The Relevance of Bikini Kill’s return
On January 15, 22 years after disbanding, the feminist punk band Bikini Kill announced that they’ll return to perform a few summer tour dates in cities including Los Angeles, New York, and London. Riot Grrrl fans everywhere reacted to this news in a frenzy, purchasing tickets and excitedly spreading the news on social media platforms.
To understand the commotion this news inspired, it’s important to know just how influential Bikini Kill has been to the feminist movement. Bikini Kill was part of a thriving punk scene in the Pacific Northwest of the United States in the early 1990s. This scene, however, was notoriously male-dominated and sexist. At shows, punk-loving ladies in the audience were frequently groped and harassed by male fans. These toxic show environments were often perpetuated by the bands playing, and venues at which they played, further marginalizing women.
After a period of frustration with this status quo, a group of women in the scene took matters into their own hands and began creating “zines,” independently published artistic magazines, to express their anger and own their sexuality. This movement blossomed into the creation of a new music genre that embodied the spirit of punk but centered women called Riot Grrrl. The bands that were part of this movement created women-centric environments by pushing the men to the back of the venues at which they played and bringing women to the front. They called out harassers from the stage and screamed songs about taboo issues, such as rape and racism.
A number of bands were at the forefront of the Riot Grrrl movement, including Bratmobile and Sleater-Kinney. But arguably the most influential band of the movement was Bikini Kill. Fronted by Kathleen Hanna, who often performed with the word “slut” painted across her body, Bikini Kill was a driving force in this girl revolution. The way they performed engendered a riotous spirit within their audience, which led to monumental changes in the mindset and action of the third wave of U.S. feminism. Not only does Bikini Kill’s announcement signify a revival of one of the most influential feminist bands of all time, therefore, but also extends their influence into a time when we need it most.
As the only female member of an indie rock band, I am very aware of how gender inequality still persists in the music world. I have found that I have to assert my creative opinions a lot more strongly than do other members for those opinions to be appreciated and utilized by my bandmates. My bandmates also act as if the fact that they make music entitles them to use women however they please. They view their status as musicians as a justification for using women for sex, romantic idealization, and as mere muses. This has been a pattern with musically inclined men for years, but now I see how gravely and deeply it affects the women around me, and it leads me to question what, as a creator, I can do to create a more respectful and conscious environment as Hanna did before me.
Bikini Kill’s return, therefore, is a timely reminder to me and female musicians everywhere that we must continue the movement they started. In true Riot Grrrl fashion, I have banned known abusers from the shows I play and make an effort to create music that builds up ideals of strong women and allows for ownership of my sexuality within the scene.
On a broader note, Bikini Kill’s return comes at a time when the current feminist movement could use a reminder of what they stand for. On the one hand, feminist values are becoming more normalized in mainstream media and social norms, the #MeToo movement continues to gain momentum, and “respecting women” is a more socially pervasive ideal than ever. On the other hand, the current administration tears women down and constantly puts forth legislation in favor of the patriarchal structure and power over every area of a woman’s life. We should view the return of Bikini Kill as an opportunity for a riotous revival within all of us. As we view the current state of our rights and oppression, we can be reminded of Hanna’s spirit, take matters into our own hands, and rebel, punk style.
More articles by Category: Arts and culture, Feminism
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