Kirstin McEwan used her Disruptor's Funding from Blueprint100 to transform a familiar space...
The Riot Grrrl movement is known as the music movement that gave women a voice. It is something that I have felt inspired by since I was a teenager – inspired to pick up a set of drumsticks and (very terribly) learn how to play and join a band, inspired me to go to more gigs and enjoy my favourite bands from the very front, inspired me to express myself through the way I dress and present myself and not care what other people think – but most importantly it taught me that women have a place in music and in the music industry, and we have just as much of a right to be there as any man.
In April 2019, I facilitated and led a project for Dumfries Music Conference (DMC) called ‘The Female Takeover’ – a month of events which celebrated and highlighted the important role of women in the music industry. I had planned to use my Disrupters fund for one of these events, and when it came to choosing, there was clearly an obvious choice as, for me, the Riot Grrrl movement is just about the most disruptive thing I can think of – loud, angry and in your face. The exhibition featured hand painted signs, feminist literature, fan zines and empowering quotes. The opportunity to present this movement in a public exhibition was a hugely important aspect of the DMC Female Takeover Month. I wanted people to see the effect this movement has had on music today and how far we have come with challenging certain standards in the music industry.
Before the Riot Grrrl movement emerged, punk rock was a very problematic scene – it was less than kind to minority fans, like women and members of the LGBTQ community. Their shows were often described as being unwelcoming places where sexism and assault happened almost every time, despite how much of a true fan you were.
Faced with feeling unsafe at gigs and being pushed out of a scene that was fast becoming male dominated, spoken word artist and musician, Kathleen Hanna, decided to form her own radical and inclusive space with a group of empowering women who became icons in their own right. The bands Bikini Kill and Bratmobile began working together to create zines about feminism and music, aiming to inspire and educate women, and, along with their music, created a movement that advocated for safe spaces for music fans who had previously felt left out or threatened at concerts.
Their ‘Girls to the Front’ phrase is synonymous with the movement and was used at Bikini Kill’s shows for two reasons – to encourage women to reclaim space from the aggressively moshing men in the room and to build a wall of defense between the band and those looking to attack them. This ethos completely changed gigs from where women would often feel unsafe and watch from the back of the room or the sides, to gigs where women could stand, dance and move freely wherever they liked.
Another stand out quote which I chose to focus on was: ‘Rebel Girl you are the queen of my world’, which was hand painted over the course of a sunny Sunday afternoon and took centre stage in the exhibition. The lyrics from Bikini Kill’s most iconic feminist anthem, ‘Rebel Girl’, is about seeing a girl who is way cooler than you and wanting to be her best friend – no nasty comments, no bitchiness – just pure admiration for women and having respect for someone you look up to. I chose this lyric to be the focal point because I believe it is something truly important for women to remember in the cut throat world of the music industry – although it can be a wonderful world to be part of, at times it is extremely difficult. We are working hard to be recognised for what it is that we do and for our work not to be deemed as ‘tokenistic’ because of our gender. And while we are all working towards a gender balance and to make our mark on what is often seen as a male dominated industry, the most important thing we can do is support each other and be each other’s biggest fans.