When I arrived at Excentris theatre on Montreal’s St Laurent boulevard, it was a last-ditch effort to put RIDM tickets I had received for my birthday to good use. I had been to the Montreal International Documentary Film Festival a week earlier, and sat through forty agonizing minutes of bizarre, uncomfortable silence watching different groups of people ride a Nepalese cable car on loop. It sounds interesting, I know – but unfortunately the film was not for me, and after nudging my friend awake, I left the theatre thoroughly disappointed. We chose Sini Anderson’s The Punk Singer for our second viewing. Let me lay this out for you: I don’t like punk music. That sounds pretentious but, I don’t. Full disclosure: I don’t know a lot about the punk music scene, save to say the style of music – loud, disruptive, in your face – just doesn’t do it for me. Why I let myself be convinced to sit through two hours of nothing but punk scene revelation is really beyond me.
I’ll admit, I’m not terribly familiar with Bikini Kill or the feminist punk movement. Feminism is a touchy subject for most because it, like punk music, is often loud, disruptive and in your face. Don’t get me wrong – I’m a feminist, but it isn’t something I force on people. I tend to remain quiet about my social, political, religious views. It was with that mindset that I watched the first five minutes of The Punk Singer, a 2013 documentary about punk feminism (or is it feminist punk?) and the life and struggles of punk’s original riot grrrl, Kathleen Hanna. By the time the film began unfolding, I was a convert. Here was proof that the things I didn’t understand about punk, and about feminism, were exactly the things that made them so great. Hanna’s own struggle being a riot grrrrl and feminist woman in music was moving, inspirational, and altogether pretty badass. What I didn’t understand prior to watching The Punk Singer was the importance of the paths paved by iconic women like Kathleen Hanna, Kim Gordon, Lynn Breedlove, and Corin Tucker: creating a safe space for girls at concerts, and a space for girls in music industry at large, is something that I owe a lot to. Much of the Daring to be yourself in an industry that so often tells you what to do and how to act and who to be is, really, a phenomenon, and Kathleen Hanna is a leader in that respect.
I don’t want to ruin the film for you. I do want to encourage you to watch the film – it’s a touching story and an incredibly well-produced piece – and understand the concept for yourself. Maybe The Punk Singer didn’t change the fact that punk music just isn’t for me, but it did help me to understand, appreciate and respect it for what it is. Maybe The Punk Singer didn’t change me into a feminist extremist, but it did change my outlook. It introduced me to a movement that changed the face of contemporary music, and above all, show me that there’s a little riot grrrl in all of us.