The New Riot Grrrls
by Hannah Nussbaum
Combining a DIY art ethic, feminist consciousness, and punk anti-establishment sensibility, the Riot Grrrl movement began on the west coast in the 90s as a response to chauvinism woven into the punk scene. The DIY art dimension of the Riot Grrrl movement built upon the bad-gal history of ‘craftivism,’ a term coined to talk about the tradition of women using craft as a mode of political resistance and activism.
Craftivism takes art and craft practices that have been labeled “domestic” and uses them towards subversive or adversarial ends. It takes many forms, and can consist of stitching, knitting, or crafting with the sort of mediums that might appear in your “babysitting toolkit” (stickers, markers). Its products are objects, zines, or wearables that promote femme solidarity and circulate ideas. They’re often produced in the context of communitarian maker sessions; the process is as important as the products. It’s worth thinking about the performative dimension at work here; a certain level of pastiche is happening when women and femme individuals gather together in a way that mirrors the social stitching circles of stay-at-home mothers of decades past, only here, their products are voicing demands or enacting feminist political potential.
The Riot Grrrls in many ways crystalized what craftivism looks like today: they drew heavily from a DIY culture that espoused up-cycled clothing, cut-and-past zines, and other anti-sweatshop, anti-capitalist forms of production. They shattered the public/private binary that kept traditionally domestic craft processes in the home, through enacting public production circles, and through creating art spaces that highlighted their work (thus also challenging the exclusion of women’s craft and fiber art from the fine art world).
Today, you can find Riot Grrrl-esque craftivism on all corners of social media; it has re-emerged in the context of fourth wave feminism, popularized (ironically) through digital channels, then disseminated IRL. Feminist internet and Instagram artists are using their social followings to organize physical maker sessions, to exhibit work that persists in its exclusion from prestigious artistic institutions, and to sell their goods directly to their communities. This digital resurgence of craftivism is facilitating (finally) the option of artists receiving a wage for craft processes that have long been excluded from waged systems. And although not all artists are able to convene their followers in IRL workshops, the communitarian aspect comes into play through a culture of digital support and camaraderie.
Don’t sleep on the ladies forging a way forward for arts and crafts.