Published on The Daily Femme – Thursday, Nov. 4, 2010
Contributed by Annamarya
No feminist movement is as misunderstood as Riot Grrrl. Most see the early to mid-’90s movement as just a musical genre which it wasn’t, although the movement sparked a number of bands, like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Heavens to Betsy to put its message into musical form. Others view it as an era of man-hating “femininazis,” a stigma that identifies the staunch reluctance to take seriously a group of impassioned young girls changing the way women were treated and viewed. And the media, by all means, either minimized its impact, like this 1992 Newsweek article, “REVOLUTION, GIRL STYLE,” completely got it wrong or are completely confused by its intentions–just read Wikipedia’sgeneralization of it:
Riot grrrl was an underground feminist punk movement based in Olympia, Washington, which existed in the early to mid-1990s, and it is often associated with third-wave feminism (it is sometimes seen as its starting point). However, riot grrrl’s emphasis on universal female identity often appears more closely allied with second-wave feminism than with the third wave. Riot grrrl bands often address issues such as rape, domestic abuse, sexuality, and female empowerment…In addition to a music scene, riot grrrl is also a subculture;zines, the DIY ethic, art, political action, and activism are part of the movement. Riot grrrls are known to hold meetings, start chapters, and support and organize women in music.
While the meat of the Wikipedia entry is right, it defines Riot Grrrl in such a way that it reduces the movements to benchmarks. Riot Grrrl wasn’t just based in Olympia, Washington, it spanned the country, from Washington State to Washington D.C. to Minneapolis. There was no “in addition to a music scene,” it was an entire subculture, a radical feminist era focusing on issues of domestic and sexual violence, sexuality, abortion rights and female empowerment. They employed the DIY ethos to get their message heard, whether it was starting chapters, holding meetings and conventions, producing handmade ‘zines, art, or music, engaging in political action or activism, or all of the above. At its core, Riot Grrrl was “an uncompromising movement of pissed-off girls with no patience for sexism and no intention of keeping quiet,” as befittingly defined by Brooklyn writer Sara Marcus’ newest non-fiction book on the culture: Girls to the Front: The True Story of the RIOT GRRRL Revolution.
Girls to the Front is a necessary read if you’re looking for a definitive, accurate and passionate history of Riot Grrrl. Instead of zeroing in on the bands that may have shaped the movement for the mainstream, Marcus uses the accounts and perspicacity of individual girls on the front line of the movement, intertwining their dedication and fervor to Riot Grrrl and women’s rights through a cogent anapestic narrative. A five-year venture to complete, Girls to the Front places the reader directly in the moment, conjuring the same energy those connected to Riot Grrrl felt when it was at its peak and in a time when at-the-ready feminist blogs didn’t exist to connect them all so effortlessly from miles apart. But what’s most preeminent about the book is that Marcus doesn’t wrap Riot Grrrl in this pretty, obtuse bow. Instead, she explores the faction inside and out, giving equal footing to its internal conflicts and the public’s imprudent antiphon (be it a music industry capitalizing on an “angry girl with a microphone” aesthetic or the general disdain of anti-feminist detractors) as she does the paroxysm that propelled it without calumniating its purpose and impact on feminism. While Riot Grrrl have petered out, due to growing up as Marcus theorizes in the book, and while another movement like it may never exist again, the anger that drove it–the anger that comes from the continuing injustice in this world, whether it’s against women, children or the LGBTQ community–is still strong, still alive, still boiling deep inside of our stomachs. And, if Riot Grrrl and Girls to the Front teach us anything, it’s that that urgency is extraordinary, one not attenuated by resistance, so let it continue to fuel us in this fight.