“BECAUSE we are angry at a society that tells us Girl = Dumb, Girl = Bad, Girl = Weak.”
–Bikini Kill Zine 2, "Riot Grrrl Manifesto"
In 1991, Bikini Kill released the second volume of their fanzine, titled Girl Power, where they presented what is now called the "Riot Grrrl Manifesto." Through 16 statements, the band was trying to present a new feminist perspective showing what young women were looking for in activism and media. These artists were trying to explain through music what the third wave of feminism needed to become. They presented this not only through their lyrics, but also through the way they dressed. It wasn’t long before the higher echelons of haute couture also got on the bandwagon.
In 1992, Marc Jacobs presented his 1993 Ready-To-Wear Perry Ellis Spring Collection. Supermodels such as Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Christy Turlington, Helena Christensen, and Carla Bruni started to walk down the runway wearing beanies, flannel, and combat boots. The critics hated it. Not because the designer had been inspired by the underground music scene, but because it felt like a cheap move that was ripping off a mindset of discontent. Unlike other movements where the youth had used art and fashion to present their claims to society, the Riot Grrl and Grunge movement wanted to show the world how messed up their values were, how capitalism had swallowed punk rock only to the words and ideas of the likes of Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten into a Disneyfied joke.
In Maureen Callahan’s book, Champagne Supernovas, there is an entire area dedicated to the mistake that cost the young Marc Jacobs his position at the house of fashion. The best explanation of why it went so wrong comes from Walter Thomas, who at the time was the creative director for J.Crew: “By the time you see [a trend] in Kmart, it can be three years [after the catwalk]. The difference with grunge was that it was already for sale at Kmart.” Current fashion critics believe the collection was ahead of its time; however, I still have my reservations on the whole thing.
If we think about how cultural appropriation is something we continue to allow in the fashion world –Marc Jacobs I’m still looking at you–, it’s not too far-fetched to believe that the Riot Grrrl counterculture ideology was also appropriated for the sake of shock-factor and sell-ability.
So, instead of suggesting you to add a wool knit cap or a $200 t-shirt that appears to be DIY, here are ten ways your personal fashion sense can help you demonstrate to the world your beliefs in what would become the handbook for Third Wave Feminism.
“BECAUSE us girls crave records and books and fanzines that speak to US that WE feel included in and can understand in our own ways.”
How many times have we wanted to run out of a store where every item looks like it was made for someone other than us? We see t-shirts with phrases such as “Wife Material,” “Trophy,” “Waiting For My Prince,” and other sexist propaganda all over the market. We don’t understand how, in the children’s section, boys are empowered while girls are sent to the land of stereotypes. How it’s all in good fun for Bat Girl tees to include references to doing the dishes and “Wait for me guys, I broke my nail”? It’s time for women to stand up and require these corporations to provide real options for young girls and women.
“BECAUSE we wanna make it easier for girls to see/hear each other's work so that we can share strategies and criticize-applaud each other.”
Not only in the art world are women the main consumers and muses to an industry where they remain the minority in the realm of creators and decision makers. Through ethical buying, we can make a statement to support brands that seek true female empowerment based on equal opportunity policies as well as collaborations with organizations that implement them.
“BECAUSE we must take over the means of production in order to create our own moanings.”
Instead of falling prey to consumerism, we should become savvy buyers. Instead of being possessed by the gotta-have-it craze that is promoted through media, we can make our purchasing choices based on “I want this because it looks like me” instead of “I’m getting this because someone else will like it.”
“BECAUSE viewing our work as being connected to our girlfriends-politics-real lives is essential if we are gonna figure out how we are doing impacts, reflects, perpetuates, or DISRUPTS the status quo.”
“BECAUSE we see fostering and supporting girl scenes and girl artists of all kinds as integral to this process.”
We should consider to be ethical buyers on all levels. This includes choosing brands that promote proper standards of living and working conditions for its employees, considering how most garment industry workers are women living below the poverty level. It also means going for the local business instead of the massive corporation.
“BECAUSE we want and need to encourage and be encouraged in the face of all our own insecurities, in the face of beergutboyrock that tells us we can't play our instruments, in the face of "authorities" who say our bands/zines/etc are the worst in the US and
BECAUSE we don't wanna assimilate to someone else's (boy) standards of what is or isn't.”
How many times has fashion attempted to sells us a lifestyle? One year we’re told that thick eyebrows are gross and we need to get them plucked or waxed ASAP. Then, it’s not long before we’re handed the suggestion of microblading to get a certain celebrity’s gorgeous eyebrows. We should not have to resort to mainstream aesthetic standards, but instead discover what beauty means to each of us.
Terms such as Nasty Woman, Ugly Feminist, and Feminazi are used to keep women subdued and afraid of speaking their minds. Lipstick Feminism is a contradiction, since it assumes that there should be a differentiation between women who are trying to change the status quo. Going against the patriarchy is not about whether you choose to shave your armpits or wear high heels. Our brains cannot wear makeup, so let’s stop focusing on packaging instead of substance.
“BECAUSE doing/reading/seeing/hearing cool things that validate and challenge us can help us gain the strength and sense of community that we need in order to figure out how bullshit like racism, able-bodieism, ageism, speciesism, classism, thinism, sexism, anti-semitism and heterosexism figures in our own lives.”
Our clothes and sense of style are a reflection of who we are. Each of us has an identity that cannot be generalized or disregarded. There’s no feminist dress code. Our uniform lies in our collective mindset of seeking empowerment and equality, in speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves, as well as allowing hushed voices to be heard. It’s about finding the best way to express ourselves through our fashion while not restricting others' choices.
Are you ready to be a Riot Grrrl?
Sexism is not just found in fashion but in the most random of places, including dating and relationship advice. Did you know there's a manifesto seeking to tear down the structures keeping art from the people?