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Feminist Punk in the UK

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Feminist Punk in the UK

Photo courtesy of Timeline News

Photo courtesy of Timeline News

Photo courtesy of Timeline News

Photo courtesy of Timeline News

Johanna Zenn, Web Staffer

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The American Riot Grrrl movement gets a lot of the spotlight when talking about the history of feminist music, and for very good reason. Kathleen Hanna, lead singer of the band Bikini Kill, was prolific in launching this movement, taking the anti-establishment spirit of punk music and giving it a specifically feminist lens. The Riot Grrrl Manifesto published in Bikini Kill’s Zine 2. It stresses the importance of women seeing themselves represented in music and art and preaches values of creating revolution in everyday life in order to undermine a misogynist, capitalist world. Riot Grrrl was a significant movement throughout the 1990s and still heavily influences newer female artists.

 

While highlighting the cultural impact that Riot Grrrl had as an American-led coalition, it would be criminal not to mention the feminist punk music that emerged across the pond in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s. Punk music gained traction throughout the UK in the conservative Thatcher era, with bands like the Clash and the Sex Pistols speaking about rigid class structures and generational resentment with a cathartic intensity that was desperately needed. It wasn’t until bands like X-Ray Spex, the Slits, or Siouxsie and the Banshees came on the scene that punk expanded from a conversation purely about social and economic tension to one that focused on oppressive gender dynamics. Emma Garland writes in a piece that “I knew about the Ramones and the Sex Pistols, of course, they were culturally unavoidable, but I couldn’t relate to them. A group of boys swearing and spitting? I could stand at the bus stop if I wanted to see that.” Siouxsie’s song “Happy House” talks about gender roles that keep women tied to domestic life, while X-Ray Spex’s “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” playfully mocks being a woman in a capitalist, patriarchal society, where she’s seen as a commodity. Prior to this period, women, particularly young women, were often seen as the crazy fans of male artists, whether it be the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or David Bowie. Now, they got a chance to take control of the microphone and speak power to their own experiences.

 

Today, it is not surprising to still see a number of feminist punk bands and artists in the UK, especially in a time of turbulent politics and growing social and economic divide. Bands like Dream Nails, the Menstrual Cramps, Petrol Girls, and Colour Me Wednesday highlight topics like women’s bodily autonomy, the rise of right-wing extremism throughout the world, and living under late-capitalism. Through their art, they’re able to express nuanced ideas about the state of the world that you’re likely to find in long-winded academic jargon. In uncertain times, it’s good to know that smart, young women are angry and vocal in the face of so much craziness at the hands of old, white men.

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