In honour of Women’s History Month
by Ms Dentata
This is a piece of writing I did for the Wellington Young Feminist Collective Blog. It’s about the most close-to-home part of women’s history for me. My favourite band ever: Bikini Kill. Fuck yeah.
We’re Bikini Kill and we want revolution- Girl-style now!!!
When I sat down to think about Womens’ History Week, and what that meant to me in a personal sense, the first thing that came to my head was Bikini Kill. And then I started thinking of all the puns I could make about Rebel Girls… but really, I wanna talk to you about how much of a difference this uncompromising, fierce, sassy, LOUD, and confrontational band made to my life.
I would love to spend time giving a ‘comprehensive history’ of the social and political importance of the 90’s movement of ‘riot grrl’, the safer spaces they set up, the dialogues of survivor-support that they encouraged, the confrontation of incest, sexual abuse, and abusive relationships that their lyrics and their words began. Today, however, I really feel like talking about emotions.
Firstly, a bit of context. In the mid 2000s, shortly after I turned 16, I moved to a new town and high school at the beginning of the 7th form year. The previous year, I’d been sexually assaulted, lost my shit quite spectacularly, and almost failed 6th form.I was largely without a support network (apart from a few very dear and amazingly strong friends) and I was dealing with teenage angst, body issues, social anxiety, and some pretty full-on depression. Quite simply, life felt like a mess– not at all a unique feeling in teenagers, especially teenage survivors.
Then. Something happened that changed it all. My dear penpal Bernie, a few years older than me and oh-so-worldly, sent me a mix CD the best collection of mp3s that have ever existed. It contained, amongst many other things, a copy of “Rebel Girl”.
One of Bikini Kill’s most famous songs, “Rebel Girl” is essentially a song of girl-love. Sung by Kathleen Hanna, the lyrics tell of admiration and respect for a girl, a desire to be her best friend… and the rumours that she’s a slut. I loved it. I loved it so much. When I listened to it, I felt justified in my anger. I felt like the incredibly basic and distorted guitars seemed achievable, even to a musically inept guitar-player like me. It was loud and chaotic and pretty much tuneless, and it exorcised rage and frustration and made all the noise I felt I couldn’t make for myself.
I loved it so much that I wandered down to the local music store. They didn’t have any Bikini Kill on their shelves, so I went to the counter and asked them to order in a CD named “Pussy Whipped” for me. The store employee wouldn’t make eye contact with me at all, and I felt proud and rebellious in the way that only teenagers can.
I fucking loved it. I listened to the album again and again and again. Then the cool, slightly older, punk guy who would give me refuge from my emotionally draining family home (my first time ever living with my father and his new wife) and cook me vegan butter chicken and cuddle me when I was sad, but could never have a conversation about sexual abuse, gave me copies of the other albums, and Hole’s discography, and Sleater-Kinney, and L7, and Babes In Toyland. I was in heaven, but nothing could ever rival the connection I felt I had with Kathleen Hanna’s lyrics.
Listening to angry songs that explicitly confronted all of these issues I was grappling with was such a release. It motivated me to write more, play guitar more, express myself more. I began relishing my all-girls high school and challenging discrimination. I read about class privilege, homophobia, interlinking of oppressions. I started to challenge racism and I started to read about anarchism. But, always, whenever I felt like my world was imploding- like I couldn’t handle the expectations put on me by family, peer group, teachers, and the media, I would listen to Kathleen yell. I avoided therapy by listening to this on repeat whenever I felt hopeless (not a sustainable long-term solution)
“I Like Fucking”
Just cuz my world sweet sister
Is so fucking goddamn full of rape
Does that mean my body must always be a source of pain?
No. No. No.
What I want. I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure babe
I do. I do. I do.
I had always been a rather outspoken and confrontational person. Despite often worrying that I didn’t fit in and that people didn’t quite like me ‘properly’, I’ve always been a person who speaks as I think. Often before I’ve even completed the thought. Soon enough though, I definitely had a reputation at my new school as a bit of a rebellious weirdo. One day, I decided to scrawl on a pair of shorts “Suck My Left One”, inspired by these lyrics.
Suck my left one
Sister, sister where did we go wrong?
Tell me what the fuck we’re doing here
Why are all the boys acting strange?
We’ve got to show them we’re worse than queer
1, 2, 3, 4
SUCK MY LEFT ONE, SUCK MY LEFT ONE
Mama says : You have to be a polite girl
You have got to be polite
Show a little respect for your father
Wait untill your father gets home
Fine, fine, fine, fine, fine, fine, fine
SUCK MY LEFT ONE
Ironically enough, I was grounded for my father for wearing those very same shorts when my grandparents came over for dinner one day, an action that shows just how hard it can be for parents to relate to this teenage angst- and how hard my father found trying to relate to this flavour of radical feminism I’d discovered.
Through reading these lyrics and gaining an awareness of these ideas, I was lead to so much more. I began devouring every single book on feminism, politics, ethical debates, reproductive rights, racism, or activism that I could get my hands on. It was an awakening in the most beautiful sense of the word. But I will never ever forget the way it made me feel understood, acknowledged, and justified. My incredibly fragile and wounded psyche found the words to express the effects of the abuse I had survived and I felt a sense of relief that such anger and hurt was not a sign that I was going crazy, at least not alone.
My music taste has diversified a lot since my teenage years, and riot grrl is now only one of the many types of music I listen to. However, I still experience people all too willing to give me their critical opinion of Bikini Kill. Here is the thing I love most about them:
They don’t give a fuck if you like them. That’s not why they make music. They had something important to say, and they said it really fucking loud. That’s why they’ll always be my favourite band.
I’ll leave you with a verse from ‘white boy’.
“I’m so sorry if I’m alienating some of you
Your whole fucking culture alienates me
I can not scream from pain down here on my knees
I’m so sorry that I think!”