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“When She Talks, I Hear The Revolution” – The Rise of Riot Grrl

The Riot Grrrl revolution began as an underground feminist movement, which aimed at establishing  women as a paramount force in punk rock.  Additionally, the movement fostered a subculture, consisting of fanzines, political activism and individual empowerment.  


During the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, the number of alternative female musicians rose dramatically.  Musicians such as Siouxsie Sioux (of Siouxsie and the Banshees), The Raincoats, Joan Jett and Patti Smith provided the impetus for women to “pick up a guitar”, rather than complacently “sit pretty.”  


In 1987, the magazine “Sassy” premiered.  The magazine grappled with controversial societal issues whilst other adolescent magazines failed to. Furthermore, the magazine viewed its young female readers as multidimensional beings, with thoughts and emotions broader than the concern of acceptance.  An article published in 1989 entitled, “Women, sex and rock and roll” became the first public platform for the movement.  

 The term “Riot Grrrl” was coined in 1991, in reference to the Mount Pleasant race riots of the aforementioned year.  Together, photography student, Kathleen Hanna, and disk jockey, Toby Vail, reacted to the violence by creating an original zine, as well as the punk rock band, Bikini Kill. Hanna stated, “I felt completely left out of the realm of everything that is so important to me.  I know that this is partly because punk rock is for and by boys mostly.”   Her performances were described as “fiery” and imbued with passion.  Additionally, the weekly zine dealt with racism, patriarchy and sexual abuse and was met with a devoted cult following.  The movement officially became a central component of Pacific Northwest culture.


 Despite denouncing the movement, the alternative rock band “Hole” became a defining figure in the emerging feminist movement of the Pacific Northwest.  Lead singer and lyricist, Courtney Love, unabashedly proclaimed her rage in resolute performances.  Songs such as “Jennifer’s Body” and “Violet” discussed topics such as rape, motherhood, anger and suicide in an undaunted fashion.  In 1994, the bands sophomore album “Live Through This” was released with critical acclaim, symbolizing Courtney’s cathartic means of survival.  


In 1994, the band “Sleater-Kinney” formed in Olympia, Washington.  The band has been noted as “one of the most blatantly talented and important bands of the 90’s and 2000’s.  Additionally, the band was a key component of the Riot Grrrl movement and subsequently third-wave feminist consciousness.  By incorporating societal ills of the era, the band echoed the likes of 1960’s folk musicians.  Undoubtedly, they called women around the world to arms.  

As of 2010, the “Riot Grrrl Collection” has been held at New York University’s Fales Library and Special Collections.  The collections chief objective is “to collect unique materials that provide documentation of the creative process of individuals and the chronology of the Riot Grrrl movement overall.”  Kathleen Hanna of “Bikini Hill” and Carrie Brownstein of “Sleater-Kinney” have each donated primary source materials. Hanna has stated that she feels the collection is “free from feminist erasure.”  
In the 21st century, the Riot Grrrl Movement is not devoid of relevance, but rather a fervid reminder of the power in social transformation.  Indeed, it is a potent revolution which will remain timeless.  


Tori Shaw is a student at Franklin & Marshall College majoring in Cognitive Science and Creative Writing. She aspires to be an intellectual property lawyer and poet someday, and is currently the Co-Campus Correspondent for F&M's Her Campus chapter.
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