Women Are Critical to Diversifying New York City’s Punk Scene and Beyond

It’s not easy being a modern day Riot Grrrl but someone’s got to do it

Thundera at Bushwick Public House // Photo by Kristine Villanueva

The basement of Bushwick Public House was adorned in stickers and graffiti.

It was dark aside from the Christmas lights hanging from the ceiling. On the other side of the room was a bar, the special, a can of Tecate and a shot for just five bucks. There was no stage, only the intense intimacy of having the lead singer of a band inches away from your face. The crowds danced with beers in hand, screaming the lyrics, “who do you think you are, motherfucker?!”

The attitude echoes a movement rooted in the 90’s punk scene in D.C and Washington state, called Riot Grrrl that centered around women’s empowerment, rights and issues. Many Riot Grrrl bands like Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney and Bratmobile addressed issues like rape, sexuality, racism and patriarchy. The underground or D.I.Y punk scene gave women the platforms that they needed for their music to be heard, even if that meant having to deal with inequality along the way.

“Men dominated the conversation for so long, always really, specifically white cis [gendered] men,” said Kate Hoos, guitarist of Lady Bizness. “It’s boring. It’s tired. And it’s not a reflection of the world we live in.”

Hoos and her friends threw the show for Lady Bizness’ latest E.P release, which boasted an all-female bill, a rarity for many places in the greater New York City area. Hoos has been going to shows for twenty years and as an organizer, prioritizes diversity in all the shows she puts together. Bands have benefitted from it.

Kate Hoos, Lady Bizness // Photo by Kristine Villanueva

“We’re very fortunate to come into a scene that’s all women”, said Debbie Rodriguez, bass and vocals for the Loneliers. “It’s inspiring.”

Even so, women still need their voices amplified.

Of the thirty-two million people who attended music festivals last year in the U.S., 51 percent of attendees were women. But on stage, there were way less.

The disconnect is rooted in male-dominated subcultures that eventually become mainstream festivals. Forrest Wickman sites examples in Slate like jam music at Bonnaroo, late-90’s indie rock at Coachella and 90’s alternative and grunge at Lollapalooza. But representation is only part of the problem. Women also feel that they need to be accepted to be fully integrated into the broader D.I.Y punk scene.

“Either you’re not radical enough or they don’t take you seriously as a musician so they think you don’t have anything of quality to say,” explained Bruni Lee, drummer for Thundera. “And it’s not fair because it’s excluding a lot of people who go to these shows, it’s excluding a lot of people for the music they make and it’s not taking women seriously.”

Because Rodriguez feels like feminism gets a bad rep, she explained that it would be easier for women to speak out against sexism if they didn’t have to do it alone. That in part, has to do with men also being vocal about women’s issues and helping to provide an avenue for discussion and correction.

Despite the hurdles they face, women find still support and community through underground music and hope to pave the way for other women in the future.

Debbie Rodriguez, the Loneliers // Photo by Kristine Villanueva

“At one festival, this little girl was in the front and dancing with us,” said Clarissa Aponte of Thundera. “Afterwards she came up to us and was excited that she got to see us play. That made me feel good. That’s inspiring the next generation and hopefully by then, they won’t have to deal with some of the things that we’re dealing with now.”

For the broader world of music, change all starts from the bottom up. For Hoos, it starts by recognizing and celebrating diversity in the punk scene.

“There are so many vital voices to be brought to the conversation by women, POC, queer people,” she said. “I don’t know if white men intended to shut these voices out actively, but however it happened, they did either by action or inaction, and it’s time that we change that.”

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I’m a student at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism, working with the D.I.Y Scene in the greater New York area. Want to talk or collaborate? Shoot me an e-mail: kristine.villanueva@journalism.cuny.edu

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