a few thoughts on a “riot grrrl revival”…& spring clothes

amber recently wrote a post for her blog (see side bar) in which she quoted a fair chunk of an e-mail i’d sent her, trying to make sense of how i feel about the idea of a “riot grrrl revival” (i’m not feeling great about it). this is what she quoted:

“…i realized: those of us who were involved with riot grrrl Original Recipe have ALREADY been building upon riot grrrl for like twelve or fifteen years now! so when people who weren’t around the first time around say that they are drawn to riot grrrl with the intention of “building upon” it, it’s like…um, what the hell do you think i’m already doing? i think the very fact that people like you & your sister are making these feminist personal zines in the first place is INHERENTLY building upon the legacy of riot grrrl, whether it’s intentional or not. you know? the original ladyfest in olympia (where i taught two workshops) was “building upon” riot grrrl. paper trail distro was a build-upon. the boston skillshare was a build-upon. going to midwifery school & learning to perform abortions was a build-upon. the fact that i am still a feminist is a build-upon. maybe these things aren’t being in punk bands & writing “riot grrl” on my knuckles, but it’s like, this is what a riot grrrl does when she grows up, & that trajectory can take all kinds of different forms (which is to say, there are other ways that people have “built-upon” than just what i have done).

“i have been attached to this idea that a “riot grrrl revival” is an exercise in pointlessness, but i couldn’t figure out a way to say it that actually expressed what i meant (& didn’t just sound dismissive & mean-spirited in a way i don’t actually feel). i think this is it: it feels pointless because i feel like the friendships you have made with people in the zine scene ARE the build-upon. maranda’s writing about mental health are the build-upon. the fact that you’re interested in alternatives to traditional menstrual products is the build-upon. there’s no need for a “revival” because the build-upon is happening everyday. & i think it’s maybe actually more important to acknowledge what has happened since riot grrrl Original Recipe fell apart as being a continuum of feminist activism/culture/community-building in whatever obvious & not-so-obvious/explicitly political (in the civic sense) & explicitly personal (like self-care) ways it manifests.”

thoughts? i don’t totally know how i feel about this quote because, while i wrote it & i think it makes a good point illustrating my lack of enthusiasm for this whole weird “revival” idea (or “legacy” or whatever you want to call it–different people seem to have different ideas about it), i feel weird that so many of the examples i used of “build-upons” are things that i have done. i was trying to draw from my own personal experience to provide a sense of trajectory from one teenage riot grrrl in 1994 to the thirty-year-old ex/post-riot grrrl that i am today…but i worry that the examples are too limited, because the path i took is different from the paths a lot of other ex-riot grrrls have taken. but…hopefully it’s obvious enough that i respect the fact that different people have taken (& currently are on) all kinds of different paths, & there’s no one right way to put whatever lessons you learned from riot grrrl into action, right?

i’m in a mood tonight. it’s been a gorgeous day, & i spent a good chunk of it walking around town & sitting in the sun. i am seeing a chiropracter for my fucked up back (apparently my thoracic spine locked into place, who knows why?) & i feel a lot better now. i’ve seen him three times in the last week, & i have a lot less pain, more mobility, & more energy. i saw him this morning, & then i got a hot fudge sundae & ate it outside in the sun, reading a book. i also sold a cute-but-too-narrow pair of shoes to arizona trading company & stocked up on cute spring/summer tops.

on saturday, i went to a clothing swap out in the country. i unloaded a couple of bags i really shouldn’t use anymore (because they are too ugly for words), some ill-fitting jeans, a whole pile of too-small/weird-fitting t-shirts, a couple of dresses & skirts i couldn’t work into my wardrobe, all my leg warmers (i had four pairs & i hadn’t worn any of them in at least five years), etc…some really cute stuff! but stuff that doesn’t really work for my look anymore, now that i am thirty & actually care about wearing clothes that fit & aren’t purposely garish. i finally got rid of the stripe-y jersey dress with a hood that was just a touch too small for me & also not really appropriate for my personal aesthetic. & i got rid of the flowery white bedazzled baby doll peter pan collar dress i used to wear all the time (paired with combat boots & ripped striped tights, of course) when i was twenty & living in portland. i hadn’t been able to squeeze into it in years, but held on to it out of sentimentality. but i donated it to the clothing swap. my neighbor alyssa, who is seven years younger than me & has a way more colorful, lively personal dress sense than i do at this point, took both dresses. i’m glad they found a good home!

i loaded up on basic tees & layering essentials, plus a really well-fitting pair of jeans to cut off into shorts (they’re a smidgen too short on me, so it’s no loss). i also got some espadrilles–who knows if i’ll ever wear them? alyssa said they’d make good i-have-a-wedding-to-attend shoes, which is true, but i also have three pairs of nice heels, plus two pairs of dressy flats. i doubt i’ll ever wear the espadrilles unless i dye them. they’re an awful yellow color right now.

but i’m excited to have so many cute new tops to wear in warmer weather. & none of them are t-shirts! when i was younger, my entire wardrobe was t-shirts, miniskirts, torn up shredded tights, leg warmers, combat boots, & thrifted old man pants. the less stuff matched, the happier i was. i got through one entire winter (in boston!) without a winter coat. i just layered three sweaters at a time under my hoodie with the big anarchy-A patch on the back. i used to have monochromatic days where i wore nothing but pink (pink corduroys, pink t-shirt, pink cardigan, pink striped socks, pink studded belt, pink headband, pink sneakers). i can’t even imagine dressing like that now. what happened to me? god, when i lived in portland, i owned thirteen wigs, & i actually wore them. a lot.

now i wear jeans or corduroys almost every day, & i don’t like to wear t-shirts unless the collars & sleeves have been cut off. i don’t think crewnecks flatter my body type at all, but tunic-style shirts generally make me look pregnant. it’s a delicate balance, but i got a lot of good stuff at the clothing swap & at the thrift store today. i am psyched for hot weather now! (it helps that our apartment has central air. kansas gets wicked hot.)

on the way home from the clothing swap, we noticed a man & his dog jogging on the sidewalk by this little park near the river. everyone in the car was like, “wow, look at the dog run! he’s really into having his exercise today!” “what a good dog to run without a leash!” “that dog is so cute!” etc. then alyssa said, “what if that person is just running away from that dog?” most hilarious thing i have heard in a while.

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

8 thoughts on “a few thoughts on a “riot grrrl revival”…& spring clothes

  1. It seems to me that the whole “riot grrrl revival” thing is happening because there are a lot of girls and women who feel they missed out on this amazing thing that changed the lives of a lot of those who were involved in it. I can kind of understand that, because I was fascinated by riot grrrl when I was a teenager but I never knew how – or even felt like I could be – involved with that whole scene.

    But the idea of picking up where the riot grrrls left on or continuing unfinished work or whatever seems to be based off this idea that once Bikini Kill broke up, that whole strain of DIY feminist activism ceased to exist, which, like your email to Amber said, is just wrong. I mean, sure, there might not be RG meetings but there are young women who make their own art and work in their communities and do amazing things all over the place, and the idea that this creative spirit is something that only exists in tandem with RG is rather depressing.

    I’ll have to go read Amber’s thoughts on this now.

    1. yes! i think you totally hit the nail on the head there with the second paragraph. i was having so much trouble articulating that idea, that these kinds of feminist d.i.y. culture production activist activities didn’t suddenly all cease in 1997. i think this is more what i want to say than the “build-upon” idea, or this is a more clear way of expressing it. & i think it’s absolutely true that this kind of activity doesn’t have to happen in tandem with a riot grrrl label. in fact, because of some of riot grrrl’s shortcoming (especially around race & class), i think it would be better if it didn’t. there have always been women doing interesting d.i.y. culture production feminist stuff that maybe never felt completely supported by the concept of riot grrrl, because of race, class, geography, age, the fact that they didn’t identify with punk rock, whatever. but they were/are still doing cool/important things.

  2. I really like what you wrote to Amber. Even though I’m 8 years your junior and totally didn’t have any part in riot grrrl when it was actually happening, I discovered riot grrrl and zines when I was 13, almost 10 years ago. I already knew at that point that I was a little late on things, but I still attended SF Ladyfest (when I was 14, with my mom! she was not into it!), ran a distro, etc. Participated in all these things that, like you said, “build upon” riot grrrl.

    And I am still building upon riot grrrl in my own way. Which is why I am so damn annoyed by books like Marisa Meltzer’s Girl Power. It just feels like this “revival” is too soon. Or by calling it a revival it is marking riot grrrl and it’s after-effects as a movement that is completely dead. I don’t know if I’m articulating it correctly, but it just seems like a lot of this revival is being championed by people who were on the very periphery of riot grrrl, zines or post-riot grrrl culture. It just doesn’t sit right with me and doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

    1. i haven’t read that girl power book. i’ll try to track it down & see what it has to offer.

      i think it’s a good point that a “revival” kind of by definition requires a “summation,” & i think that’s premature in certain ways because the legacy of riot grrrl has been on-going & isn’t necessarily ready to be summarized, post-mortemed, & “built upon” as if we are starting from zero all over again. but then again, i think this is a question of perspective. maybe some people who are into the idea of a “revival” don’t necessarily think they’re starting cold, but just haven’t completely articulated themselves yet…or something.

      i also have my own weird, nebulous feelings about the fact that so much of this “revival” crap, or summaries of what riot grrrl was all about (like that british riot grrrl book that came out last year) are being produced by people who weren’t actually there. in some respects, i’m not comfortable with critiquing that because a big point of riot grrrl is that there were no leaders or spokespeople or experts. but on the other hand…i can’t help but feel that these self-appointed historians & archivists are getting it wrong!

      kind of related, i was telling jared last night about how i get really sad & hopeless sometimes about people not knowing the history they are talking about. i read an article about this new brooklyn skillshare project that started recently, & it mentioned that the brooklyn project was inspired the boston skillshare (which i started in 2002), but it also said, “the earliest skillshare i found was in albany in 2005.” it bugged me that the person who read the article made the effort to find the earliest skillshare, knew about the boston skillshare, but DIDN’T know that it started in 2002! (& that it was inspired by a berkeley skillshare in 2000…which was probably inspired by other forms of predecessors.) or, i had a whole huge argument with this dude in chicago a few months ago because he was telling people that the allied media conference (which began life in 1999 as the bowling green zine conference, which i organized) was inspired by some chicago zine fair event that happened in mid-90s. i straight up told him, “no, i organized the first bowling green event & it was inspired by riot grrrl conventions in the 90s. i never knew there was a chicago zine event in 1996, that wasn’t the inspiration.” & he was like, “yeah, it was, because jen (who organized the event for several years after i left ohio & changed the event’s name to the underground press conference & allied media conference) was at the chicago event.” & i was like, “awesome, but she didn’t organize with me in 1999. she came on board later. & maybe she used her experience in chicago to inform the events she organized, but the chicago event was not the original inspiration for the bowling green event.” & the guy just wouldn’t let it go, even though THE EVENT CAME FROM MY BRAIN & I KNOW WHAT INSPIRED IT. & the guy’s whole point was that zinesters should know their history, & current chicago zine fair organizers need to know about this mid-90s chicago event for continuity’s sake or something, even though HE didn’t know what HE was talking about!

      anyway, jared understood & was like, “it’s weird that we are in this subculture that puts so much emphasis on understanding your history & where ideas come from, but then so much of the work you have done gets invisibilized or other people step up to take credit for it.” (hardly anyone seems to know that i organized the 1999 bowling green event. they just associate the “clamor” folks with it.) & the flip side of that is that our subculture seems to look down on people for wanting credit for what they have done, like that’s unseemly or complicates the motivations of being involved in a cultural/activist project.

      there needs to be a balance between recognizing what has come before & actively seeking to understand it, but also allowing for its legacy to change & create space for newcomers.

  3. Hey Ciara! It’s been a long time since we talked, but I’m glad to have stumbled across this because I’ve been thinking a lot about the “revival” too. No coherent thoughts right now (I’m so allergic that I am wearing my old glasses instead of my contacts, and the prescription is old enough to be too blurry and headachey) but I like what you’ve said here.

    Oh, and besides riot grrrl’s race and class troubles, I’m worried that the connections being made between riot grrrl, 90s revival, and “third wave” feminism are erasing the fact that riiot grrl was hardly the only feminist DIY musical subculture around in the 90s — hello, there was a totally amazing explosion of hip hop feminism too that doesn’t seem to enter into these nostalgic glances.

    1. hey mimi! yes, it has been a long time since we talked. like almost ten years, i think! how did you stumble across this?

      this blog post is definitely not the sum of all my thoughts on the issue of either riot grrrl revival or the recent attempts at generating historical documentation of riot grrrl. i have posted a lot more about this topic on various blogs comment threads around the internet, but haven’t bothered to distill all of it into a more exhaustive post here. but yeah, i agree that focusing so much on riot grrrl can lead to a further erasure of the other forms of feminist culture production that were happening at the same time. that was the main disappointment of that recent girl power book. i thought it did a pretty decent job summarizing riot grrrl & documenting some of its failings for the historical record (important in the interests of not repeating the same mistakes), but i was really disappointed at the complete lack of coverage on feminist hip hop, among other things.

      i read a really good piece on hesitations around the idea of a riot grrrl revival today, written by someone who, age-wise, you’d think would be all for it: http://side-ponytail.blogspot.com/2010/04/my-thoughts-on-riot-grrrl.html

      she summed up a lot of what i think really well. check it out, if you haven’t already!

  4. I should clarify a bunch of things here but I’m too tired and sick. But I do think there’s a difference between the sort of retrospective we’re seeing from some quarters (in the books that “look back”) and the premise of revival from others (who are trying to find a critical vocabulary for moving forward, though this may be informed by the first in some ways). So I think the problem might be that the retrospective turn has for the most part ignored “the troubles” (or the simultaneous but separate emergence of hip hop feminism), and we have yet to see how the revival will actually play out.

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