Riot Grrrls and Self-Defense
The Riot Grrrl movement in rock music began in the early 1990s in the glorious Pacific Northwest (as well as in the other Washington), as a response to subtle, blatant, and violent sexism, racism, and homophobia in the rock and punk music scenes. The women who started this movement (like those who joined the leftist pollitical movements of the 1960s and 1970s and began what we now consider modern women’s self-defense) did not see their experiences and interests in the work produced by their male peers. In deciding to make their own, the Riot Grrrl movement embodied “Do It Yourself” (or DIY) values.
Common topics for Riot Grrrl music and zines included sexual assault; domestic abuse; sexism, racism, and homophobia; female empowerment; sexuality and partiarchy; and women’s place in the music scene. (There may have been one or two silly love songs, but I haven’t come across them yet.) From there, it was only a short step to taking up self-defense. In her her Self-Defense section of Rock ‘N’ Roll Camp for Girls, Jodi Darby wrote about her experiences in the late 1980s and early 1990s:
“Being a girl at punk shows taught me to take up the space that was mine to take up, to not step aside and give away my power. It taught me hard and fast lessons on boundaries, non-verbal communication, and the benefits of walking away from an unsafe situation. . . .
“As I grew older, self-defense became part of my response to the violence against women and girls that is entrenched in our society. . . . I realized I was being forced to make decisions based on the threat of violence. These decisions affected my freedom of movement, and this lack of freedom was causing me to become nervous, mistrustful, paranoid, and, finally, angry. My safety, or lack thereof, impacted my life every day.” (p. 159)
Free to Fight is a compilation album released in 1995 by Jody Bleyle on her label, Candy Ass Records. The intent was to spread the word about self-defense increasing women’s confidence and empowerment. Just making safety and choices a topic that needed discussion was (and still is) a big deal. Self-defense is anything you do any day to keep yourself safe, so you can go out and fully engage in community life. These recorded tracks and the accompanying booklet will give you examples and ideas you can use.
But Wait . . . There’s More!
Filmmaker Lucy Thane documented this time period in her 1997 work She’s Real (Worse Than Queer). It is available on Vimeo, and the links are included here for your convenience. The film is broken into two segments, and the second has a brief segment where participants talk about the making of Free to Fight (begins at about 14:40).
There is some “bad” language and nudity.
She’s Real (Worse than Queer) Part One 1997 from Lucy Thane on Vimeo.
She’s Real (Worse than Queer) Part Two 1997 from Lucy Thane on Vimeo.
And In The End . . .
While the “official” Riot Grrrls movement eventually imploded, we are still feeling its positive aftershocks. One important contemporary effect is the nation-wide network of non-profit Girls Rock Camps, dedicated to building positive self-esteem in girls and encouraging creative expression through music. These programs provide girls with an opportunity to participate in an environment that fosters leadership and teamwork, encourages social change, and cultivates a supportive community of female peers and mentors.*
I’ve worked with Seattle’s Rain City Rock Camp for Girls the past several years, as you can see in the video below. As confidence is a prime ingredient to self-defense success, I heartily endorse the RCRC program and its mission. DIY lives on!