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Kathleen Hanna and the Riot Grrrl Movement

Who is Kathleen Hanna?

An iconic punk-rock feminist and activist, Kathleen Hanna has founded various bands such as Le Tigre and Bikini Kill. Bikini Kill was considered a very influential musical group in the 90s as Hanna used it to promote feminism and inspire the groups of young people that would come to her shows. In an interview through PBS, Hanna describes the issues she would face due to some of the controversial opinions that she and the rest of her band expressed.

Hanna describes her experience in forming a band and touring, where she had “no management” and had to essentially deal with all booking and problems alone. Spreading awareness of the feminist cause, Hanna would encourage any woman at a show to put hearts and stars on her hand to show that she believed in the feminist cause and could then link up with other similar-minded women. This act and its relation to the Riot Grrrl movement is so prevalent that elements of it are still visible today, such as in the Netflix movie “Moxie” (2021 dir. Amy Poehler) that is based on the book by Jennifer Mathieu. Naturally, Hanna and her band had to deal with backlash and being called “man haters,” among other things, but that didn’t slow them down.

In 1991, Kathleen Hanna published the “Riot Grrrl Manifesto,” which outlined everything that she stood for as she gathered like-minded women to create this long-lasting movement. By melding the alternative music scene with messages of feminism, anti-racism, and pro-LGBT+ sentiments, Hanna was the frontrunner of the entire Riot Grrrl movement that aimed to challenge the status quo.

What is a Riot Grrrl?

Now that you know a little bit about Kathleen Hanna, you might be wondering what a Riot Grrrl actually is. The entirety of the movement started in the early 1990s in Olympia, Washington, where a group of women met up to discuss sexism within the punk-rock scene. The general consensus was that these women were sick of being trampled by men, and they wanted to overcome gender discrimination both within their genre of music and as a whole. Thus, the Riot Grrrl was born.

Riot Grrrls were not only a feminist movement. They rose up against capitalism, materialism, racism, and homophobia — in addition to smashing the patriarchy, of course. The ideologies expressed by Riot Grrrls are evident throughout the lyrics of their songs. Anti-consumerism and anti-capitalism can be seen in the lyrics of “Price Tag” by Sleater-Kinney, where “I was blind by the money/ I was numb from the greed” sends a pretty clear message. Not only did these bands have specific lyrics that ignited passion and protest, but they created what is considered a “Riot Grrrl identity in the 90s” according to Lindsay Wright.

Riot Grrrl Identity

The basis of Riot Grrrl Identity is, of course, the “Riot Grrrl Manifesto” by Kathleen Hanna. Here she outlines the purposes of the Riot Grrrls, and the systems they intend to dismantle. Hanna states that the intent of the Riot Grrls is to overcome sexist stereotypes and “figure out how bullshit like racism, able-bodieism, ageism, speciesism, classism, thinism, sexism, anti-semitism and heterosexism figures in our own lives.” Girls supporting girls as they rose above the constraints of society was the essence of a movement that still exists today. 

For Riot Grrrls, music was their method of protesting. Harsh lyrics on the topics of feminism, rape, incest, and eating disorders created an entire genre of music by women, for women. Inspiring listeners to become active in the Riot Grrrl cause as well as providing comfort to women who have shared in these struggles and experiences is how Hanna and the rest of the Riot Grrrls decided to use their anger to take on the world. The sharing of ideas and opinions about topics that are considered “taboo” united women who felt like their voices were silenced when it came to issues such as harassment. 

Riot Grrrl culture is known for being “Do It Yourself.” As seen with Kathleen Hanna having to manage her band alone, the ethic of facing problems head-on and sharing your voice without help was an integral part of being a Riot Grrrl. Women would organize their own music shows, art shows, and other gatherings in order to express themselves and find a creative outlet. This is how these women were able to support each other and express themselves, while also relating to the shared experience of being a woman.

So, You Wanna Be A Riot Grrrl?

Being a modern Riot Grrrl is pretty simple. Take on the ideology of a Riot Grrrl and stand up for feminism and equality. Support your fellow girls, live your life the way you want to, and break through the stereotypes that say that girls are weak or stupid. Don’t be afraid to share your personal experiences about what it’s like to be a woman, especially with other women who take comfort in the fact that we all go through things such as body image issues or harassment. And most importantly, listen to some awesome feminist punk rock bands such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, L7, Seven Year Bitch, or Pussy Riot.

Sources:

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/kathleen-hanna-the-linda-lindas-and-a-30-year-riot

https://www.npr.org/2019/08/12/749456007/kathleen-hanna-bikini-kill-rebel-girl-rock-camp-american-anthem

https://commons.lib.jmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1018&context=jmurj&httpsredir=1&referer=

https://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/riotgrrrlmanifesto.html

https://www.nypl.org/blog/2013/06/19/riot-grrrl-movement

Jess Alschuler

CU Boulder '25

Jess is a sophomore at CU Boulder pursuing an Aerospace Engineering degree with a certificate in Engineering Leadership. In the future, she hopes to start a career as an Aerospace Engineer working with NASA. She enjoys running, hiking, reading, and mountaineering in her free time.