hopefully a remix. We still need to do final vocals, mix and record maybe 3-4 new songs from scratch. It’s really easy for us to write songs together which is a blessing and curse because we really could just keep writing into oblivion. It feels great to be singing with live drums again and I really like how Carmine, our drummer, plays. He is always ready with a snare roll to let me know when I am supposed to jump into the song. It’s different from Le Tigre because Le Tigre didn’t “jam,” we were electronic, which meant a lot of singing into a computer, which is super fun but a different animal. The main difference is that when we play live now we can change the songs in the moment, create longer intros etc…whereas in Le Tigre we played with backing tracks so you couldn’t just change things on the fly.
DR/LG: How does this version of The Julie Ruin relate to the earlier album you did on your own in 1998, which eventually led to getting Le Tigre together?
KH: The Julie Ruin solo record I made in ’98 sounds more like demos or sketches for songs than a complete album to me. So I guess what we are doing with this record is fleshing things out a bit. I’m writing from the same personal place and starting with loops and melodies just like the first record and then we work together to fill out and expound upon the ideas.
Le Tigre started because Johanna and I wanted to play the Julie songs live and we just ended up writing new songs. This band started in a similar way. We learned how to play almost the entire Julie Ruin album and then started writing the follow-up. Transforming the original songs into arrangements for a 5 piece band really showed me how much this project could open up my songwriting. Hearing a new take on the songs I wrote solo style in my apartment so long ago was a revelation! They became brand new things but with the same basic ideas intact. I think that’s what the album in turning into, it’s like each song starts as an empty room and then we decorate it as a team. Sexy rockabilly guitar is figured prominently, which makes me pretty happy!
By Sophie Rae
I think I’ve always been somewhat of a feminist, even if I didn’t know it.
When I started playing in bands when I was 9, I didn’t have any idea that my gender would be an issue. Music was what I loved, and to my Trash and Vaudeville size 00 jeans-wearing self, playing super-distorted covers of Clash songs seemed like the most natural thing in the world.
But as we kept playing and as my naiveté began to dwindle (I had reached the age of 12 and my peak of intellectual maturity), I started to notice something weird. In interviews, I was asked to talk not about my music but about my favorite lip gloss flavor or my latest boy-band crush (which all young girls presumably have, I mean, why not?). Sound-men walked me through using a guitar amp as condescendingly as when Emily Gilmore called Luke’s diner “rustic” (Gilmore Girls, anyone?). Apparently, not everyone thought my being a girl was quite as normal as I thought it was.
And it was just as I discovered sexism, that I discovered Riot Grrrl. I knew that there was absolutely no reason that I should be treated any different than a male musician or be judged on a different scale. And that was exactly what the Riot Grrrls were saying. I liked the grinding guitars on Bikini Kill’s Rebel Girl and the manic vocals on Sleater-Kinney’s album The Woods. I liked listening to records with titles so explicit that iTunes felt the need to change them to P***Y Whipped, which my 12-year-old self of course took to stand for “Party Whipped.” Way to go iTunes, mission accomplished. Mostly, I loved the idea that music wasn’t just a guys’ world, but that girls could, and should, be a part of it too.
But I didn’t really catch on to the Riot Grrrl or feminist community until this year, when my band played the absolute coolest show in the world: a Kathleen Hanna tribute show at the Knitting Factory, which was put on for a documentary being made about the goddess herself.
For the first time, Riot Grrrl wasn’t just me alone in my room jumping around to Bratmobile, it was me as part of a community of people who love the music I love and who believe in what I believe in.
After that show, I ran to the bookstore and bought The Feminine Mystique. I started reading feminist blogs like Feministing and Ms.Magazine. I practically memorized the Riot Grrrl Manifesto. I know “empowered” is such a predictable word to use to describe my reaction to all this stuff, but it’s totally how I felt. Finding out that I am one of many, many women who aren’t ok with sexism and want to DO something about it gave me so much confidence in my ideas and in my ability to act on them.
And I started to wonder, why am I just finding out about this community now? How could this fascinating, incredible world have remained a secret to me for such a long time? I think it’s partly because I was just too wrapped up in my own world of school and my band and stuff. But mostly, I think it’s because Riot Grrrl and feminism just aren’t part of the current teen-universe (the teen-i-verse as it shall now be referred to). The teen-i-verse is limited, mostly to bad, swoopy-haired boy-bands and pop princesses whining about the swoopy-haired boys; and as a result, lots of teenagers who would be totally inspired and empowered by Riot Grrrl and feminism, just aren’t given that chance.
And I know this zine won’t solve the problem; I know this zine won’t give our culture the radical transformation it so desperately needs.
But a grrrl can dream! Right?!