Majority World Riot Grrrl
Inspired by those plucky Pussy Riot gals and their ‘being sent to a penal colony for a peaceful protest’ hi-jinks in Russia last year, I set out to find tracks from riot grrrl bands around the world. And just to shift the focus for once, I’ve ignored the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, Europe and other super wealthy places.
‘Are there grrrls in the majority world?’ I wondered. The answer is yes, and they rock. In fact I’ve made a Majority World Riot Grrrl playlist which can be found for your delectation. Big shout out to Riot Grrrl Berlin and their fantastic compilations, on which lots of these bands feature.
The first band I found was an anarchafeminist outfit from Nepal called Tank Girl. Nepal has a deeply traditional patriarchal society; marital rape was outlawed only in 2006 and still carries just a six month sentence. Rape survivors are often ostracised, having ‘brought shame’ to their family and wider community. Dalit (or ‘low-caste’) women face additional discrimination and extremely high levels of violence.
One of Tank Girl’s members, Sareena Rai, is involved in two other feminist DIY punk bands, Rai Ko Ris and Naya Faya, and works to help Dalit women to protect themselves from gender-based violence, delivering self-defence training in her house. Which is pretty awesome.
Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia
I found a few more Asia-Pacific riot grrrl bands, including the adorable Fatal Posporos from the Philippines and Pretty Riot from Indonesia. As well as bands Hellsister and Dance On Your Grave, the scene in Malaysia was (and hopefully still is) large enough to support a zine distro called Grrrl:Rebel. “Through zines, people in the scene are much more exposed to stuffs that were somewhat limited to them and the public before” founder Carol told GrrrlZines.net in 2001. “In countries like Malaysia and Singapore, you would get arrested if you write any articles that can be considered as threats to the government.”
It’s comments like that which I find so remarkable, dropped into interviews about the role of girls in the punk scene and the best local bands which could kind of be about anywhere.
Africa and the Middle East
While I couldn’t find any trace of a riot grrrl scene in Africa, I did happen upon a 2011 documentary called Punk In Africa which sounds good. And in the Middle East, grrrls are thin on the ground, but judging from the cracking MidEastTunes website there are plenty of women active in dark metal and goth, including Bahrain’s first all-girl metal band Scarlet Tear.
Mexico, Venezuela and Brazil
South America does seem to have a sizeable riot grrrl base – my cursory search turned up bands in Mexico, Venezuela, Chile, Colombia and Argentina. Le Butcherettes from Mexico are definitely worth a listen, and I’d like to find more by a Venezuelan skapunk outfit called 7 Potencias who have a song called ‘Feminista de Bolsillo’, which I’m led to believe translates as ‘Pocket Feminist’.
Bit of context: while Brazil is the world’s sixth largest economy, there is still vast inequality. And although it currently has a female President for the first time in Dilma Rouseff, women make up just 8.6% of the seats in Parliament. Abortion is legal only to save a woman’s life or in cases of rape, and in 2010, it was reported that 200,000 women a year are hospitalized for complications of illegal abortion.
The reasons behind riot grrrl’s popularity in Brazil are even the subject of an academic paper by Calla Hummel, who recognises the political significance and adaptability of this particular bit of shouty youth culture:
Brazilian riot grrrl is one of the sites where Western cultural hegemony is being called into question… As it moves across borders, riot grrrl becomes a form of transnational feminism – and grrrls must address how ideas and material originating in a given locale may resonate, change, or delegitimize ideas and work in another.
Gender inequality is a global problem which varies in its expression across different cultural contexts. It’s not an ‘over there’ issue, but in some places it’s more severe than in others. Similarly, riot grrrl anywhere is awesome, but the courage and kickassness of the grrrls in these bands is pretty inspiring.
As a band member called Isabella quoted by Hummel says:
As long as we keep getting letters from the middle of the jungle, from a tiny, three person town in the Amazon, from some girl saying, ‘Feminism saved my life, thank you,’ we will keep doing it.