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College of Liberal Arts
University of Mississippi

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Event Information:

  • Thu

    Sarahtalk: 'Where the Girls Are:' Riot grrrl, Feminism, and Queer 1990s Culture

    4:00 pmZoom (Preregister with the link below)

    The 90s are back, or at least we can pretend for an hour while indulging our nostalgic desire on September 9 from 4-5 pm when Dr. Cookie Woolner presents the first SarahTalk for the Fall ‘21 lineup, “‘Where the Girls Are’: Riot Grrl, Feminism, and Queer 1990s Culture.”

    Woolner, an assistant professor in the History department at the University of Memphis, is a cultural historian who focuses on race, gender, and sexuality. Her recent scholarship includes a chapter in Historicizing Fat in Anglo-American Culture and a manuscript entitled, “‘The Famous Lady Lovers:’ African-American Women and Same-Sex Desire Before Stonewall,” which is the first in-depth examination of black women who loved women in the nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries in the U.S.

    She adds that “unlike my usual historical work, this talk will be mostly based on my knowledge and experience from the time period. This will also hopefully be part of a new upcoming research project on the history of “sex-positive feminism” in the U.S.”

    When asked about the current generation’s obsession with 90s culture, Woolner says, “It seems like 90s nostalgia has been going on for quite a while; it’s been almost a decade since an interest in riot grrrl resurged, with the publication of books like Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution (2012)  by Sara Marcus and the Riot Grrrl Collection (2013) zine book. Around that time the Russian band Pussy Riot was also active, who many saw as influenced by riot grrrl as well. And today with films like Moxie, riot grrrl bands are being reintroduced to young people, even though the originators are old enough to be their moms today, and some are, which was the plot of that recent Netflix film based on a novel.”

    The riot grrrl movement was more than a girl-focused punk music scene. It also heavily focused on cultural production - creating the art, music, and self-publications, like zines, in addition to holding local meetings and grassroots organizing with an emphasis on feminist issues.

    “Riot grrrl in the 1990s was primarily an analog subculture, although the internet was just beginning to come into use in the early 1990s when it began. It would not have existed without copy machines and the Kinko’s copy chain store, 8-track recorders, typewriters, word processors, wite-out, glue sticks, and the US postal system. These were the technologies that helped us create our pre-internet networks – the homemade magazines called fanzines that we poured our hearts out in and traded in the mail or sold for a dollar and stamps,” Woolner says.

    Wolner admits to being a “teenaged, fanzine-making queer riot grrrl in the 1990s myself. When asked about how the different technologies affected the movement, she said, “We also relied on personal ads and pen pal ads in music zines and for queer women, personal ads in magazines like On Our Backs, which today’s Lex dating app is modeled after. Chainsaw Records, a queer indie record label, had an online message board that was very popular with queer women into punk in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Print culture and the early internet were both important ways queer women found each other in an era when lesbian bars were still prevalent, so in retrospect, we had a lot of options.”

    The outsider status of the riot grrrl movement in a male-dominated punk scene also gave queer folx a space to express themselves that wasn’t available in the largely hetero- and bro-centric alternative music scene that dominated the 90s. While the Riot Grrl movement was a powerful influence on white women and queer folx, for some critics, though, it seemed there was not a lot of emphasis on issues that effected women of color. Woolner disputes that by reminding us that “punk scholar Mimi Thi Nguyen, [writes] about how the dominant narrative of riot grrrl highlights white women by focusing on Washington DC and Olympia, WA, where the movement first began. But there were also many women of color involved in the West and Southwest branches of riot grrrl, as local chapters opened all over the country. Bands like Emily’s Sassy Lime and zines like Mimi Nguyen’s Aim Your Dick and Slant are just a few examples of the important work by riot grrrls of color that have been left out of the simplified histories of the movement that focus on the bigger bands only.”

    Learn more about the Riot Grrl movement and its place in feminist history and in the production of queer culture by attending Dr. Woolner’s talk on September 9, at 4pm.

    Register for Zoom below: