“I’m not going to do anything for anyone any more; I’m not gonna look good for anybody because why should I? Then things started getting clearer in my mind. I can be whoever I wanna be, I don’t have to dress for anyone, I don’t have to look good for anyone, I don’t have to do anything for anyone. I can just be myself.”
Michael Lucid’s 1996 high school documentary, centers around the world of “the dirty girls” a group of 13-year-old riot grrls, slaying their fellow classmates with feminist zines and general “I don’t give a fuck what you think” attitude. The piece largely follows the two sisters, Amber and Harper Willat, who aren’t shy to express their forward-thinking views on rape and the oppression of the female gender, whilst those surrounding them mock and refer to their attitudes as “dime-store feminism.” Like being a 13-year-old high schooler isn’t scary enough without girls wearing black lipstick and Calvin Klein calling you out for it.
The documentary perfectly depicts the life of a 90’s teen and the struggles associated with then, and even now, the label of feminism.
The term “dirty girls” didn’t exactly come out of thin air, within the documentary Michael refers to a high school party where Amber and her friends smeared lipstick over their faces, as an attempt to just piss people off. The name clearly stuck, as Amber recalls one of the first times she was labelled with the “dirty” term:
“I went to camp and the first day I was at camp everyone said, I mean I didn’t even know these people, and everyone said that’s the girl that didn’t take a shower since Kurt Cobain died … I mean, that would be a long time not taking a shower.”
Says Amber, with a slight nonchalant expression on her face.
Apart from the automatic appeal of Liz Phair ‘Fire Up The Batmobile’ playing as a soundtrack for the piece, I couldn’t watch “the dirty girls” without finding links to when I was also just finding my feet within feminism. It took me a very long to confidently admit I was a feminist and even now, I still get the odd “oh, you’re a FEMINIST?” with a raised eyebrow and a step back, as if the word was some kind of infectious disease and at any moment I would sneeze and spread my feminist germs. Or maybe if I’m lucky some ignorant MRA member will drop the line “you’re only a feminist until you get some good dick in you.” Wrong, my decision of wanting to stand up for equal rights has nothing to do with your dick, but nice try attempting to make your narcissistic self relevant.
The term “dirty girls” used to categorize the girls isn’t exactly a strange or foreign concept within feminism today. I mean, feminists aren’t exactly referred to as “dirty” or anything like that, but it is true people STILL can’t get out of the ignorant habit of associating feminism with the negative. Apparently calling yourself a feminist, automatically means you’re bra burning lesbian that lives to slam the male ego.
Ironically, the majority of the documentary is dominated by girls sneering at what they call “dime store feminism” and one girl at one point actually says “I find it personally offensive that they’re fighting for women, because I’m a woman and, like, they’re not.” If anyone finds any logic behind this statement, please let me know, because I’m at a loss right there. The whole thing is petty really. A lot of the girls responding to “the dirty girls” movement at the time simply didn’t think Harper and her friends were entitled an opinion on half of the things they wrote about, essentially wanting them to stay in their distorted reality bubble of the “real world” more commonly referred to as high school
Although, not all hope is lost. One boy reading “the dirty girls” zine does surprisingly say
“I said, I think it’s brilliant. It’s like this Marxist critique of the world.”
Which I completely agree with. At such a young age, it’s astonishing to see how clear and confident in their views they were and, better still, how aware they were of the problems encompassing them. My awkward 13-year-old self slightly envies Amber and Harper who definitely had a lot more self-aware-ness and, let’s say, general wisdom than I did at age 13.
More than 18 years after the documentary was originally made, I think it’s still MORE than relevant. A lot can be learned from the dirty girls, whether it be their blasé attitude towards the hate they experienced or their “I’m not just gonna sit here and wait for equality.” Approach to feminism
All I can say is, LONG LIVE THE DIRTY GIRLZ.