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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Girls To The Front Book Tour at the Olympia Library!

Photos by Kelsey Smith

Last night in Olympia a bunch of "old school Olympia riot grrrls" participated in a panel discussion at the library organized by Sara Peté as a part of The Girls To The Front Book Tour with visiting author, Sara Marcus. I was nervous and didn't really want to do it, but I wanted Michelle Noel and Angie Hart to do it, so I agreed. I really hate public speaking, getting my picture taken and doing anything in front of an audience without my drum set (I like to play guitar and sing but always get really bad stage fright). I also feel way more comfortable writing than talking and generally do most interviews via the written word. But I thought about it and participating in this kind of local, living history is an important part of living in a community. Plus I really wanted to hear what the other panelists had to say and I had things I wanted to say. So I sucked it up, put on some lipstick, a bit of eyeliner and my favorite Ramones T Shirt (that was my mom's when I was in Middle School) and forced myself out of the house and into the streets. As I was walking to the library, I realized I had so much stage fright that I thought I might throw up, but when I got there, I just kept thinking, this is Olympia you can do this, and ignored all the cameras that were being set up, trying not to think "this awkward moment of your life will now be on youtube forever".

At first everyone introduced themselves. Olympia artist Bridget Irish started. She talked about being a film person and working at Evergreen on visual media arts in the early 90's, mentioning that at the time, there was a generation gap happening between the older feminists and the younger ones. I wish she had gotten to talk more about that, because I don't actually know that history very well. She then mentioned she had been in a band during the Tropicana era (84/85) in Olympia (the all-girl, mostly acapela group Rain Shadow with Nicole and Lisa) and that she had also sang in The Slattenlies (with Maggie Vail, Jessica Espeleta and Natalie Cox) in the mid-90's.

Next up was Billy Karren, guitarist of Bikini Kill, who wanted to come and share his experience of having witnessed the (pre)meeting before the first riot grrrl meeting, which took place in Malcolm X park in Washington DC, June 1991 (I was there too but I let Bill tell the story, he generally has a better memory than me). He asked how many people in the room had been to a riot grrl meeting and not that many people raised their hand (I think many of them were toddlers in the early 90's) and he said "ok, I see we have a lot of work to do", which I thought was pretty funny and got a few laughs.

Then it was Diana Arens turn, who was the program director at KAOS during the early 90s. She talked about having to defend the existence of a show called Riot Grrl Radio, the details are fuzzy in my mind, but the story involved Calvin Johnson backing her up and some ruffled feathers about a bluegrass show being moved to a different time slot. One of the points she made was that there is room for a men's movement or as (I think) Calvin said, a whole day of programming by for and about men, so really no one needs to get upset when someone decides to showcase music made by women. Diana used to do the amazing Free Things Are Cool radio show, which had many live bands play on the air over the years. Diana also does sound and knows how to record bands, so she talked about that a little bit.

Michelle Noel, one of my good friends that I still hang out with from that time period, came next. Michelle talked about why she moved from Tacoma to Olympia in the early 90's, one of the reasons being that people in Olympia weren't all on heroin and she wanted to go to college. I remember Michelle from The Community World Theater days in Tacoma in the late 80's. She was supportive of girls in bands early on. When she was talking a bunch of memories came flooding back into my head. I remember having a conversation with her about an article I wrote in the first Bikini Kill fanzine in early 1991. We were in the bathroom at Evergreen on the third floor of the library building. As I remember it, we were at a Nirvana show, but that might not be right because there were many shows back then and they all blur together in my mind. Michelle told me she read the article I wrote about Yoko Ono, where I talk about how "the yoko ono myth" is something (straight) guys in bands impose onto their girlfriends. This is the girlfriend-as-distraction idea, where the girl(friend) is always the opposite of the band, the domestic partner, the threat to The Beatles, the weird, eccentric, irrational force that might break up his band. While this is happening, it's not only totally obnoxious, but oppressive-- because your identity is framed in relation to his identity, you are seen as the opposite of his band and by extension, the opposite of any band, so the likelihood that you would ever start your own band is not even an idea in your mind, because girl(friend)=opposite of someone in a band. Michelle liked the article a lot and we had a pretty intense talk in the bathroom, a female space away from the male-dominated show happening a few feet away from us. I think I gave her my fanzine Jigsaw soon after that and invited her to my radio show, or maybe she was already volunteering at KAOS, anyhow we ended up doing a show together called Jigsaw Radio for that year and for a few short weeks played together in a version of Bratmobile. Later Michelle got her own radio show, which she did for years, started setting up shows and became one of the driving forces behind the local Olympia music festival, Yo Yo A Go Go. I don't know if Michelle said any of that, but I was thinking of it all when she was talking, being transported back to that time period and feeling very nervous that I was sitting there in front of so many people.

Then it was my turn. I introduced myself and said something about how I was really happy that Bridget Irish had come to talk because in 1985 I taped her band playing live on KAOS, memorized all the lyrics and showed up at their first (and only) show ever, knowing all the words, which had totally freaked them out. I still sing those songs in my head! I don't think I said this, but I was trying to evoke that there was a continuum from the early 80's Olympia scene and the early 90's era, as a lot of people don't know any of this history, so I wanted to share at least some of it.

Next up was Akiko Carver, who said that she was younger than all of us and wasn't as involved. I remember Akiko as being a totally radical riot grrl who brought issues of race and elitism to the forefront of the discussion, pushing for a more inclusive vision and praxis. I might have her confused with her old friend Cindy Hales, because I didn't know either of them very well at the time and they used to always hang out together. In the late 90's Akiko was in the band Semi-Automatic and today plays in an experimental group called Gentle with Marissa Handren. I think she played with Ari Up from the Slits for awhile when she lived in Brooklyn, but maybe they were just friends. I know Akiko (or was it Cindy) was at the final Bratmobile show in New York City, where they broke up on stage, and that there was some kind of anti-racist action that happened at the show that she may have been involved in, but that didn't come up during the panel and I didn't really know the details so I didn't bring it up, though Sara Marcus does write a bit about this in her book.

Then Sash Sunday introduced herself, saying that going to riot grrrl meetings was an important part of her life when she was in high school, growing up in Olympia and that it still really meant a lot to her today, that it really helped her get through her own teen years. I thought a little bit about what that would have been like if I had had something like that happening when I was a teen, wondering if my experience had been that much different than hers.

At this point Sara Marcus read a bit of the introduction from her book, where she talked about her own discovery of riot grrrl. Although Marcus grew up in a suburb of DC, she found out about riot grrrl from an article in Newsweek magazine. I really like the parts of Girls To The Front where she talks about her own experience. After the panel was over, I asked her if she felt comfortable writing in that voice, and she said that she most definitely did not and will not be reading that part of the book in front of people on the rest of the tour, but she thought that since everyone else was putting themselves on the line and making themselves vulnerable, it was appropriate for her to do the same and that is why she included a bit of her own story in the book. I thought that was really thoughtful of her and appreciated it a lot.

The rest of the panel is kind of a blur in my mind. People asked questions, we rambled on about the difference between that time period and today (the internet being an obviously huge difference and the one we mainly focused on). At one point someone asked a question about trans involvement in riot grrrl. I was asked this question before a few years ago by a classmate of mine when I went back to school. I said this last night, but I will say it again here because I'm not sure what the answer is to that question. As I remember it, in the early 90's there was not a lot of trans visibility within punk or even within feminism. I don't know if it's because it wasn't on my radar because of my own ignorance or what, but I don't remember. What I didn't say but thought about later, that maybe I could have said, is that anytime Bikini Kill played a show, no matter where we were in the world, if there were any genderqueer/trans/gay teens and/or radical lesbians in the punk scene, they would be up front at our show and the whole night would be for those kids. Those were the Bikini Kill fans! But as for riot grrrl I'm not really sure. It is a good point to bring up because not everyone did feel included in riot grrl. I have tried to talk about this before, but in fact there were times that I didn't feel included in riot grrl and that wasn't always for non-political reasons, sometimes I actually felt alienated from the politics of it. Anyhow I tried to say this during the talk, but I'm not sure what I actually said.

It is important to ask who felt included in riot grrl and who didn't. It was not for everybody. There was this idea that it was inclusive because "anybody could do it" and anybody got to decide what a riot grrl was (in theory at least), but because not everyone has equal access to information, resources and leisure time, dominant hierarchies reproduced themselves in riot grrl, just as they have throughout the history of feminism. This would have been a good point to bring a discussion of race and class into play and I was hoping that would come up in one of the questions, but it didn't really come up. This made me go home and look for this cool article that Mimi Nguyen wrote about race and riot grrrl, where she says:

I want to reconsider what we meant when we said “community,” “safe space,” and of course, “the personal is political,” because somewhere along the way, the utopian impulse broke down and something dangerous happened. See, the assumption of safety is all too often an assumption of sameness, and that sameness in riot grrrl -and in other feminist spaces– depended upon a transcendent “girl love” that acknowledged difference but only so far. That is, in the process of translating the urgencies of political realities into accessible terms of personal relevance, a fundamental misrecognition occurs that ruptured riot grrrl’s fabrication of a singularity of female/feminist community. It was assumed that riot grrrl was, for once, for the first time, a level playing field for all women involved, regardless or in spite of differences of class or race. But what became painfully clear, for those of us in the midst of the fray, was this: that the central issues was not one of merely acknowledging difference,” but how and which differences were recognized and duly engaged.

So today I am thinking about that. Please post your thoughts in the comments!

Here are a few videos from The Sara Marcus Girls To The Front Book Tour:

Girls To the Front author Sara Marcus talking about Riot Grrrl on KING5 TV

Kathleen Hanna talking about Girls To The Front in NYC

After the panel local queer feminist band Blood Bones played their set!


Tobi Vail said...

For example, to what extent does the kind of feminism that has "woman" or in this case "girl" at its center reinforce the gender binary?

If, following post-structuralist feminist theorists such as Judith Butler, we accept that gender is largely an unstable category (meaning that gender is a performance, not something natural, and happens in relation to power), does it make sense to organize a feminist movement around a certain type of female identity?

Sara Marcus juxtaposes my own thinking about that in relation to Kathleen's work at Safeplace in Girls To The Front, insinuatating that when women are being abused, the social construction of gender is not the real issue, abuse is...she wrote something like "the women at Safeplace didn't care about gender as an unstable category"...really? Maybe they do? Women are not the only people who suffer abuse and in fact men are not the only abusers. And I also think we are assuming a lot about who the survivors of domestic violence are in this case. Uneducated, not intellectual, not feminist, which we know is a false dichotomy. Right?

If we are inclusive feminists, why would we want to create another idea of what it means to be female (a riot grrl) and put that at the center of our feminism?

This was a concern of mine even before riot grrrl started and I still think about it.

I think one of the strength of what Bikini Kill tried to do, is show that femininity is a social construct and that this happens in relation to patriarchy...that gender IS performative and that riot grrrl had a bit of that going on as well...but if we base any kind of feminist movement around what it means to be female, I think we are by definition excluding people. And in some cases that is probably fine, but in some cases it means reproducing hierarchies that we should be trying to dismantle.
I want to know what YOU think about it!

bill karren said...

great report ...thanks

Royce Icon said...

Both this article and your comment bring up some important points.

I especially agree with your last point about reproducing hierarchies that we should be trying to dismantle.

As someone who is kind of trans/ genderqueer, I can say that I've always felt excluded by riot grrl and feminism a bit because of the female centric nature and the definitions of feminity.

I mean, I'm a dude who wishes he was born female, but I'm not getting a sex change due to practical reasons (poverty and my very male features being the main ones). And I dig girls, so I'm pretty much straight. And because I'm straight, a whole lot of assumptions and accusations are thrown my way because of my orientation.

I dunno what my point is... I guess that for me, feminism's real goal is total equality, and focusing on female identity alone I do think gets in the way.

But I probably wouldn't be saying that if I had't been born with a penis, I dunno.

Chelsea Starr (Orbit23) said...

Hi- I was stage manager at the 1995 Los Angeles RG convention and wrote my dissertation on some aspects of the movement in 1999. Separate space was a huge issue at the convention, for several practical reasons. Guys were heckling girls and calling them feminazis. The Free to Fight tour was performing and wanted safe space to talk about sensitive issues like molestation.

I don't think that focusing on girls, which included straight and LBGTQ girls, was a bad thing that reinforced "doing gender". I agree that gender socialization plays a role in abuse, but I don't know how far Judith Butler is going to take you when you're trying to recover from abuse and build a positive identity. I think that level of processing comes after you've got basic safety and self defense down.

I think at the time it happened, the gender binary wasn't central to what riot grrrls were doing, except in the case of separate space. Later in the movement, men were more accepted into feminist spaces. But we had to fix ourselves first, I think. I see it as a process, and as an entry point for young heterosexual feminists to bring their experiences in to radical feminism, which had been formed by lesbian feminists historically.

A lot of consciousness raising about race and body type happened. It might not have been perfect, but I think RG was a necessary step in the development of feminism.

Tobi Vail said...

Hi Chelsea, I was at the LA riot grrl convention in 95…it was the only one I went to besides the one in DC that the Frumpies played when we lived there in 92…I remember it as being more inclusive in some ways, for example I think The Peechees played and they were 3/4 male. Mostly I sold Peechees merch, zines and Bumpidee tapes. I remember Kira Roessler from Black Flag/Dos showed up with her brother to see Sleater-Kinney. That was pretty cool. This was at The Jabberjaw.

I am going to have to disagree with you (and Marcus) about Judith Butler…I think that she provides an analysis of power that gets to the core of what gender is, and without that understanding, we can't resist. I understand the point though. When someone is an abuse survivor, reading academic feminist theory is not their main priority, because they have to deal with their immediate situation of food, clothing, shelter. But I also don't think having an analysis of how patriarchy (and capitalism and white supremacy and heterosexism) work is an afterthought. I think it's all a part of the same process.

Also, when people say "it might not have been perfect", which I agree with by the way, what are they saying? That the racist and classist and homophobic parts of it were ok because they were all a part of learning? Because at that point you have to ask whose process are we talking about? That is what I mean by saying we need to ask these questions. Who was/ is riot grrl for? Who did it include and who was excluded and what was that all about?

Sometimes I think it's the conceptual categories at RG's core that were problematic, that they were inherited from second-wave feminism, largely unexamined and the same mistakes were made without moving forward. In historicizing this time period, we should talk about the negative as well as the positive. There needs to be a critical dialogue and that was largely missing from the event at the library.

While I appreciated the celebratory mood, especially because RG and Bikini Kill were so vilified and belittled in the early 90's, I think there is more to say.

K. said...

There's no getting around the fact that the riot grrl ethos helped me a lot when I was growing up. In many ways, riot grrl bands and zines helped me to frame the ways in which I understood my own life experiences, conceptualized my own politics of production and consumption, created a space for feminist theory in my own life, etc. Like many people, riot grrl helped me to realize that I was not alone in my confusion and anger, nor was I alone in my personal and political beliefs. At the same time, I never felt "included" in riot grrl or wished to name myself as one and often felt embarrassed and upset when other people (especially my boyfriend and his bandmates, which speaks to a whole separate series of issues and experiences) labeled me as such.

Part of this was because I understood riot grrl as a distinct cultural moment and another part of it was because I felt uncomfortable with the ways in which I felt riot grrl oversimplified feminism. I don’t mean to say that individual riot grrls sought to oversimplify or sloganize feminism, but as someone who found riot grrl “after the fact,” most of what remained accessible (via the internet) was a simple, “cool,” largely unexamined mode of feminism. I knew a lot of girls who loved to write “revolution grrl style now” and “punk rock feminism rules, okay?” on their trapper keepers, but I didn’t know too many people who really wanted to talk about what we meant when we said “grrl” and how exactly “punk rock feminism” might be different from second wave feminism. When I tried to have these discussions, more often than not, I was met with a response that suggested I was being divisive and aggressive and was trying to take the fun out of feminism (maybe this is a sign that I was trying to talk to the wrong people.)

I think that people’s emotional closeness to riot grrl often makes it hard to take a step back and be critical. Because so much of riot grrl is personal, I feel that when I talk about the ways in which I’m troubled by the overall idea of riot grrl (particularly when the ways in which it sometimes unintentionally perpetuates the hierarchies it seeks to dismantle), what I say is often misheard as a personal “attack.” I don’t think that anyone who identifies as a riot grrl is a “bad” feminist or that their relationship to issues of gender, sex, sexual orientation, race, class, etc. isn’t as nuanced or complex as someone who chooses to identify as something other than riot grrl, but I feel as though that’s what people, especially younger people who may have just begun to think about feminism because of a book like Marcus’ or a band like Bratmobile, seem to think I’m saying.

The picture I have of riot grrl (and like most things said/thought/felt about riot grrl, this is very much bound up in my own emotions and experiences) is very white, very middle class and, in some ways, very straight. While there is nothing inherently good or bad about any of these identities, they are significant, they do mean something, and I think that allowing them to go unexamined and not asking how they might shape someone’s politics (feminist or otherwise) can result in the creation of a hostile space.

These are things that I think about a lot and I don’t know that I would be thinking about them if I hadn’t been exposed to riot grrl, so I’m deeply thankful for the role that riot grrl has played in my life, but I think you’re right... We need to be asking hard questions about riot grrl, especially as products like Marcus‘ book bring riot grrl to the attention of a new generation and people start to issue calls for a riot grrl revival. I just feel that it’s so important to be intentional with language -- riot grrl can never have a fixed meaning accepted by all people, so I think it’s crucial to be aware of what people might be hearing/feeling when someone speaks about riot grrl and what might be informing their reaction & I feel like asking hard questions is the best way to get to that point of understanding.

Kheir said...

Thanks for this post and the comments. It's not surprising that a confrontation with the ideas of Judith Butler, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and other important thinkers about gender and sexuality is only gradually beginning to occur as we finally begin to come to terms with the events have occurred, the changes in the culture, what we have learned, and how much work there still is to be done.

There is no doubt that Bikini Kill and Riot Grrrl more broadly have vitally informed the current scenes, and I applaud you, DJ TV, for pushing the debate forward. (And I'm glad to know I'm not the only person who gets stage fright, so bravo to you for pushing through and getting out there.) Insofar as it matters -- but/and not to say it does(n't) -- I'm a man and I've been strongly influenced by examples from the early Riot Grrrls as musicians and performers, yes, but as theoreticians and practitioners: pioneers in a quest for greater equality and more opportunities for everyone. The separate space concept Chelsea brings up is a valuable one. Riot Grrrl, in whatever form it takes going forward can only be made stronger by the kinds of debates that you and your commenters and readers are contributing to. Very often our diversity and our differences are our greatest strength.

As an example of your influence on the culture, having been around in the years prior to Riot Grrrl, there are so many more girls in bands now, there are so many more girls who play guitar now, and so many more who seem to take for granted -- in a good way -- a greater freedom to make their own pursuits intellectually, creatively, or in their careers. But there are just as many examples of binaristic thinking about gender that thwarts the best efforts to theorize our way out of unstable relationships to others' power.

I guess all that is by way of introduction; hope to write more once I have had a chance to read Sara's book. I'm looking forward to it.

Sarah U. said...

One thing that i have thought quite a bit about in my late 20's to mid-30's is how much i now appreciate and respect the riot grrl movement, and in particular the women in my hometown of olympia who were making bands, or even if they weren't, those who were involved in making things happen in the punk scene. I started going to punk shows in downtown oly during the 'height' of the movement.. around 1991 - 1992. i also started playing electric guitar when i was 17. but i never identified with riot grrl, and had my own teenage idea of what it was 'about'. i observed one meeting in the upstairs of the CAB building at Evergreen during my junior year of high school, and it put me off, after years of girl-girl oppression going back to elementary school: competition, fashion, etc.. through my own lens i saw 'cattiness', talk of one of the girls who had taken one of the other girl's boyfriends, and didn't feel like i 'fit in' with the group as i had long hair and didn't look punk anyhow. i also was obsessed with rock and roll, mostly chuck berry and a lot of bands with dude guitar players, and didn't understand why i would need to identify myself as a 'feminist' to exist in that world. i went to all ages shows every weekend at the capitol theater backstage, the uncola, and tons of houses around town. why did i need a feminist movement? anyone was allowed to pick up an instrument or a mic and make a band in oly!
fast forward to 25 years old, and i had been playing in bands and touring already for 6 years. it was around that point that i really realized how much fucking shit these women, some calling themselves 'riot grrrls', some not, had gone through.. how much sexism and ignorance and harassment they had to endure just by being onstage and having confidence and power in front of men all across the country and world who might have never even had a clue that women were 'allowed' to be this way. and how much easier my own journey as a touring musician had been because they had paved the road before me. and that's when i really, really figured out the enigma that i had never understood, the power and importance of 'Riot Grrl' and 'Revolution Girl Style Now'.
I should also mention that one of my best friends in high school was Karla Gore, who started going to meetings in olympia in 1992. she was a year ahead of me in high school, and i looked up to her quite a bit. she took me to my first punk show (Unwound and Heaven To Betsy, i think) when i was 16 and was teaching herself to play guitar and bass. she went vegan and worked at the cool punk dollar movie theater where i later worked. we shaved her little sister's head after school (her sister was a popular cheerleader but wanted to be a punk). she showed me fanzines and we played records in her bedroom. so i must have received some 'trickle-down' riot grrl ethos though i didn't want to go to meetings!
over the years in interviews i have often been asked about my involvement in riot grrl, as for many journalists they figure since i am female, grew up in the oly punk scene in the early '90's, and play in bands, that i was automatically part of the riot grrl scene. i always say no, and then sometimes i feel like i've let them down, as riot grrl seems so secret and possibly scandalous to people who have no idea what punk or punk feminism is really about. the truth is i always felt like an outsider when i was young to any 'group' in the punk community. its only as i've aged that i understand how much influence all of the different facets of olympia music and d.i.y. culture have shaped me.
thanks to all of the panelists for talking, and for sara marcus for bringing so many people out to the library!!

Cameron said...

hi tobi
i guess I'm writing from the perspective where riot grrl where I lived in regional australia wasn't a movement at all, but it was an idea and it was a door to open to a personal revolution inspired by the music of the great bands you mentioned in your article...
i got into punk rock in about 82, and the early days were best - writing zones, supporting the other bands anyway we could, trying to make a level playing field for gender and race as opposed to what music had become. then in mid 80s something went wrong, punk became in my opinion a social club with very strict rules and dress codes. no-one made their own clothes anymore -the corporations were already closing in. to me riot grrrl and your great band bikini kill redressed punk rock right back to its essential greatness. it was about individuality and issues again, bout revolution and making a difference, about trust and empathy and respect. those ideals live long with me now forever. did I feel included, well only when I couldnt see a huggy bear/bk show in london in 93, but I'm intelligent enough to know what a girl-space show was all about. other than that it was inclusive if you wanted to contribute. if you were keen and had something to say you were in.
I ended up forming regional Queensland's only riot grrl band in 1998 - to much criticism and annoyance to the many people who knew me from punk hardcore bands. the gulf existed in their minds. to me it was punk rock back to its most honest and exalted ideals.
and time has proven this beyond doubt.
I was encouraged by a lot of riot grrrls and riot grrrl chapters in the States esp, some of these girls ended up recording for KRS and other indie labels. cos my name is cameron people assumed as in cameron diaz, a girls name, but when they realised I was a male Cameron they were equally supportive and loyal, so I never felt like it was an exclusive club the way hardcore punk had become.
anyway Tobi - you helped make a difference and continue to inspire me with your sharp intelligence!!
love & respect Cameron

Tobi Vail said...

wow thanks for all the comments. I wanted to say I updated my post, particularly the part about Diana Arens who did not produce Riot Grrl Radio, but who was actually the program director at KAOS when that show was on the air. I tried to summarize what she said about that, but I'm not sure if all the details are right and I'm hoping she might be able to fill us in!

Chelsea Starr (Orbit23) said...

Hi Tobi-
I kind of get the feeling that we are talking past each other, and if we were in a room where where we could have a "back and forth" we would reach a consensus. The 95 LA RG Convention was fraught with enough problems/issues to make it a book unto itself. When I say it wasn't perfect, I'm being realistic. We did the best we could with what we had, and with a lot of disagreement and miscommunication. But when all is said and done, I think it is better that it happened than not.
Chelsea Starr

Tobi Vail said...

Hi Chelsea, yeah...I'm just being reactionary to that passage in the Marcus book...and I really don't mean to talk about Judith Butler in particular...I just mean to say that an analysis of gender/power is central to resisting oppression...and also to ask questions and bring up concerns that I didn't voice at the forum (partially out of nervousness and partially because I didn't want to talk even more than I was already talking--there seemed to be more "riot grrls" in the audience than on the panel and, again, I didn't want to unfairly try to "be the spokesperson for RG", since I really didn't identify with that term for very long, didn't go to meetings and always was seen as being a "leader" by virtue of being in bikini kill

but my main point is to ask questions and try to have a dialogue here and I really appreciate your comments! they made me think and added to the discussion. I would love to hear more about LA riot grrrl and I'm curious as to why it was not covered in the Marcus book. I have heard that the original LA chapter was founded by Asian and Latina girls, so it seems really a bummer that that history is not documented in the book at all. I'm sure you probably know way more about this than me and I'd love to read your dissertation.

Also, I had a great time at the LA riot grrrl convention. I think I was there for two days and spent most of my time at the merch table, but I really enjoyed being a participant and not having to play a show. I really loved the punk scene in so cal in the 90's, it was a really great scene. I still dig the San Pedro punk scene a lot, but LA today seems a bit like "gentrification punK", still there are some great bands there and lots of activity and I'm sure a ton of stuff I know nothing about.
Anyhow, I didn't mean to dismiss what you were saying, I think I just wanted to vent a bit about that part in the Marcus book. I still don't think its' fair to set up an opposition between feminist theory and surviving abuse, because it is all connected. I don't think feminist theory is a luxury, I think it is a necessity, if we are serious about radical change.

Tobi Vail said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tobi Vail said...


Chelsea Starr (Orbit23) said...

Hi Tobi-
Me again, lol--hope I'm not wearing out my welcome but I wanted to tell you this last thing. Something about our exchange has made me realize why I never turned the 1999 RG dissertation into an academic book. (And as an aside, I guess it's a halfway interesting diss because it was stolen out of the university library the year it was put on the shelf lol. They never replaced it, but you can get it from UMI or actually I could send you a pdf of it)

It's because if I do go beyond the diss and write about RG as I knew it in LA, I have to talk about myself, and I always kind of figured, well, who am I? Who would want to read it? (Which is why it's not in the diss--well there's a little about the convention, but not much else. Advisors frowned on subjectivity)

But the fact that the 95 convention was enjoyable to you and that you brought up that RGLA isn't covered in the recent "Girls to the Front" book, made me think. Writing is a risk when you're a part of what went down; there are issues of narrative authority and multiple perspectives, and on a practical front, of academic reviewers thinking you've "gone native" (well I'd been in bands since 1984 so I entered native), which to them is "bad/biased", at least in sociology. Of course I know the opposite is true in feminist studies, but when I went to grad school those Ph.D. programs didn't exist. And for it to count towards tenure (oh the cruel realities) I believe it has to be listed as sociology rather than women's studies/gender studies but nevermind all that. I'll figure it out.

So I guess I'm really saying thanks for the idea/ inspiration. Maybe I can do this. Maybe somebody would want to read it. I feel like an internal barrier was broken.

I would love to talk to you in the future about some of the feminist stuff--hopefully you're not totally sick of talking about feminism yet--if you're willing... (I went through a period where I didn't want to talk about feminism/RG for a lot of reasons).

Anyway, thanks, and let me know
Email: chelseastarr at gmail.com

Kheir said...

Chelsea: Yes, definitely write about your experience. That is my main criticism of Sara's book: it creates one narrative of how something much bigger progressed. Even by 1997, there was a huge diversity of zine voices such as are represented in Green and Taormino's A Girl's Guide to Taking Over the World, and some incredibly expressive writing, much a direct outgrowth of Riot Grrrl. Also I hope you don't let the conventions of your earlier academic work limit what you think is important to write about or how. But I think Sara's book is incredibly important; I hope it finds its audience. It certainly will in time. The cultural pioneers it chronicles are a national treasure. No one has done more than these women to create greater opportunities for expression for every human being. It is possibly a human rights argument rather than a deconstructive-of-gender one that best makes the case for why this movement is of such historical significance. It's not just what happened, it's who was involved, and how much that still means to all of us, and to those who are hearing about it every day for the first time. Sara's research into exactly what happened over the course of the evolution of these scenes was perhaps what I found most remarkable. It is often difficult to reconstruct things even for one's own memory, and people often have wildly different interpretations or memories of events, so I was amazed by how easy it was in most cases to follow what was going on and to imagine the intensity of the emotions involved, which Sara didn't always emphasize.

At any rate, I'm looking forward to hearing Sara and Jessica Hopper (who is undoubtedly one of the most compelling figures in the book) -- a kind of Doubting Thomas among the true believers -- at Quimby's Bookstore (great spot) in Chicago. Sometimes competing points of view sound more unified and systematically thought out than they possibly could have been at the time.

I also appreciate Tobi's comments in the earlier post on how this tied in with Nirvana. Imagine how skewed the understanding of Riot Grrrl might be if viewed through that lens, through the ideas about Nirvana that people have today. Fortunately this is not the case; Riot Grrrl is no more a footnote to Nirvana than vice versa, but their proximity illustrates how few people there were out front working on these issues. Nirvana had a strong and subtle critique of received gender theory going for a while there. But in future writing about Riot Grrrl, it would be great if more people knew even more about what happened and what some of the shared ideals were, what the internal and external conflicts were, and what questions now command our attention when we address the same subjects. For example, what to make of the upsurge in fatal bullying? What about the ubiquity for today's girls (and boys) of internet pornography, the threat to privacy (and countervailing possible benefits) of the proliferation of online social media, and the destabilization of the difference between the exposure that can come through the amateur media -- say, a friend who blogs or has a YouTube channel -- vs. the usual threats of exploitation that accompany most exposure to the mainstream media.

Would appreciate hearing from anyone on these or other topics.

Tobi Vail said...

Hey I just want to report that I heard from Chelsea Starr again and she was encouraged by this discussion to start working on a collaborative project to document the history of riot grrl LA!
it's unclear if this will be a book or a movie or what, but it sounds totally awesome and maybe she can fill us in on the details..

Katie Kaput said...

hey, i'm not sure how totally relevant what i have to say will be, but since i read yr mention of trans folks and riot grrrl, i felt almost obligated to say something.;)

i missed out on riot grrrl (there was this rude, trans misogynist lady who had a website called riotgrrl.com and another called grrlgamer.com and she had *copyrighted* riotgrrl with two r's, or so she claimed, so i've always rolled my eyes and used three;) in a lot of ways, as a big national phenomenon (maybe that's not so bad?). i helped start version #3 (or more?) of riot grrrl chicago, which lasted for less than a year before it imploded and i focused on being a Chicago Lesbian Avenger. This was all in 1998 and 1999, when I was 16 years old and had been out as a trans girl for three years.

What I remember of riot grrrl (and punk feminisms of any strips i ran into) was that it was something i desperately desired belonging to (little trans girls don't often get a sense of belonging very many places;), and something rife with all kinds of uncomfortable, sad moments. there was the meeting where we decided we were going to have once a month meetings the boys couldn't come to, which caused a few boys to complain about my presence at said meetings, even though they wouldn't be there to know the difference. there was the intense defensiveness of my fellow feminist punks around the issue of so many of their favorite bands playing at that lovely trans misogynist playground, Michigan Womyn's Music Festival.

but before all that, there was the fact that that first mixtape, in 1995, of Bikini Kill and other bands somehow associated with "riot grrrl" (from the perspective of my 7th grade best friend, anyway), that changed my perspective on what was possible for me and my friends as girls. and that tape led me to chainsaw records and team dresch, and that first team dresch album was burned into my brain (i have it one hundred percent still memorized (not just the lyrics) despite not having had the heart to listen to it since 2001;) and spoke to me in ways no music ever had or ever has since.

but most of the women and girls who inspired me so much as a baby trans girl have come down relatively solidly on the side of centering cissexual experiences of womenhood so strongly that my experience doesn't appear at all, not even as an asterisk.

i had riot grrrl "friends" confront me about my duty to be a different kind of man (i was no kind of man) or to be no gender at all (meanwhile they are thoroughly ensconced in their own gender identity without even being aware of it), i had friends from other states telling me (because i wasnt yet beaten down to the point of "performing" a more standard feminine gender, i was just kind of a weird girl) that i sure just looked like a gay boy to them and didn't belong in their communities, i had a woman threaten to stab me at camp trans 1999, telling me she didn't think she could be expected to control herself around me...

the story of any kind of feminism, if it is a silently but powerfully cissexist feminism, is a story of violence and exclusion for transsexual women and girls.

and the saddest part to me is how many angry cis feminists i have encountered for whom that is not only an acceptable bit of collateral damage but actually something to be proud of.:(

sorry this is so ranty and incoherent. there's a comic about my relationship to riot grrrl in my zine, and another about "male socialization" as a tool of violent trans-misogynist patriarchy (as practiced by well-meaning (and not-so-well-meaning) cissupremacist women).

i hate how hard it is for me to gather my thoughts when my kids are sleeping...

when they are awake, i can't post anything at all! ;)

<3, katie

witch said...

Hey. I was just wondering if this meeting was on any websites like youtube or something...



Melanie said...

Is there video footage of this online?