Thursday, April 9, 2015

Musings on Grrrlhood

     Now, while it is true that my radio presets are pretty much all classic rock stations (with one set for sports radio, because, DUH!), I do love me some old school hardcore punk rock.  So imagine my delight to learn that today is Riot Grrrl Day in the city of Boston. No, seriously.  Kathleen Hanna, Riot Grrrl and third-wave feminist, is speaking in the city tonight! In response, Mayor Marty Walsh is proclaiming April 9, 2015 as Riot Grrrl Day.  It's a big enough deal that not only did all the cool indie press sites pick up the story, but so did the Boston Globe .

     Even if you aren't into the punk scene, you should pay attention to this, because the whole Riot Grrrl movement is so much more than a collection of bands from a single genre of music. It's about women claiming their rightful place as creators. It's about women using their voices--the louder the better--to express what they are compelled to express.  It's about women demanding that we expand our world views to include not only women, but all people--LGBT folk, people of color, believers of all stripes, non-believers, everyone. It's about believing that everyone's art is valid, everyone's art expresses something important, everyone's art has a place.
     While it is true that the art world is more diverse than many other fields, there is still such a long way to go.  As I write this, the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference is happening.  It is the largest literary conference in North America.  There are nearly 500 offerings for the 12,000 attendees.  Yet, somehow, the session on small press publishing has an all-white male panel.  White men fill the bulk of all the panels, it seems. That isn't meant to knock the conference.  It's a fantastic gathering of brilliant creatives.  It just serves to illustrate how deeply rooted the standards of validity are when it comes to art in our culture. It's not just AWP.  It's not.  The outcry over the reboot of the Ghostbusters movies with female leads is mind-boggling. The internet is blowing up over the idea of re-drawing classic superheroes as heroes of color, as if a Latino Spiderman will trigger the apocalypse. (Although, I wholeheartedly support the arguments that there is no reason not to create brand new superheroes that aren't white, and that we could use new female superheroes that don't look like porn stars.)

     Another example that is much closer to home for me:  I was filling in for the Evil Genius' English teacher one day last week.  I have met the teacher several times and we get along quite well, as we share a passion for the written word.  This was the first time I had been in his classroom before, though. He's created a good space for his students. It's warm, inviting, and literature rich. Lots of books, including plenty of poetry (a rarity in middle school classrooms).  Noticeably, though, there were very, very few female authors, and even fewer authors of color.  I took a chance on the strength of my connection with him, and left the teacher a note calling him on that.  I even sent my son to school the next day with several poetry anthologies that featured a diversity of contemporary writers. When I saw him in the hall a few days later, he thanked me for them sincerely, and launched into a discussion about poets and writing and the creative call that was heartening.

This wasn't a man who was intentionally biased to only accept the art of 
Dead White Guys.  

     It's simply become so ingrained in us as the standard that we need to be pushed to recognize it. We have so very, very narrowly defined creators as specific professional artists. Anything that falls outside of that definition is invalid. Don't believe me? Check out any textbook in any public school.  Overwhelmingly, they are filled with the work of white men. What we teach our children is what we as a society have deemed worthwhile. So yes, teach my children about Shakespeare and Michelangelo and Beethoven.  Please, though, show my children enough women and men of color so that they understand that art comes in many forms from everywhere.  I hate that Langston Hughes and Maya Angelou are singled out as "special,"  as if they were the only black poets who wrote anything worth teaching our children. The world is full of brilliant artists, and our children should learn from their diverse examples.

My son's teacher just needed a gentle nudge. Lots of folks need a loud, violent shove.
Riot Grrl is all about providing that shove.

     All people are creative.  Personally, it is the foundation of my faith.  I believe with all of my heart that I was formed in the image of my God.  The Almighty is a CREATOR, so, I, too, must be a creator. So are you.  So is your neighbor.  So is that guy you don't like. So is your daughter.  We are all creators.

Our culture discounts that, though.  

     Thankfully, in every generation, though, there are those who are called to blow up that paradigm and push the boundaries.  New genres appear--jazz, cubism, free form verse, hip hop dance...   Each new creative endeavor brings us closer to true equality.

     It's dangerous to be a creator, to be an artist, to express what is in you. It is also very holy. It is sacred to respond to the call to create. So today, even if you aren't in Boston, celebrate Riot Grrrl Day by creating whatever it is you create: paint, dance, write, sing, bake, arrange succulents in a terracotta pot, quilt...  You do you. Hardcore.


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