By Marian Phillips
Marian is a first year student in the Women’s History Graduate Program.
I find it appropriate to provide the reader with a warning of the content that follows. The following post contains mentions of rape, violence towards women, self-defense, and the work of women in punk rock in creating organizations that seek to keep women safe from violence.
The night of July 7, 1993, Mia Zapata of the Gits was walking home from the Seattle, Washington bar the Comet Tavern, where she had frequently held performances and lived a short distance from, when she was brutally raped and murdered. Her death largely impacted the growing Riot Grrrl movement and feminist punk culture in Seattle and its surrounding areas. Feeling compelled by the death of Zapata, Valerie Agnew of Seven-Year Bitch, amongst other artists, formed the Home Alive collective. The organization is dedicated to keeping women safe by providing affordable workshops on self-defense, anger management, and weaponry training. Punk feminist icons Joan Jett and Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill) wrote “Go Home” as their own response, and similarly to Agnew, used their platform to advocate women to take the necessary actions for their protection against threats of violence.
Women of punk demanded that their worth as humans and as women should be recognized, working tirelessly to ensure that they would not lose someone else to the violence women potentially faced, and continue to face on a day-to-day basis. The considerable effort put forth by Agnew in assisting in the formation of the Home Alive collective in 1993 reflects the necessity to encourage the creation of safe spaces for women, and to destigmatize fighting back against an assailant. They formed the collective in the hopes of not only providing supportive and crucial self-defense training to their community, but also to women with lower incomes, and those that were homeless. In 2018, the collective continues to provide the resources previously mentioned for everyone and anyone that needs them. Their website features visual aids that show women the ways that they can defend themselves against a variety of violent acts such as racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and gender-based violence. With the assistance of mainstream punk women icons such as Hanna and Jett, Home Alive grew exponentially and opened up a larger conversation socially and culturally on the lack of protection women have against harm that continues to this day.
The music video Jett and Hanna created for their song “Go Home” is a call to arms for women who do not feel safe. A punk rock anthem for self-defense, the video features Jett defending herself against a potential assailant. As the protagonist grows increasingly aware that the man on the public transportation system has the intent to harm her, she fights back as he attempts to assault her; the video ends as the woman walks home, safe from harm. The video expresses to the viewer that any woman can be a victim of these heinous crimes, and addresses the importance of knowing how to defend oneself in order to get home safely.
These are only a few of the ways that women in the punk rock industry have worked towards creating a safer environment for themselves, their fans, and women as a whole. As I reflect on my time spent amongst people of the same mentality in the music scene, I noticed that their tireless work oftentimes is overlooked. By recognizing the efforts that women continue to put forth in bettering the spaces they navigate for themselves and their community, it leads to larger conversations on violence that women face, and the work that they must do, and that they have to do to keep themselves and other women safe.
This post is dedicated to Mia Zapata, as well as the countless individuals who have lost their lives to violence and the survivors of violence. Please find below a short list of numbers that may assist you or someone you know, as well as the link for the Home Alive Collective’s website.
The Rape Crisis Hotline: 210-349-7273
National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-4673
U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline: 800-799-7233
The Home Alive Collective Website: https://www.teachhomealive.org/