The women of Riot Grrrl profiled in Sara Marcus’s Girls to the Front are, on average, four to six years older than me. They were starting college when I was finishing junior high; they were impossibly cool and avant garde compared to my middle-class Iowa background; they were fierce, and completely unafraid. I knew about Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail (members of the band Bikini Kill) and other bands like Heavens to Betsy, Bratmobile, and Huggy Bear. I don’t think I realized that the movement was Riot Grrrl until much later since I wasn’t really part of that scene being on the younger side (hey, cut me some slack – at that point in time my favorite CDs were Janet Jackson and Mozart’s Don Giovanni; I was a snobby tweener/teen).
Riot Grrrl was a different kind of movement, coalescing out of the underground grunge scene and built on the backs of the girls and women who really wanted to make a difference in women’s lives. To be respected for playing really great guitar, not just “good for a girl.” To have control over their own bodies. To be loved for themselves, not for their ability to fit the commercially acceptable beauty mold. Many of the women were politically active and Riot Grrrl worked to put women’s rights back into public discussion at a time of a conservative feminist backlash (Supreme Court review of Roe v. Wade, the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, the first Gulf War, etc.).
What Sara Marcus does in Girls to the Front is to return the Riot Grrrls to their place in musical and political history. Having once been involved in the movement herself, Marcus interviewed many of the original Riot Grrrls to give an accurate perspective of the movement from someone who understood it from the inside. Mainstream press coverage of Riot Grrrl during the movement’s heyday was patronizing and often glossed over the women’s messages and abilities to focus instead on what the women looked like; the press objectified Riot Grrrl when Riot Grrrls didn’t want to be objectified. Marcus has created a compelling history that really fills in the gaps between the news and the reality much like the ‘zines that helped spread the word about Riot Grrrl.
And I thank her for it.
I remember reading about it being “trendy” to be a Riot Grrrl in one of the teen/tween mags – it was a “look” like Nirvana was “grunge” (unfortunately, I had no idea where to acquire anything like a ‘zine) – and there was no mention of political issues. Maybe I would have been more interested in Riot Grrrl when I was younger if I had known more about the politics and less about what a “Riot Grrrl” looked like or sounded like. Because there was no iconic Riot Grrrl – Riot Grrrl was created by women who didn’t want to fit into the “conventional” mold and they came in all shapes and sizes. I think I would have liked that.
Dear FTC: I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher.