Punk Rock Needs Feminism


By Samantha Spoto

Photo courtesy of James Stencilowsky.

In honor of Women’s History Month, the Brooklyn Museum invited a panel of feminists and artists to discuss the “confrontational forces of punk rock” for the event, “I Will Resist with Every Inch and Every Breath: Punk and the Art of Feminism.”

The panel’s title, a reference to Bikini Kill’s song “Resist Psychic Death,” is a fitting nod to frontwoman Kathleen Hanna, who pioneered the Riot Grrrl movement. The British Library describes Riot Grrrl as a “feminist movement that emerged from West Coast American alternative and punk music scenes of the 1990s.”

The event featured notable guests, including Johanna Fateman, Astria Suparak, Osa Atoe, Lydia Lunch, and Narcissiter. All panelists discussed their personal artistic endeavors and the politics their works conveyed.

Legendary Riot Grrrl Johanna Fateman (of the bands Le Tigre and MEN) provided a comprehensive analysis of the feminist movement. Fateman noted that Riot Grrrl aimed to confront the male-dominated environments and attitudes prevalent in the punk scene.

Members of the Riot Grrrl movement aimed to start a revolution that solely belonged to women. They approached their goals through DIY acts of resistance, oftentimes through political music and zines.

Astria Suparak is an American artist and independent curator known for organizing Alien She, a traveling exhibition that “examines the lasting impact of Riot Grrrl” on contemporary culture. Suparak discussed her efforts to bring art to atypical and “non-art” spaces as a means to expose new audiences to work that explores underrepresented themes.

Suparak offered sound advice to the 350 attendees at the museum: when your interests appear misrepresented or absent in society, you need to invent your own scene.

Photo by Samantha Spoto.

Osa Atoe, Suparak’s fellow panelist, did exactly that. Atoe–a New Orleans-based musician and artist of Nigerian descent–found herself isolated within the punk scene. She used her situation to create Shotgun Seamstress, a zine written by and for black punks. At the panel, Atoe explained that Shotgun Seamstress resulted from the lack of focus on black punk identity. Atoe created her zine to oppose the stereotypical conceptions of blackness through self-expression.

Overall, each panelist communicated a similar sentiment regarding the climate of the punk scene: a flagrant lack of visibility persists for women, people of color, and the intersection of the two. All speakers agreed that those marginalized in the predominantly white, male-dominated sphere must speak against injustice and work to deconstruct the stereotypes that alienate and devalue entire groups of impassioned people.