Riot grrrl is an underground feminist Punk rock movement that originally started in Washington, D.C.; Olympia, Washington; Portland, Oregon; and the greater Pacific Northwest in the early to mid-1990s - it is often associated with third-wave feminism which is sometimes seen as its starting point.
The easy, perhaps media-friendly narrative of Riot Grrrl would be that of a radical group destroyed by infighting – a favorite story of all those who seek to downplay the influence of radicalism. But if Riot Grrrl was never one single group or movement, then maybe its implosion was actually an explosion. Marcus writes that by 1996, the last Riot Grrrl chapters (in DC and New York) had closed. But in a postscript, she updates us on the current activities of all the girls profiled in the book. They are professors, students, writers, artists, and activists. They are making music and zines, and working with girls, women, and the elderly.
According to Marcus' Girls to the Front, the titular "riot" gestured at the undercurrent of political unrest in Washington, D.C. (where the bands had temporarily relocated for the summer, and where an actual riot had broken out that May in the city's Mount Pleasant neighborhood) while simultaneously evoking the tamer semiotic anarchy of the city's thriving punk scene. Meanwhile, the "grrrl" spelling took a feisty jab at the "wimmin/womyn" of the feminist establishment
Although none of Riot Grrrl’s original progenitors identified as lesbians, the movement had taken much of its inspiration from the gay punk networks of the late ’80s and early ’90s. And by 1996, when all the bands originally associated with Riot Grrrl had broken up or were headed that way, the torch was passed to a new wave of specifically queer musicians: all-lesbian supergroup Team Dresch (who frequently toured with Bikini Kill in their early years), power-poppers the Butchies, avant-metal duos the Haggard and the Need.
"BECAUSE we are angry at a society that tells us Girl = Dumb, Girl = Bad, Girl = Weak. BECAUSE we are unwilling to let our real and valid anger be diffused and/or turned against us via the internalization of sexism as witnessed in girl/girl jealousism and self defeating girltype behaviors. BECAUSE I believe with my wholeheartmindbody that girls constitute a revolutionary soul force that can, and will change the world for real."
The hybrid political texts and distribution networks produced by feminists like Riot Grrrls are significant in the formation of Third Wave movement cultures; they are both "popular" and subcultural, they provide spaces for youth-controlled conversations, and they can operate as an interface between different Third Wave cohorts (they connect Riot Grrls to one another but also to other feminists and women).
The name Riot Grrrl was chosen to reclaim the vitality and power of youth with an added growl to replace the perceived passivity of "girl." It was most popular initially in the lively punk scenes of D.C. and Olympia, Washington. Led by bands such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Heavens to Betsy and zines such as Girl Germs, Jigsaw, and Chainsaw, more bands and more zines came into being and a network of Riot Grrrls was created. Chapters were started across the country. Girls held conventions...and exchanged zines, bands performed, and workshops were held.
Two decades after its heyday, riot grrrl is beginning to formally take stock of itself. Riot grrrl, with its snarky cut-and-paste zines and carefully built micro-communities, prefigures a lot of youth culture today: targeted communication and social networking (although they did it with letters and flyers, not e-mails and Facebook messages); the lure of the handmade and the local — the craft marketplace Etsy could have been born in a riot grrrl meeting; and an attitude, evident in blogs like Jezebel and the Hairpin, that feminism can be fun.
This expression of sex and anger has spawned the birth of the Riot Grrrl subculture, a predominantly white, middle-class movement that has spread from America and includes loud, angry music, played by loud, angry females. Some of their songs concern injustices to women such as rape and incest, and the Riot Grrrl movement has forged female networks and, in the words of Gottlieb and Wald (1994): 'communities of support to reject the forms of middle-class, white youth culture they have inherited, and to break out of the patriarchal limitations on women's behavior, their access (to the street, to their own bodies, to rock music) and their everyday pleasures.'
The Riot Grrrl phenomenon has similarly defied definition as a movement, and is self-consciously heterogeneous in structure and constituency. Riot grrrl has been further described by two members of Riot Grrrl NYC as an organization "that promotes women's intelligence, creativity and achievement," in which members "... support and encourage Grrrls to publish zines, create and show their artwork, start bands in a supportive and non-judgmental atmosphere, and do anything they want to do."
The 1990s music revolution is firmly rooted in the Riot Grrrl subculture, which was a multi-faceted, mult-media approach to feminist activism. The movement's eponymous zine was published by the founding members of Bikini Kill and Bratmobile, and called for a "revolution grrrl-style now" in its very first issue. Riot Grrrls were zinesters, musicians, DIY crafters, and activists. The riot grrrl movement coincided (and perhaps pushed forward) the beginning of feminism's third wave, which is still happening today.