ThesisCrazy!!!: Lily Davis

Congratulations to the class of 2020 on finishing their classes!! We’re celebrating senior week with our last few ThesisCrazys to show you all the awesome work our seniors have completed this year. Up Next: Lily Davis ’20!

Lily is a Psychology and FGSS major who wrote a thesis about the Riot Grrrl Movement and badass women in music history! Check it out below!!!


Wesleying: Hey Lily! What’s the title of your thesis?


Lily: “Be My Rebel Girl,” which is a lyric from a Bikini Kill song, and then “Locating Women in Music History and Revolution.”


Wesleying: I love that title! Which musicians did you focus on?


Lily:  In the Riot Grrrl section of my thesis, I focused a lot on Bikini Kill. I wrote a little bit about the band Hole, a band called L7, and another band called 7 Year Bitch. And then I also wrote three different case studies and I focused on the German pianist Clara Schumann, who was Robert Schumann’s wife, a jazz pianist from mid-century America named Mary Lou William, and Sister Rosetta Tharpe who was a crossover gospel solo guitarist.


Wesleying: What department did you write it for?


Lily: FGSS.


Wesleying: How did you come up with the idea?


Lily:  When I was younger, I used to go to this camp called Rock and Roll Camp for Girls. It was basically a week long and it was all for female-identifying people. I think they ranged from elementary school kids all the way up to people graduating from high school. And you would go to this camp and on the very first day you would form a band. Throughout the week, you would write a song. Everybody was kind of there for a different musical part. And then at the end of the week, we would perform it in a showcase and take on the identity of a band. You have a name, you have your song, and you make t-shirts that go with your band. Some really awesome band names I had in the past were Bad Hair Day and Awesome Boulevard. 


Since it was all female-identifying people, they had kind of a similar message that drove the Riot Grrrl movement, which was women empowerment. We had classes where we learned self defense, we made zines, it was all about being a woman and being a woman in music. So I took from that experience and wrote about Riot Grrrl, and more generally the erasure of women in music history. It really stemmed from that.


Wesleying: What was your favorite part to write?


Lily:  My third chapter was an analysis of Riot Grrrl music and methods. So I started with sound and I researched the vocal practices of Riot Grrrls. They screamed a lot in their music, they shouted, it wasn’t a lot of melodic changes, but it was really loud and intense. And then I looked at the lyrics, kind of what were they saying in their music? What were the common themes? I looked at self-presentation and performance style. So like, what were these radical things the Riot Grrrls were doing when they performed?  Some of them were stripping, some of them were doing very different things. And one person in particular, Kathleen Hanna, was a very traditional front woman of the Riot Grrrl movement. She had a practice of asking all the men in the room to move to the back at concerts, which was a really cool thing that happened during the Riot Grrrl movement. And then I also looked at  the aesthetics of Riot Grrrl and how they incorporated this “DIY (Do It Yourself)” theme within their music, through the dissemination of zines and then also their practice of women empowerment and girl solidarity. That was my favorite part.


Wesleying: What was the hardest part of your thesis to write?


Lily: I think the hardest part for me was that FGSS theses are generally pretty theory heavy. There’s a big emphasis put on feminist theory. We take a course junior or senior year on feminist theory. So I had all these ideas in my head of my experience, and what was happening in the musical world, but then to have to re-examine all of that through the lens of theory was fairly difficult for me to write. And I knew how that kind of music and this movement made me feel, but then to put it into academic terms and to incorporate that theory was very challenging for me.


Wesleying: How did the Coronavirus/Quarantine affect your thesis?


Lily: Yeah, totally.  I am somebody who very much compartmentalizes their life.  I would never do homework in my room, I always went and sat in my carrel in Olin or I was at Pi. And even when I’ve come home before and had to do academic work, I’ve always  gone to a coffee shop or a public library. So to have to move this heavy academic work and produce this writing at a high volume in my bedroom was really challenging for me. This crossover of  the personal and this school work that I had to do. I never wanted to do it when I was in my room, but, unfortunately, that was the only space I had to really focus on and what I had to do. So  just having that limitation on space and on different environments, I did not anticipate it would be that difficult. I also kind of thought coming home, “I’ll have so much more time, the days are just gonna be so long and it’s gonna be great.” But it did not end up being that way. It was actually really challenging.


Wesleying: So what was your favorite form of procrastination while writing your thesis and just during quarantine in general?


Lily: I guess I’ve been taking a lot of time to make meals. My meals are no longer like, go to the kitchen, grab something. For every single meal every day, I’ll spread ingredients out and take my time to cook, and it’s never just toasting a bagel anymore. It’s always very extravagant, which has been nice because sometimes it’s a lot of grab-and-go. Even though I had a kitchen in the Fauver that I lived in, I never felt like I had the time to make anything. And so I would definitely allot myself a half hour for lunch and then take like two and a half hours, for sure.


Wesleying: Have you made bread yet?


Lily: I actually made bagels the other day, and that was quite an achievement for me because they’re kind of high maintenance. You have to let the dough rise and form the bagels and boil them and then bake them, but it was really fun. And now I feel like post thesis submission I’ve been doing it even more.


Wesleying: What have you done since you’ve handed in your thesis? How have you embraced the free time?


Lily:  I live in Portland, Oregon, and the weather has been incredible. It’s pretty unusual for this time of the year, usually in the Pacific Northwest it’s just raining all the time. But we’ve had these sunny days, like every day. So I’ve been spending a lot of time outside. And I go on a lot of bike rides, or having meetups with my friends who live here, but from six feet apart. I’ve just been taking advantage of not having to be on my computer all the time and spending more time outside because the weather’s so nice.


Wesleying: That’s awesome!


Lily: I’m lucky.


Wesleying: So, if you could compare your thesis to any form of media, a TV show, a movie, or a song, what would it be?


Lily: That’s a really interesting question. I feel like when I was writing it, it had a very historical perspective. It presented very much as like a historical documentary, but one that went retrospectively and looked back on history and kind of pulled out narratives that maybe not everybody knows about. So it was really important to me to go back and be like, well, where were the people of color in the Riot Grrrl movement? Where was the queer community in the Riot Grrrl movement? Why when I ask somebody about Riot Grrrl, the only thing they can think of is Bikini Kill, some straight white women? Why? Why is that? So I think it would be one of those really well made HBO documentaries, where it’s a limited series that goes back and looks at women in music in a really interesting way.


Wesleying: What advice do you have for future thesisers in FGSS or those exploring the topics you did in your thesis?


Lily: I’m not sure if this is necessarily specific to FGSS, but being open to, especially if you’ve started the summer before your senior year or if you have already put some work into it or just have this idea of what you want to do, but to be open to that changing was really helpful for me.I had an idea of what I wanted to write about and think about, but once I got on campus and started getting feedback from my peers in FGSS and started meeting more regularly with my advisor, or even when I started to really put in the the brunt of the research, I found that it really changed. I think it changed for the better, and holding on to the idea I had back in April of my junior year when I wrote my proposal, it wouldn’t have been as good of a thesis as it ended up being. So for sure being open to shifting and changing and hearing from others. That was so helpful for me. 

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