Riot Grrrl

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Can women rock harder? Without a doubt. This month The Knowledge burns a bra with Riot Grrrl…
Before the rather misleading (faux) Girl Power phenomenon championed by the feminist pretenders the Spice Girls, women were already rocking it harder than men. By the late 80s, the punk scene was solely a male affair. Girls were left out of the equation and were often abused at gigs. This prompted a bunch of brave women to form their own bands to kick punk machismo square in the nuts.

Although they deny exclusive credit for the movement, Bikini Kill and Bratmobile were probably the first Riot Grrrl bands. Based in Olympia in Washington, they shared interests in feminism and punk rock. They also created DIY-zines to spread the message.

1991 was an eventful year for feminism. The Christian Coalition’s Right to Life attack on legal abortion, the mainstream media’s mocking of Anita Hill’s sexual harassment accusations and the Mount Pleasant race riots all fueled the hunger for change. In a letter from Bratmobile member Jen Smith to co-member Allison Wolfe, she wrote: “This summer’s going to be a girl riot.” With the battle cry of “Revolution Girl Style Now!” more and more girl bands took arms to level the balance of power. Through DIY zines and indie labels like Kill Rock Stars, a movement slowly grew out of the sisterhood.

Riot Grrrl bands often addressed issues such as rape, domestic abuse, sexuality and female empowerment. During shows, bands would ask male audiences to make space for girls to mosh in front of the stage. Words like ‘rape’ and ‘slut’ were written in black marker pens on the exposed stomachs or bare arms of Riot Grrrls to drive a fierce message of defiance. The media took this to mean they were ‘man-haters’ when in fact, Riot Grrrls were fighting for the rights of all gender minorities and believed in equality.

As media attention grew, Riot Grrrl’s message was lost. Many less political (and less independent) female rock acts such as Hole, Veruca Salt and even No Doubt were wrongfully categorized as Riot Grrrl bands. Accused of dragging feminism into the mosh pit, the Riot Grrrl community called for “a press block”. By the mid-90s, Riot Grrrl had lost its appeal among young women who were now into the somewhat dubious “Girl Power”.

Fortunately today, the roar of Riot Grrrl can still be heard from the legions of girl bands influenced by this movement and the countless Riot Grrrl chapters around the world who continue to support feminism and sisterhood. You go, Grrrl!!!

A Riot Grrrl’s take on feminisim
“The whole point of Riot Grrrl was that we were able to re-write feminism for the 21st century. Feminism was a concept that our mothers and that generation had… It was written in a language that was academic, that was inaccessible to young women. And we took those ideas and re-wrote them in our own vernacular.
Corin Tucker (Heavens to Betsy and Sleater-Kinney)

Proto-riot grrrls
Patti Smith
Yoko Ono
The Go-Gos
Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon

Essential Riot Grrrl Album
Revolution Girl Style Now! by Bikini Kill

Riot Grrrl Heroines
Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill / Le Tigre
Allison Wolfe of Bratmobile / Partyline
Corin Tucker of Heavens to Betsy / Sleater-Kinney
Molly Neuman of Bratmobile / Love Or Perish. Runs her own indie label and co-owns Lookout! Records. Manager for The Donnas, Ted Leo, Some Girls and The Locust.

Significant Riot Grrrl Concerts
L7’s Rock for Choice Pro-choice benefit concert in 1991 which featured Nirvana, Hole, L7, and Sister Double Happiness.
International Pop Underground Convention 1991 An all-female bill on the first night called Love Rock Revolution Girl Style Now signalled a major step in the movement. Many zinesters finally met here.

Riot Grrrl Fashion
Kinderwhore was a look consisting of torn and ripped babydoll dresses or nighties, heavy makeup, leather boots, and leather “Mary-Jane” shoes of various colours and exposed cleavage. Mmm….

Local Riot Grrrls
Devil Dolls

Riot Grrrl Math
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs + The Pixies + Destiny’s Child = Santogold
Bikini Kill + Baseball Bat + Johnny Bravo = Hospital Bill
Powerpuff Girls + Goth Makeup + Canada = Avril Lavigne

Text Ben Liew