Feature Culture

Girl Gang's Open Invitation

A pop singer turned punk rocker wants you to join her feminist collective by Isis Madrid

December 19, 2014

In a sun-dappled Los Angeles apartment, a quartet of young women sits down to breakfast after what looks like a punk rock sleepover party. But a distressing text message from a friend in need cuts short the cheerful morning. The women trade their pajamas for black t-shirts and their OJ for weapons and dash out the door. They quickly locate their troubled friend, who’s being harassed by a menacing, oblivious young dude. The quartet brandishes chains and box-cutters, chasing the guy away and straight into a raucous, all-female punk show. Soon enough, even the douchebag is embracing, and being embraced by, the no-holds-barred crowd. 

Not only does this scene comprise the music video for Kate Nash’s “Girl Gang,” a snarling feminist re-imagining of L.A. punk outfit Fidlar’s “Cocaine,” but it also serves as a visual metaphor for Nash’s actual Girl Gang. Yes, Nash, who gained her first platinum album with deceptively sweet pop songs a la fellow Brit Lily Allen, has started a “gang.”

“I want to create a forum, a support group, a collective out here. I want it to be a global thing too. So I am building and growing the idea of ‘Girl Gang’ and I want to encourage you to do the same,” the BRIT award-winner announced to her fans this summer. Citing long-standing issues such as pay inequality, body shaming, prostitution criminalization, victim blaming, and more, Nash asked herself, “What can I do to change any of this?”

Nash’s solution is to create a do-it-together safer space for feminists, inspired by her relatively recent relocation to Los Angeles. While the music video for the namesake song takes a literal approach, the idea behind the Girl Gang collective is a little more high-minded: bring together a group of feminists (women, men, nonbinary individuals) who will spark intelligent conversations and help each other set and reach personal and professional goals. For the inaugural Girl Gang meeting, Nash did just this.

“I just pulled together a bunch of girls to meet in my garage,” said Nash. “What I’d like to do is have a group that meets, and we can educate each other and … inspire one another, build our confidence and do exciting things together.” Indeed, ‘do’ is integral—it’s important to the group that what goes down in the weekly meetings leads to tangible outcomes. Thus the motto, “Do cool shit and change the world.”

I think it really boils down to instilling some confidence in someone.

Many of the flagship Girl Gang members come from Los Angeles’ punk and indie music scene. Among that group at Girl Gang’s first official meeting was Katy Goodman, Nash’s friend and dream-pop trailblazer (La Sera, ex-Vivian Girls). “Female friendships have always been the most important thing in my life, and as an adult it has been a mission of mine to maintain those relationships and let them flourish,” said Goodman of her attraction to the Girl Gang concept.

Nash cites Goodman as an early, inspiring Girl Gang success story, pointing to that first meeting when members were asked to describe their talents. “Katy started talking about her interest in video games and science and music, and how she always feels like she’s in a boys’ domain, and that’s what she’s always been told,” said Nash. “She’s very passionate about science and wants to bring that to girls.” Encouraged by her fellow members, by the next meeting Goodman had snagged a physics tutoring job, which Nash thinks is “just so fucking cool.”

Nash likens Girl Gang to a type of support group for women, and she’s used the meetings to share her own worries about record label dealings and the stresses of the music industry. “To just sit with 15 girls and get advice on something you’re going through, it can be really helpful,” said Nash. “I think it really boils down to instilling some confidence in someone. Katy Goodman said in one of our meetings that she realized that most girls don’t feel ok, and that really rung in my ears. Yeah, that’s what it is. You just don’t feel ok. You crucify yourself all the time about stupid stuff. We all do it, and it actually can really hold you back from doing stuff. … Trying to change that is something really important to me.”

Girl Gang member Ali Koehler (Upset, ex-Best Coast, ex-Vivian Girls) heard about the movement from her former bandmate Goodman and quickly signed up.

“As a child I just intuitively challenged the things I was told I could and could not do. I had an older brother, and … I insisted we be treated the same,” said Koehler. “It wasn't something I was taught, just a part of my personality. As I went through puberty I tried to retain that spirit, but it's really hard to do,” she continued. “Girls start to be objectified at a disturbingly young age, and it's really hard to not let that feed into your image of yourself and your role in the world. I still struggle with it.”

For Goodman, Girl Gang provides a way to break down the media-encouraged competition among women, especially artists and entertainers. “It takes active resistance. Being passive about the implied competition only gives it strength,” says Goodman. “As a woman, I have to go out of my way to show people that women make better teammates than enemies. Together, we can do awesome things, and it's important to tell the world.”

On that front, Girl Gang seems to be making waves. The group has evolved quickly over the past few months, holding its first public meeting in September at The Smell in downtown Los Angeles. It was a sold-out event that raised money for Santa Monica-based nonprofit I AM THAT GIRL and featured local acts Peach Kelli Pop, The Aquadolls, Colleen Green, and more. “This year’s been mainly about getting together, meeting each other,” said Nash. “Next year we’ll organize more activities and events together.”

Of the collective’s big-picture goals Nash imagines “a Girl Gang mansion with everyone living there together while running a Girl Gang company. Everyone’s welcome at the mansion. We want to give everyone confidence and happiness and love. And animals.”

Image courtesy Katenash.com

In the meantime, Girl Gang members contribute to its many endeavors while simultaneously developing their own hobbies and professional talents. Members have designed and crowdsourced everything from “How to Throw a Girl Gang Meeting” posters to “gang” jacket tutorials to an official fanzine. They have resources online for those looking to harness the positive power of the internet and start their own chapter. Girl Gang has already gone international with groups cropping up from Manchester, England to Brazil.

When a chapter has a particularly inspiring moment or wants to rally support for a political cause, they post and share with fellow Girl Gang members near and far via their many social networks. They go by girlgangyeah on Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. Similarly, Girl Gang chapters live-tweet and follow along with public meetings happening across the globe. “The internet can empower me as much as I can let it dumb me down. I’ve realized it’s a choice,” wrote Nash in her Girl Gang manifesto.

Girl Gang TV, which premiered December 18 courtesy of the videography talents of members Kelsey Hart and Sophia Muller, may be the best realization of the gang’s goals yet. Nash may not be able to squeeze everyone into her L.A. garage, but she hopes the YouTube channel will serve as a global forum.

“I was really inspired by Russell Brand’s channel, The Trews,” says Nash. “I think that it’s really empowering. I personally watch that in the morning with a coffee, and it helps me break down some of the stuff that’s going on.”

Girl Gang TV will feature everything from skateboarding tutorials to advice on fostering animals. Girl Gang members have plans to interview subjects like Elizabeth Kucinich, an executive producer of the film GMO OMG and the legendary Chicana punk frontwoman Alice Bag. “So just different things,” said Nash. “Some educational, some fun and interesting, some weird. We’ve got music sessions and stuff, photography. Advice in different fields. Comedy.”

Girls start to be objectified at a disturbingly young age, and it's really hard to not let that feed into your image of yourself and your role in the world

The TV project is somewhat of a reflection of Girl Gang itself, still in its infancy and hovering somewhere between the political roots of the riot grrrl movement and the question-everything philosophy behind FMLY, the radical creative collective behind The L.A. Fort with enclaves and followers across the country. Both Girl Gang and FMLY aim to foster creativity, politics, respect, anger, upheaval, democracy, conversation, planning, change, organization, open source everything, mindfulness, education, and support.

To borrow from FMLY co-founder Noah Klein’s interview with The FADER this summer regarding safer spaces and community building, “Nothing is defined, everything is relatively fucked, and to progress civically, aesthetically, relationally, and so forth, we each need to be open to criticism and encourage community discussion within a global conversation.”

Girl Gang hopes to continue to grow and develop, and if the specifics come across as undefined, that’s by design. The group’s demographic is anyone who cares about social justice and wants to meet like-minded people. The goal, vague as it may be, is positive change, be it on a political or personal level. Or better yet, both. There’s no definitive blueprint for social justice, and there never has been. Girl Gang hopes to speed along the process through community support.

“You can literally do anything you set your mind to,” says Koehler of the message Girl Gang imparts. “Don't make excuses, make actions.” 

Photos courtesy of Girl Gang Yeah / Instagram

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Girl Gang's Open Invitation A pop singer turned punk rocker wants you to join her feminist collective