Riot Grrrl: The legacy and contemporary landscape of DIY feminist cultural activism

Downes, Julia (2007). Riot Grrrl: The legacy and contemporary landscape of DIY feminist cultural activism. In: Monem, Nadine ed. Riot Grrrl: Revolution Girl Style Now! London: Black Dog Publishing.


I know what we wanted to start, and I know we started something, but I don't really know what happened. And I don't think anyone can really tell you

A spectre of mystery haunts those interested in documenting and writing about riot grrrl. It feels like an unwarranted invasion into the safe spaces of female youth, like reading that hidden diary, decoding a secret myth, or eavesdropping on a slumber party. Writing about riot grrrl is risky. Girls keep secrets for a reason. Writing can destroy and distort meanings, intentions and experiences by twisting them into an uncomfortable order:
confinement in language and linearity. Accounts of riot grrrl produced by dominant culture have easily fallen into these traps. riot grrrl has been understood as a fashion, a phase, as punk, as dead, as violent, as man-hate, and ultimately, as a failure; the effect of which produces a set of meanings that reaffirm cultural power in masculine hands. riot grrrl has
had its messages and slogans co-opted, diluted and sold back in the form of girl-powered commodities and all-girl pop groups. Those involved in is creation have been excluded from profiting from this mainstreaming of riot grrrl. Left unable or unwilling to churn out another grrrl story or manifesto, and refusing to align themselves or conceptualise their
youth within terms that have become alien from their own experiences. The opportunity to write a history of riot grrrl is like walking a tight rope, blindfolded, over hot coals with a bad sense of balance. But this might be a symptom of how much the movement means to me. How much these women and their ideas have personally inspired me and keep encouraging new generations of girls and women to explore their own creativity, political identity and expression. Nonetheless, I felt a need to keep as close as I possibly could to riot grrrl words, stories and meanings. Therefore, in writing this history I resisted relying upon mainstream media representations, to instead favour the voices of riot grrrl in their own words, as expressed in oral histories and panel discussions I've recently been involved in, as well as those conducted by the Experience Music Project in Seattle Washington. Instead of reproducing a music, American or fashion-centred history, I
wanted to re-situate riot grrrl as a radical political movement, philosophy and cultural catalyst which continues to provide girls and women with vital inspiration and encouragement worldwide. By resisting the traditional depictions of girlhood, feminism and consumer culture, riot grrrl enabled the proliferation of new generations of cultural creators
and activists. Women and girls found their own voices and power in music, art, literary and political discourses. riot grrrls began to rewrite and figure out for themselves what it means to be a girl, a feminist, an activist, a musician or an artist at one particular moment and place. Since then riot grrrl has opened up the possibility to share our experiences, tell our own stories and create our own language. A riot grrrl history is an insight into a provocative moment in modern day feminism, youth resistance and popular culture. Like girl germs, it's

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