Riot Grrrl turns 15

Last week, Guardian writer Laura Barton gave readers a history lesson, taking us back 15 years to Olympia, Wash., where Riot Grrrl was born.

It’s hard to imagine what my life would be without riot grrrl, despite the fact that I got to it well after many of its founders were on to other things. Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Bratmobile and Team Dresch proved to the world that punk rock was not just a boys club, and, let’s be honest, got many of us through high school.

Bikini Kill

“By conventional standards,” Barton writes, “Riot Grrrl, the underground feminist punk movement that began in the early 1990s, certainly wasn’t pretty; it was angry and subversive — it mocked the doe-eyed, perfectly groomed cheerleader aesthetic, it was pierced and tattooed and wore its skirts short. It was loud and unapologetic and vocal.”

“Broadly speaking Riot Grrrl was about the female voice. It was about music — being in bands, not watching them or being groupies &mdash but it was also about finding a voice through writing, via fanzines; and it was about a political voice: anger about society’s treatment of women, with domestic abuse, rape, sexuality, the need for safer streets, abortion rights and equal pay among the issues.”

The Butchies

You didn’t have to live in Washington to be part of the movement — The Lunachicks in New York, The Muffs and L7 in L.A., The Butchies in North Carolina, Babes in Toyland in Minneapolis, Huggy Bear in Brighton, England and dozens more decided to take the stage and tell the sexist, punk rock boys clubs to f–k off. The bands also got young women fired up about political issues, surely spawning some of today’s fiercest activists.

Sara Marcus, a writer, former member of Washington D.C.’s Riot Grrrl chapter in the 90s and curator of a queer reading series in New York is penning a history of the movement.

“Riot Grrrl was a total blast,” Marcus told Barton. “All of a sudden I had this posse of girls, girls in my town and girls I hadn’t met yet. We’d go to shows together and dance right up front, and we’d pour our guts out at meetings and write the most passionately honest letters and zines to one another.”

The article discussed how, when Nirvana and grunge took off, Riot Grrrl became written off as a fashion craze rather than a feminist movement. But for those of us inspired by it, that could not be further from the truth. Meeting like-minded women, challenging gender stereotypes and becoming aware of how patriarchal and homophobic leaders can eafect your life was a lesson we all needed — through zines, songs, whatever.

“In the early 90s, feminism was largely the domain of academia,” Marcus says. “The women’s movement didn’t have a language for reaching young women. The language and ideas of Riot Grrrl have permeated the culture and made this more participatory, messy, vernacular feminism available to everybody.”

The impact Riot Grrrl had can be seen musically today. You can’t listen to bands like Mika Miko, The Dials, The Gossip, Erase Errata and the New Bloods without knowing what some of these band members listened to growing up.

Mika Miko

No word yet on when Marcus’ book will be released, but we will definitely be keeping you posted. Until then, I have some Bratmobile to listen to. It’s been too long.

Did Riot Grrrl change your life, too?