There were people at Bikini Kill shows in the ’90s who would be violent or really mean towards you and the band, but a lot of that type of thing seems to come out now on the internet—for people like Grimes, who gets rape threats on her Tumblr.
When we were playing in the ’90s and men would come to our shows and yell, “Take it off!” or call us the C-word or the B-word—or, most commonly, they would just say, “Shut up!”—in a way, they were doing us the biggest favor they could have possibly done us. At the time, of course, I wanted to punch them in the face and drag them out of club—and sometimes I did. But sexism exists in every room we’re ever going to walk into. Racism exists in every room. Homophobia exists in every single room. When people bring it to the fore, it’s like popping a blackhead. All of a sudden, everybody knows: There’s sexism in the punk scene—we can’t ignore this issue anymore. Because before, it was totally being held down. People were like, “Sexism doesn’t matter, man! It’s the ’90s!” It’s the same thing that happens today, where people are like, “Sexism doesn’t matter! It’s 2013!” Or “Racism doesn’t matter! Look at Barack Obama!” What’s scary to me is that maybe men, and some women, aren’t going to shows and being like, “Shut up! Just play your music!” or “Show us your tits!” or whatever—people just take to the internet and rip other people apart.
I was reading an article online about Vivian Girls, and I happened to look at the comments, and it was horrifying. Horrifying. I couldn’t believe it was every single thing people had said about us in the ’90s—but even worse. That’s what really opened my eyes to, you know, one step forward, two steps back. Maybe it’s safer for women to be at shows now. But it’s not safer for women to be on the internet.
You’ve said that you don’t want people to try to relive or repeat Riot Grrrl, you want them to use it to make something better. What do you think better could look like?
I think better could look like Rookie—something that doesn’t exclude things that are typically feminine, like fashion. There’s so much more inclusiveness now in terms of showing different kinds of girls from different kinds of places. That could be the future of where young feminism starts and grows. I also think of Occupy Wall Street as one of the most important things that has happened so far in this generation, and I’m hoping they come back. And there’s Permanent Wave, a young feminist movement that Amy Klein started in New York.
I also know of these young women who are doing this really amazing zine called International Girl Gang Underground. It talks about Riot Grrrl—the great things about it and the shitty things about it. I was so honored and flattered when I read it, that all these young girls were writing essays about and challenging Riot Grrrl. That, to me, is how something awesome is going to happen—by people challenging it. That was the whole point. It was something that could never be branded—that anybody could take over and say, “This is my thing. I’m starting my own Riot Grrrl group, even if there are only four people in it.”
Are people still talking about the movement in ways that don’t quite get at what it was?
I mean, different people are going to think different things about it. There are always going to be detractors of any kind of feminism—and that’s all it ever was: feminism for young, punk-rock women. But there are always going to be Rush Limbaughs who hate feminists. They’re never going to get it. They’ll be the ones who say, “Oh, they’re just girls in baby barrettes who were sexually abused by their fathers, and that’s why they’re yelling.” You know what I mean? And there will always be journalists who want to make things seem really sensational, so they’ll write something—like the one thing you say in an interview that’s not positive about Katy Perry, let’s say—that will make the biggest headline. That you can’t really help. But I feel like a lot of the crappy baggage is gone. And I’ve found that a lot of gay men were influenced by Riot Grrrl in a huge way that I didn’t know about then, because they were the cool guys who stood in the back of the room. They were the ones who were like, “I want my girl friends to be able to stand in front for the first time.” That’s really moved me quite a bit, to realize there were these male feminists—not all of them were gay—who really saw what we were doing as saying, “This is mine.” I’m really proud of that. Many times as a woman, I’ve had to turn [male-centric] things into something that related to myself—to be like, This is still important to me. This is so important to me enough that I’ll just change the pronouns to female in my head. To know there were guys who were like, “I’ll just change the pronoun to me. This is important enough to me that I’m willing to do that”—I think that’s just really beautiful.