Riot Grrrl Era

With the influx of 90’s nostalgia the term ‘riot grrrl’ has come back into circulation.

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A flyer to a Riot Grrrl event

What exactly is a riot grrrl? The term is typically used when describing early 90’s girl punk bands, like Bratmobile, Sleater-Kinney, The Gits and Bikini Kill. The nostalgia for this period seems focused on the fashion and music and there is less discussion of the social change during this movement. Author Sara Marcus argues in her novel, Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution, that it is necessary to set the record straight. Most of the stories that have been told about Riot Grrrl over the past decade reflect only a fraction of the movement’s real significance.

During the summer of 1991 Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail, of Bikini Kill, and

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Bikin Kill’s Kathleen Hanna

Allison Wolfe and Molly Neuman, of Bratmobile, are credited for coining the term riot grrrl, which developed slowly overtime. The women at first wanted to make punk accessible to women again. Being a lead singer for a band was seen as masculine at the time, creating a lack of feminine voice in the punk genre. The audiences as well were unfavorable to women due pushing and wild movements becoming a norm in the crowds. This made it hard for women to see or even take part; often they would end up in the back of the crowds.

The girls connected through music and DYI projects, most famously the zines, which were handmade magazines that discussed feminist issues and artwork. As the groups grew in number and success, they began to take on other issues, such as rape, sexism, racism, media and eating disorders. This was a time that many at the time thought of as the post-feminism era. It was believed that women were no longer oppressed and equal in every way. Members of the riot grrrls sought to expose the many ways that sexism still was an everyday occurrence through punk music, which was known for its blunt, angry lyrics. This was the beginning of what would be known as the third-wave of feminism.

The news of what these girls spread quickly. They appeared on different media

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Bratmobile performing

outlets and references to riot grrrls started appearing on television and music. In such a short period of time the term became a household term. However, the riot grrrls disappeared from the music scene as fast as they came it seemed. By 1994 many of the

original bands has split-up. The term “girl power” started being used by bands like the Spice Girls and their message became filtered, sometimes incorrectly, by the media. Many of the girls stayed active in the feminist movement however. Hanna has spoken at many pro-choice riots and speaks of plans of working again in the documentary, Punk Singer. Many of the other girls speak at events and continue to fight for women’s rights.


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