This article is stolen from Sounds Magazine, and written by one our films big time supporters, Susan O'Shea. It mentions Rebel Dykes, and puts the DIY Feminist music culture of Rebel Dykes in focus and in perspective. It is a reveiw of this year's Ladyfest Manchester, the follow-on Ladyfest from last year, where we launched our trailer. Enjoy this fantastic Long Read Blog Post!
Liines at Ladyfest Manchester 2016, photo by Susan O'Shea/Sounds
My interests in music and feminism have been as intertwined with one another for as long as I can remember, perhaps as far back as listening to Madonna’s Like a Virgin, and certainly solidified by seeing Huggy Bear back in 1993 on my exam results night. There ‘may’ have been some alcohol consumed so I cannot recall the set-list but all the we moshed the night away in our oversized army boots, all the girls at front. However, since making Manchester my home ten years ago I have spent a significant part of my life either organising (Manchester 2008, 2011; Oxford 2010; London Ladyfest Ten, 2010), playing as Factory Acts at (Manchester 2015), running workshops, attending (Dublin 2015, Bristol 2012, Cork 2008) or researching Ladyfest – one of the more recent examples of where social movements and music come together.
Popular music has often played an important role in the history of new social movements not only in the more well-known British and American contexts but in a variety of cultural contexts throughout the world, from Egypt to Palestine and Beirut to Brazil. Music is central to many creative movements from Ladyfest to Pussy Riot and Rebel Dykes to Afropunk. Used as a strategy to bring people together music can unite and provoke action in sites of conflict and during acts of protest. Music is also used to spread a message and gather popular support for acts of resistance. Discussions of subcultures and counterculture can help shape public narratives around inequality and how popular music can excite people to critically engage with key political and social events and to participate in collective action and social movements. Certainly, not all countercultures have political aims but the obsession of critics and academics with placing a focus on music participation as a youthful pastime destabilises the distinct possibility of capturing its intrinsic power as a personally transformative force as well as a mutual mobilising mechanism that transcends the generations. Let’s commit that act of collaboration, unleashing the power of music to help us find something in common with one another, to share an experience, sometimes fleeting and sometimes life affirming. Whilst we can listen to music in isolation we can still be linked to a broader music community that shares our tastes, interests and sense of belonging but one that can also challenge, unnerve and inspire us to engage. Ladyfest, as a not-for-profit, woman-focused festival actively commits these acts of collaboration by creating music communities unafraid to contest the status quo, to destabilise expectations and embrace difference whilst producing powerful and enduring soundtracks.
Rebel Girl – Gender and collective action
Despite the high number of female singer-songwriters in the UK charts, music is still largely a male domain. Women are underrepresented across a range of music-related roles and remain marginalised across the industry with limited roles for participation. However, there are a number of women-focused movements that attempt to engage critically with gender inequality within music worlds and wider society and they use activist strategies to challenge these inequalities. Preceding Ladyfest was Riot Grrrl. Born out of a desire to counter male dominance in the music scene, in particular the punk music scene and to help a new generation of young feminists find their voices and fight for their rights. It had its origins in the United States in the early 1990s and consisted of a pre-internet underground cultural revolution by and for women and girls. This was a movement that would reach much farther than its original roots. Riot Grrrl emerged at a time when women’s hard earned rights to bodily autonomy and access to safe and timely abortions were under threat in America with high profile court cases being fought by world weary feminists worn down by a media fuelled feminist backlash. In many ways Riot Grrrl filled a gap left by the second wave women’s movement of the 1960s and 1970s. It brought the personal back to the political because it was a movement created by young angry women with stories to share and a desire to change the cultural landscape. The Riot Grrrl movement was spear-headed by bands such as Huggy Bear, Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy and although not without its issues nor immune from the frequent whitewashing of cultural history, Riot Grrrl managed to provide a narrative that many young women could identify with on both sides of the Atlantic, one that has been both adapted and extended today.
Feminist movements sound-tracked by rebellious music, like the Rebel Dykes prior to Riot Grrrl, and Ladyfest and Pussy Riot to follow, were deeply embedded in do-it-yourself (DIY) punk sensibilities and prioritised music, with other cultural activities playing supporting roles, as a means of engaging audiences with feminist aims and objectives helping women an