Start a Riot, Grrrl!
“BECAUSE I believe with my wholeheartmindbody that girls constitute a revolutionary soul
force that can, and will change the world for real.”
- Riot Grrrl Manifesto, Bikini Kill Zine 2, 1991
Riot Grrrl makes people uncomfortable. The music is loud, the lyrics are explicit and often deal with subjects society tends to silence; the womxn are bold and unafraid to use their voices. But it is supposed to make people uncomfortable. Change does not happen without being loud, without making people uncomfortable. Since March is Women’s History month, let’s talk about feminist protest music, specifically Riot Grrrl.
The Riot Grrrl movement began in 1990 with a meeting of several womxn organized in Olympia, Washington. The womxn discussed the prevalence of sexism in the punk scene, and the lack of female voices in punk music. They decided to start a “girl riot.” Zines–small, self published magazines used largely by marginalized groups–were used to spread information and organize womxn across the United States. Notably, Kathleen Hanna, one
of the loudest voices of Riot Grrrl and singer in the band Bikini Kill, started the Bikini Kill Zine in 1990 and released the Riot Grrrl Manifesto in Bikini Kill Zine 2 in 1991. The Riot Grrrl Manifesto is exactly what it sounds like–it powerfully voices the grievances and objectives of the Riot Grrrl Movement. You can read it here (it does contain some explicit content).
The punk scene, notoriously absent of female voices and full of toxic masculinity, was filled with Riot Grrrl bands: Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, Team Dresch, Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy, Calamity Jane, and more. Bikini Kill’s song Rebel Girl became the anthem of the movement with lyrics like “when she talks, I hear the revolution / in her hips, there’s revolution.” Riot Grrrl lyrics celebrated womxn’s sexuality and voiced the anger in their oppression, anger that was (and is) constantly silenced and deemed ‘un-ladylike’ by society. Riot Grrrl artists were a form of protest in themselves through their mere existence in the industry, as well as through their provocative lyrics.
Over 30 years have passed since the start of the Riot Grrrl movement, and womxn remain the one of the most underrepresented groups in the music industry. So, to the girls reading this, don’t be afraid to make people uncomfortable; be loud, be bold, because you “can, and will change the world.”
Find some notable Riot Grrrl songs here (warning for explicit content)
Read Riot Grrrl Zines here