I don’t know why it took me so long to get through this book. It’s not that I didn’t find it interesting or enjoyable. It was both. Sara Marcus takes on the heroic task of compiling together bits and pieces, memories and ephemera of the Riot Grrl Revolution, a teenage feminist movement that took place mostly between 1991 to 1994 (with happenings before and after that were associative).
I think what was disheartening at the onset of reading this book is that it opens with discussing the “We Won’t Go Back March for Women’s Lives” protest in Washington, DC on April 5, 1992. It was described as “the largest women’s rights demonstration in American history”…until now, I suppose. The book was published in 2010, so it’s pre-disastrous schism that has just occurred in the last election. So you can sense the irony or irate fury or both. Have we not made ANY PROGRESS? But after getting through it’s entirety, I can say yes we have. The Riot Grrl movement was flawed in similar ways of past feminist movements; it’s inability to identify intersectionality such as race and class. The majority of the girls (Yes, girls. They were very exclusive to female born cisgender individuals, which will be my next point.) were white from middle class families. This was the early 90’s so middle class meant somewhat cushy, not struggling working class. That’s not to say that some of these girls didn’t know the struggle and there were a few women of color, but the central discussions revolved around a binary of male/female, boys/girls trying to skirt around confronting ideas of privilege. We need to do better. White feminists (myself included) need to do better. I think the fire behind our current feminist wave is that many people are waking up and acknowledging this. And my next point, not one single page addressed trans, intersex, or gender non-identifying people. This club, in all it’s great intentions of having a safe haven for young women to hold meaningful discussions, support, and encouragement, lacked in it’s ability to include male-feminist-allies or open it’s doors to trans folk. I would argue that even when this book was published, feminism was not as inclusive as it has moved towards now. It’s not that trans people didn’t exist, but they weren’t invited to the table. Again, we need to do better, so I’m not going to call this an entire victory either.
The beginning of the movement was in Olympia, Washington and retold much of the accounts of Kathleen Hannah and the band Bikini Kill, though Hannah did not want to be viewed as the leader and would distance herself as time went on. The idea was to encourage young girls (high school and college aged) to learn instruments, start bands, and create a Revolution Grrl Style Now! Because so much of the retelling is based in music, and the author did her best efforts to interject song lyrics and vibrant descriptions, this book is begging to be made into a film, or have a soundtrack along with it.
This was pre-internet, so the way word got around was these new feminist bands going on tour playing small shows, encouraging girls to come to weekly meetings and starting chapters in their own city. Making zines was another major component, so it was sort of like an elaborate pen pal system. The downfall of course was that as this idea caught on, mainstream media wanted in and their perception was often problematic turning these genuine activists into a fashion trend, presenting them as having a certain look and leaving out, you know, the important shit. I should note that this coincides with the grunge movement turned fad and Toby, another member from Bikini Kill, dated Kurt Cobain before Nirvana blew up. So there was a general disdain for the mainstream having seen their friends tainted by it, Cobain getting hooked on drugs, and later killing himself. They were also rooted in a DIY anarchist mentality, so the interest of having true leadership that would progress the movement was frowned upon. Battles broke out over how media portrayed them and how some ladies didn’t obey the imposed media blackout and also personal differences among the women.
Here is why this book is important: in a patriarchal society, women aren’t seen as equal or taken as seriously as we should, let alone the voices of girls ages 15-23. These were some bad ass bitches (and I mean that in the most loving way) who took a stand. They wrote, they performed, they expressed themselves, stood up to inequality, and empowered each other. Many of the women in the book expressed gratitude that Riot Grrls helped them get through the angst of adolescence. If their story wasn’t archived and documented in these pages, it could have easily faded into oblivion. And you know what, FUCK THAT. They existed.We exist. Even if our rants and protests sometimes feel fruitless, it’s better than the alternative: complacency.