Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Women Who Rock Wednesday: The Riot Grrrl Movement

Welcome to Women Who Rock Wednesday! The winner of my last contest, a prize pack from the Windy City Rollers is... Erica from Blogger! Erica I will email you shortly about your prize if you don't email me first at stephanie at stephaniekuehnert dot com :)

As you may have noticed I've gone to every other week with Women Who Rock Wednesday and it might remain that way for a little while. It takes a lot to set up these interviews, contests, etc and I'm trying to focus more on WIP writing than blog writing. Hope everyone is cool with that. I promise to bring as many cool women to your attention as often as possible.

This week I want to talk about a whole movement of women who had a huge influence on me as a teenager: the riot grrrl movement.

I did an interview with New York Public Librarian Marie Hansen in honor of Women's History Month and she asked me a whole bunch of questions about my involvement with riot grrrl and zine making. It made me seriously nostalgic and happy. So I wanted do a whole Women Who Rock Wednesday feature on it.

All of the pertinent details--how I discovered riot grrrl, my favorite bands, what zine-making meant to me, and the flaws that I saw in the movement that I think kept it from reaching its full potential--are in Marie's interview with me here.

I just wanted to say a few more things about what it meant to me. I got into riot grrrl at the end of my sophomore year of high school. I'd been into the music for a while, Bikini Kill, L7, Hole, and Babes in Toyland at least, some of which aren't technically riot grrrl bands, but they led me to more great music like Heavens to Betsy, Sleater Kinney, Lucid Nation, Bratmobile, Excuse 17, Team Dresch, and the Third Sex. But the summer between sophomore and junior year, I started reading zines and seeking out more information about riot grrrl because I needed some real girl power in my life. I was angry, I was depressed, to put it bluntly I was fucked-up on many levels. I'd just come out of an emotionally and sexually abusive relationship and I didn't know how to talk about it. I had low self-esteem from that and from years of being teased by mean girls and cruel boys. I took my pain out on myself with razor blades. I searched for control in my life by refusing to eat some days just to show that I could. So it felt good to scream along to Corin Tucker from Heavens to Betsy when she sang, "I got a knife that's sharpened exactly for one white boy." Because I wished I did. I wished I could cut everything that hurt out of me. Instead I learned to talk about it. That's what riot grrrl gave me.

I poured my pain into my zines. It was the early days of the internet but I found a forum on AOL about riot grrrl. A list serv was born and I chatted with girls across the country about the many hurts we had endured and how we could change things. It was part political movement and part group therapy. And there is nothing wrong with that. It was exactly what I needed at sixteen. I met one of my best friends on that list serv. She lived in another Chicago suburb and we met up at a Sleater-Kinney show at the Fireside Bowl. We would literally escape our painful pasts together by moving north to Wisconsin as soon as I finished high school. Our little apartment felt like a utopia at times. A place of writing and music and healing that I shared with one of my best friends and my cat.

In spring of my junior year I helped organize Midwest Girl Fest with some girls who had been part of riot grrrl since the beginning. You'll note that we called it Girl fest and not Grrrl fest. This is because people were already splitting from that term. That saddened me, though as I explained in my interview with Marie, I understood why. Regardless of what terms were used for it, I'd found a much-needed sisterhood to get me through my darkest hour. At the Midwest Girl Fest, we had an open mic and I read a spoken word piece about my abusive relationship. I admitted exactly what it was and told the whole story to a supportive audience. It was a huge step toward healing.

Those pictures above are me as a sixteen or seventeen year old grrrl and this is what riot grrrl helped me to become:

Yeah, as a movement or a scene it had its problems, but the music, the zines, the friendships I formed saved my life and made me into the woman I am today. And I will believe in revolution grrrl style forever.

To share exactly what riot grrrl meant to me this week (well for the next two weeks actually), I'm giving away a mix CD of my favorite riot grrrl/nineties girl power songs (because screw labels, lets just focus on good music) and a zine... maybe more than one zine. I'll have to go through my collection and see if there are some I can part with (ie. zines I didn't write) and I'll throw in one I wrote too.

To enter, as usual all you have to do is leave a comment. In honor of women's history month, tell me about the woman in history who has influenced you most. It could be history as recent as the 90s and riot grrrl scene seeing as those are some of the women who influenced me the most.

And you get bonus entries too of course:
+1 for each link to and/or tweet about this blog entry
+1 for each link to and/or tweet about Marie's interview
+5 for writing your own blog about women in history

Note your additional entries in your comment and be sure to leave a way for me to contact you if you win. I'll draw a winner in two weeks!


Josef M. said...


I am a man. Its terrible to admit, but true. And I read the "Women Who Rock Wednesday" every week (or other week), and I just love it! I love the nineties Girl Rock movement, from a political standpoint, a music historian standpoint, and most of all, a pure musical standpoint. I've always felt that what makes those girl groups so good is that women have a different approach to music, for whatever reason. I can't really pinpoint it, but its a totally different way of playing, singing, and subject material.

Thank you for doing this every week, it gives me real hope for people understanding the past music and writing scenes and the future ones.

Also, keep up the amazing work writing! Both of your novels have totally amazed me with the deepness and angst, and I love your writing style!

Annika said...

This is such an awesome contest! I shared it on Reader and Buzz. As for my entry, it is always Laura Ingalls Wilder. I don't think I have been more influenced by ANYONE, woman or man. She was amazing!

robby (once upon a book blog) said...

I posted about the women in history who have affected me on my blog-http://runningforfiction.blogspot.com/2010/03/women-in-history.html
Courtney Love, Kat Bjelland, Amanda Palmer. There are a few I didn't name- Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Virginia Woolf.
I really loved reading this post. I love all of your posts, and I'm sure I will love your books.
Thank you for this.


Dannie said...

Courtney Love, Emily Dickenson, Cherie Churst, Zadie Smith, Kathleen Hanna and Francoise Sagan are among the top ten, but at the end of the day I ask my self, "What would Amanda Palmer do?"

I mean, she doesn't sahve her pits...and gets away with it!

Maybe Rosie O'Donnel, but only in "A League of Their Own"...:D


Anonymous said...

My list as far as punk goes:

Patti Smith, Kim Gordon, Corin Tucker, Mia Zapata, and Courtney Love

Kathleen Hanna too


Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Josef- It is not terrible to admit that you are man. It makes me so happy that my WWRW appeals to men and women. Cheers to you and your love of 90s female rock. And thanks for the kind words about my writing!

Annika, thanks for sharing it so widely! And I'm with you when it comes to Laura!

Robby, Dannie, and cynical Boy, I love love love all of your choices!

Elisabeth said...

Thank you for posting this.

Liviania said...

To be schmaltzy, my mother is the woman who has influenced me most. After all, she raised me. She was tough, but I think about her reaction before I do something stupid, and it's gotten me out of bad situations. She taught be that I should be polite and respectful, but that there's no shame in being a loud mouth when it's needed. We clash often, but it's mostly because we're too alike.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Glad you enjoyed it Elisabeth. And Liviania, not schmaltzy at all. My mom is one of my biggest all time influences too!