I’m excited to be taking part in The Girl Effect, an awareness-building campaign driven by girl champions around the globe. On October 4, a whole network of bloggers from all backgrounds will write to increase awareness of girls in the developing world, and play a small role in eradicating poverty, creating thriving communities and slowing the spread of AIDS.
The Girl Effect is about encouraging people around the world to use their voices, talents and communities to help girls help themselves—and, as a result, everybody else. It’s about providing the tools and the network needed to spread the word about what girls can do. This is all awesome, and I’m participating to educate myself, to harness the power of social media and to connect with a new community of bloggers.
And it’s also got me thinking about my own experiences as a girl ~ sure, I grew up in the developed world, with plenty of supposed opportunities. But it wasn’t easy and there were many systemic and cultural barriers to me fully understanding my girlness.
voice and power: what it means to be a girl
I’ve been a girl all my life, but I didn’t really own or celebrate this until I was in my mid-teens. I was fortunate to come of age in the early 90s and to align myself with the short-lived but culturally powerful Riot Grrl movement. I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing any of the original Riot Grrrl bands (Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy) live because I was 15 and living in rural British Columbia. Things were different in the 90s, we received information in different ways. Sassy magazine was my pipeline to counter-culture music and style, and that was how I discovered the Riot Grrrl movement (along with vegetarianism, Keanu Reeves and Heathers). Trying to find my identity and place in the world, I latched onto the fashion first: babydoll dresses, barettes, Doc Martens. I was shy and awkward and I spent most of my time with my face in a book and headphones on my ears. I was quiet and prone to depression and I wrote poetry for fun. What I didn’t know is that I was angry. I was pissed off. And these girls with guitars, armed with three chords, feminist theory and sunglasses, helped me understand and articulate my anger.
This week is the 20th anniversary of the release of Nirvana’s Nevermind. This year is also the anniversary of the beginning of the Lollapalooza music festival and of International Pop Underground Convention, a lesser-known gathering in Olympia, Washington where an all-girl punk show signaled the beginnings of a movement. Because of this auspicious (and, to me, freaky: 20 years since 1991?!?) anniversary, the Riot Grrrl movement and its cultural significance has been turning up in the press, most notably in this great article on npr.org. Writes Rachel Smith, re: Riot Grrrl bands:
They sang frankly and bluntly, often wresting with difficult subjects at the intersection of the personal and the political: desire, self-acceptance and their uncontainable frustration at a society in which women’s lives and futures still seemed so narrowly delimited by their gender.
Moreover, they hoped to pave the way for women everywhere to do the same.
“Dare you to do what you want / Dare you to be who you will / Dare you to cry right out loud,” [Kathleen] Hanna sang in Bikini Kill’s “Double Dare Ya.”
While it made me want to be in a band (and I started countless bands that never made it to their first practice), it was about more than music. It was about voice, power and presence. It was about self-acceptance. It was about confidence. While I only got up on stage for karaoke, this music that I inhaled on a daily basis in my formative years empowered me to do other things: take Women’s Studies classes, write articles for my university newspaper, host a weekly radio show. Later, I volunteered at a rape crisis centre, worked in a women’s health centre, and ended up in a yoga community lead by women and focused on the divine feminine.
where i come from
My Riot Grrrl roots informed my interest in burlesque, as I developed a hunger to see powerful and sexy women in public spaces. It also, obviously, informed my position on yoga. I also pursue yoga with a passion only rivaled by my post-adolescent obsession with women in rock (not only Riot Grrrl, though that was my entry point; L7, Patti Smith, The Runaways, The Go-Go’s, obscure 60s garage rock girl groups). I read books and wrote university papers (for English classes, and Music 107, Topics in Popular Music: History of Rock N’ Roll). If blogs had existed in the early 90s, I would have most definitely had a Riot Grrl blog (instead, I did a zine and had a radio show).
The article goes on to note that the Riot Grrrl movement “found their DIY tactics co-opted, repackaged and mass-marketed sans subversive content.” And I can’t help but notice how this is like the mainstreaming of yoga, and the way it is being appropriated by mass culture. What’s interesting is that, despite perhaps being responsible for giving the world the Spice Girls (who were in turn responsible for Girl Power necklaces, temporary tattoos, mugs and panties), this may have been a good thing for women in music, and quite possibly all women.
But the birth of “girl power” pop stars (and their big sisters, the “angry women” singer-songwriters) was, in [Sarah] Marcus’ [author of Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution] opinion, ultimately a positive change for the culture at large.
“Riot Grrrl put girls’ voices into the culture in a way that hadn’t been heard before,” Marcus says. As such, it revealed a need — and a market — for pop culture that spoke to the actual hopes, dreams and experiences of young women.
“Even if it was plastic and cynically hawked as a corporate substitute for Riot Grrrl, it was better than what was there before,” Marcus says. “You’re never going to have the true biting critique get through on Top 40, but maybe you can have something that points toward it.”
I wonder if there’s a parallel to where yoga is at right now, if there’s something to be learned from a cultural movement of two decades ago. Although the Riot Grrrl scene was smaller and less lucrative than yoga, it seems that it was absorbed by the culture, chewed up and spat out, then mostly forgotten, and yet something persevered. At this milestone, as ” efforts to assess and honor Riot Grrrl’s history and cultural impact shed light on its still-living legacy in culture today,” I have to wonder where yoga, as a force in North American culture, will be in 15, 20 years.
But first, I’m going to put on this YouTube playlist and dance around my living room and think about the revolution that I was lucky enough to witness. And I will let my heart be warmed by things like the Rock Camp for Girls fundraiser I went to this summer, where I found myself in a club with women in their early 20s, enthusiastically paying tribute to Riot Grrrl by covering their songs. These women were still in elementary school when I was discovering this scene in my small Interior BC town with my own band of girls (we didn’t play music but we listened to music and talked about feminist theory, pop culture, sex, boys, and our big big dreams for our bright futures). But here they were, in 2011, singing about the revolution.
Anyway, back to The Girl Effect. I was lucky to claim my girlhood as a North American teenager in the early 90s. But girls on a global scale don’t have that privilege. Sure, The Girl Effect isn’t punk rock. It’s not DIY, it’s not grassroots. But it’s a movement, and it reflects the way that information and ideas move through our culture at this time, by harnassing the power of social media and the blogosphere, and creating a ripple effect through collective consciousness.
The Girl Effect blogging campaign runs from October 4 – 10. Sign up here to participate.