Review by Gladys-Katherina Hernando
“This society isn’t my society cuz this society hates women and I don’t. This society doesn’t want us girls to feel happy or powerful in anyway.” –Bikini Kill 1
“It’s exciting to study about sexism in school because it gives you a feeling of power just to actually be able to admit that things like oppression actually do exist and affect your life.” –Excerpt from May 9, 1990, letter from Tobi Vail
“Because every time we pick up a pen, or an instrument, or get anything done, we are creating the revolution. We ARE the revolution.” –Flyer, What is Riot Grrrl?
Dear sweet readers, friends, + future dates,
What is riot grrrl???
Riot Grrrl was an underground feminist punkrock movement begun in the early 1990s. Twenty years after its peak, some might be familiar with its general ethos but its true legacy is a revision of feminism, a fuck-your-girl-hating, lipstick wearing, violence resisting, grrrl empowerment that gave voice to a generation of women that still reverberates.
Highly influenced by Kathleen Hanna and Johanna Fatemen (of the bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre), among others, Riot Grrrl started in Olympia, Washington, but quickly spread to New York and D.C. and further circulated with seeds of the Seattle sound from Nirvana to Sleater-Kinney and the East coast punk scene led by Fugazi. In a 1992 article in Newsweek, Riot Grrrl reached the masses through the medium they were fighting against, corporate media. The article was picked up by other magazines like Seventeen and Rolling Stone, which allowed the movement to affect many more grrrls across the country.
I remember Riot Grrrl. A teenager growing up in in Miami, I remember thinking that those grrrls were tough and they were fearless. I bloomed with the possibilities. In 1994 at a “Rock Against Domestic Violence” show, I stood elbow to elbow with an army of other girls becoming grrrls to see Babes in Toyland and a local favorite Jack Off Jill.
But Riot Grrrl was not just about music.
In a time when feminism is being re-written as the simplistic pop of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In or as the declared death of patriarchy by Hanna Rosin in The End of Men, Riot Grrrl is a timely reminder of action and activism, of subversive models and the relevancy of youth movements.
The Riot Grrrl Collection is a much needed treasury of archival material, personal papers, handmade zines, flyers, notebooks, and lyrics that document 7 years (1989–1996) of the movement’s progression. Published by The Feminist Press, The Riot Grrrl Collection is edited by NYU Fales Library Senior Archivist Lisa Darms, who started the archive with initial papers donated by Hanna and Fateman. Thanks to Darms the Fales Library Downtown Collection now holds the entire Riot Grrrl archive, available to the public. The catalogue contains a fascinating selection of excerpts, letters, and early fanzines that portray the legacy of Riot Grrrl as a movement with purpose and a clear voice. It is not just an homage to the ’90s or to punk or even radical feminism, but to the ongoing need for women (and men) to question gender, power, and society’s values.
The messages compiled into The Riot Grrrl Collection finally put some historical perspective on a culturally specific moment. Not just an ideology, the Riot Grrrl zines are full of references and discussions of significant literary figures, feminist theory, and preceding artists from Audre Lorde to David Wojnarowicz, fueling a desire for knowledge and education. But more so, these documents present a model of feminism based on experience and interactions between women, not just in terms of economic liberation or conquering the corporate ladder, but in the recognizing the way that change actually happens: one person at a time and those single voices joining in chorus. Things haven’t changed enough. Grrrls still need to stand together.
My Girlfriends Want Revolution Grrrl Style Now.
Lisa Darms (Ed.), The Riot Grrrl Collection, (The Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2013)
Images: Cover and interior of The Riot Grrrl Collection