Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

When Wisdom Speaks Sparks Fly: Raging Grannies Perform Humor as Protest

Academic journal article Women's Studies Quarterly

When Wisdom Speaks Sparks Fly: Raging Grannies Perform Humor as Protest

Article excerpt

A group of elderly women using the persona of a granny are busy battling social and political dragons with wit, humor, songs, and dynamic actions, inflicting giggles on unsuspecting audiences and, from time to time, generating reactions from authorities. The Raging Grannies have developed the art of satirical songs and creative protests to draw the attention of public and authorities alike. The Raging Grannies are feminist activists who use humor for peace, social justice, women's rights, and environmental issues. "Theoretical subtext, comedic timing, and irreverence" (Gledhill 2005, 46) are used effectively by these women once called recycled teenagers. The Grannies like to point out that they are not entertainers but interveners on the political scene. With zest and flair and a dose of outrageousness they share their concerns. To the tune of "Hey, Look Them Over," they sing about their mission:

Hey, look us over,

Grannies proud and strong

Time to hear our voices,

Time to hear our song

Silent for too long,

Speaking up at last

'Cause now the earth

Is crying out

...

Hear the Grannies' voices sing!

The form of protest created by the Raging Grannies gives a voice to older women activists and resonates beyond national borders. Today, more than seventy dynamic groups of Raging Grannies are busy raising a little hell for authorities across Canada and the United States, and in Japan, Greece, and Israel. While there is no central organization and each group has autonomy to focus on its own concerns, there is a network established through Internet and un-conventions held every second year. This, then, is a network made resilient by local autonomy yet strengthened by the exchange of views, ideas, and songs through the Internet. The Grannies take their place in a tradition of women, often but not always mothers, who have taken risks for justice and peace: the Russian mothers who protested in the streets in the early 1900s demanding food as they watched their children grow hungry (Mandel 1975, Rowbotham 1972); or the South African women who protested the pass laws in the 1950s; or the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina in the 1970s who stared down the ruthless military junta that had disappeared and killed their sons and daughters, brothers, and husbands (Jayawardena 1986); or the Chilean women who made arpilleras, small fabric artworks depicting their lives, as a way to heal their broken hearts and communicate the horrors of life under the Pinochet regime (Agosin 1987). In this essay I look briefly at the Raging Grannies as a small group of women who creatively try to ring the alarm on social justice, human rights, and ecological issues. I examine their beginnings then look at their use of creativity and humor in songs and actions that relay their unique brand of feminist activism. This network of powerful women not only is challenging authorities and stereotypes of older women, but also broadening the notion of what it means to age while reinventing protest.

A BIT OF HISTORY

Outraged by the visits of nuclear warships and submarines from the United States to the harbor of their pristine city of Victoria, British Columbia, and by the lack of emergency plans for civilians, even after the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, exasperated by the danger looming in the surrounding waters and the sexism and ageism they have faced within the local peace group, a collection of older women step out of line and into the light after the Chernobyl disaster (Roy 2004). They sing to the tune of "The Campbells Are Coming":

We're fed up with knitting

Quietly sitting

We're fed up with missiles

We're blowing the whistle

The Grannies are raging, hurrah, hurrah!

On Valentine's Day, 1987, the members of the first group to be called Raging Grannies offered a big broken heart-an "Un-valentine"-to their elected representative for his lack of action on the nuclear arms issue; he was chairman of the federal defense committee at the time. …

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