By: Frances Cabigas
Professor Hammond is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University, his work focuses on British modernism (specifically, the relationship between technology, politics, and artistic expression in the period) and Digital Humanities (at the theoretical level, he looks at the relationship between technology, politics, and artistic expression in the digital age; at the practical level, his work is to develop new applications of natural language processing for meaningful literary analysis).
Riot Grrrl was the longest segment on your Social Politics of Indie syllabus. What is the significance of Riot Grrrl to you to where you felt that you had to focus on this topic a little more diligently than all your other segments?
Professor Hammond: Riot Grrrl is for me maybe the ultimate “indie” movement. It came out of a small, local, ideologically-committed scene (Olympia, Washington in the 1980-90s). It expressed itself through indie music (weird DIY punk released on small labels) as well as zines (intensely personal self-produced magazines). And it grew well beyond these tiny, hyper-local, super small-scale beginnings to become a major international political movement and a major part of third-wave feminism — to change the world in a very real way. Riot Grrrl certainly wasn’t perfect (it was seen as cliquish, it was limited in its outlook) but it was important — and it remains important.
You know an enormous amount of information on Riot Grrrl. Some people, including myself, have never even heard of it before. What sparked your interest to learn so much about it?
Professor Hammond: I was a teenager in the 1990s, so I was aware of Riot Grrrl back then (yes, boys read Sassy and listened to Bikini Kill, even in Canada). My partner (who was born two months after me and was also a teen in the 90s) was hugely influenced by Riot Grrrl and still has a huge place for it in her heart. I’ve noticed one thing I have in common with a lot of my friends is that we were all shaped by Riot Grrrl in high school.
As a male professor, how confident did you feel in teaching a very important time period in female revolution?
Professor Hammond: Women’s issues affect everyone — women’s right are human rights, and everyone should be fighting for them. This is definitely a unit of the course where I want to be careful not to lecture all class and to make extra, extra sure that female students have every opportunity to speak their mind. But in general, I’m really proud to be able to talk about Riot Grrrl — and especially to introduce it to people who haven’t heard of it before.
Riot Grrrl is such a broad topic. There are so many inspiring women involved, music bands, zines, conventions, marches and so much more. How did you pick and choose what you felt was important to teach to your class?
Professor Hammond: You’re right — it’s a massive topic,. In terms of bands, I wanted to choose those that connected most directly to the course’s focus on DIY and to the incredible Olympia indie scene. Thankfully, the three bands that best fit this description are the three “canonical” first-generation Riot Grrrl bands: Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Heavens to Betsy. I selected two types of zines: ones connected directly to these bands (so, Jigsaw, Girl Germs, Bikini Kill, riot grrrl); and ones that exposed the gaps in the (mostly white, suburban, middleclass) worldview put forth in these earlier zines (so, zines like Gunk and ISFB). The amazing Riot Grrrl Collection (edited by Lisa Darms) has really good selections from all these zines, which made locating good copies easy. Also, I had some help from Anna Culbertson in the SDSU Library’s Special Collections in selecting zines. As for the main political touchstones, I relied heavily on Sara Marcus’s book Girls to the Front, which is really important for emphasizing that Riot Grrrl was first and foremost a political movement, not just a style of music.
How much of a significance do you feel Riot Grrrl has played on the ongoing revolution for woman?
Professor Hammond: Riot Grrrl was incredibly important for a lot women I know who grew up in the 90s, and it’s not something they left behind. Riot Grrrl — the music, the zines, the culture, the attitude — are still a big part of who they are. Going to the all-female Burger-a-Go-Go festival in Santa Ana in September and seeing the (young and mostly female) crowd go crazy for Kathleen Hanna’s headlining performance with The Julie Ruin Band reminded me that Riot Grrrl didn’t end in the 90s, but continues on. And that make sense, since the issues Riot Grrrl was fighting back then (rape, sexual assault, reproductive rights, a patriarchal legal system, inequality in all its forms) haven’t gone away, either.
Do you feel like things would be different or the same for women if the Riot Grrrl time period had never happened? Why?
Professor Hammond: I 100% believe that Riot Grrrl made the world a better place, because any movement that gives a voice to people who didn’t have one, and empowers people to tell their stories, makes the world a better place.
Last question, what is your personal opinion on women wanting to fight for equal rights as men, as well as, them just wanting to be who they want to be and not be branded by the societal stereotypes that they are continuously bombarded by?
Professor Hammond: I support their fight with all my being! It was a long time coming, but the modern women’s movement has made a lot of progress in a relatively short time. There’s still so much to do, though. I want to support the movement however I can.
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