Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Riot Grrrl Collection: Edited by Lisa Darms

Angry pissed off Riot Grrrl punk was the anthem of a particularly mundane “color in the lines” period of my life. When I was in grad school I would sit alone in a little lab room, entering data or running stats, and Bikini Kill and Calamity Jane would blast through the shitty speakers. One wall of the room was bright orange, for some unknown reason, and I managed to write thousands of words in APA style while Riot Grrrl angst bounced around the bright tiny room. 

Now, years later, my mind is building creativity. I have abandoned that world of data entry for one of nerdy writing and slam poetry and mail art. Yet the universe keeps building infinity loops. Round and round. And so, the Riot Grrl movement has come back again. This time, in the form of The Riot Grrrl Collection, an archival collection of zines and writings and goodies edited by Lisa Darms. I noticed this collection on the ever exciting new materials shelf at my local library and had to take a look. 

The book is a carefully curated collection of zines, pamplets, letters, and lyrics from the Riot Grrl movement. It comes from the personal papers of women like Kathleen Hanna and Johanna Fateman and is an excellent example of the archivists value at documenting the less tangible moments of a historical movement, in the thick. 

This collection speaks to the feminist movement, and the creation of a space where women feel safe. It is easy to look at the times around us and label our times as progressive. The Riot Grrrl movement shows that the current progress is built on the marginalized foundation of the women who came before. 

Awareness of street harassment through websites like has been growing, but lyric drafts from The Riot Grrl Collection show that punk rock icons like Kathleen Hanna were ruminating on street harassment twenty-five years ago. 

hair on your face and glasses that hid your eyes 
you slow down at the stop light 
you start to stare at me 
and this happens, a thousand times 
and this happens, a thousand times 
why is your favorite pasttime 
making me feel like i’m pinned to wax 
why is your favorite hobby 
reminding me that i’m being watched 

your eyes  
and your half smile 
look like 
they will eat me 

your eyes 
and your half smile  
look like 
they will eat me
- Draft Lyrics, [Hair on your face and glasses that hid your eyes}, Kathleen Hanna, circa 1989. The Kathleen Hanna Papers 

I would like to believe that we have made progress when it comes to domestic and relationship violence, yet reading the accounts in the Riot Grrrl Collection, I feel like they could be written by my friends today. Relationships often find themselves built on a skeleton of power structure and violence. On page 55/56 there is a story titled “The Tribulation” about a woman’s struggle with a boyfriend beating and forcing her to participate in sexual acts with one of her friends. Similarly, a story on page 89 documents a woman’s slow infatuation on her waitress and the eventual witnessing of a man acting abusive towards her crush. 

The discussion of the sexualized nature of power struggles comes up again and again. Sometimes it speaks to the larger conversation, outside of the confines of our individual relationships. 

Do I shut my own mouth, or is there a cock down my throat? And do i simultaneously have my cock down someone else’s throat? Do i? Do you?
-Zine, Girl Germs no. 3, Molly Neuman and Allison Wolfe, circa 1992. The Molly Neuman Riot Grrrl Collection.  

In BIKINIKILL #2 a clip discusses revolution. 

A belief in instant revolution is just what THE POWERS THT BE want. That way we won’t realize that WE ARE THE REVOLUTION. It’ll look so hard and instant and far off, someday, someday, that we won’t even try to enact it right now.  

-Zine, excerpt, Thorne no. 2, Kelly Marie Martin, 1992. The Kelly Marie Martin Riot Grrrl Collection. 

The Riot Grrrl Collection reminds me that the revolution is gradual. That it is building. That change is building and that what is now mainstream (catcalling = street harassment, domestic violence as a topic of conversation) was mainly the fodder for the absurd angry feminist zines twenty-five years ago. Reading through the zines and pamplets and letters of this movement allowed me to better understand the gradual errosion path that progress takes. It is not instantaneous, one song or one poem or one zine will NOT change the world. But it is setting the foundation for the next generation of thinkers and doers. It is the drop that someday will become the roaring river. 

It also influenced my perception of zine creation and compilation. Lisa Darms did a beautiful job editing the collection. It is inspiring. 

Overall, I encourage any angry feminist, be you young and spiteful or old and saggy, to read through this collection. 

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