From the Library: Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution

Everybody's talking about Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution. Sara Marcus spent the last five years researching for this book which Kathleen Hanna describes as "the first meticulously researched book about Riot Grrrl."

The personal and detailed accounts of concerts, meetings, tensions, and friendships make it clear that this book was well researched. Girls to the Front begins with a Bikini Kill concert on the evening of April 4, 1992, and wakes up in the morning to introduce us to the young feminist revolutionaries taking over the streets of Washington DC for the March for Women's Lives on April 5th. We follow Kathleen Hanna as she gets onto a Seattle-bound bus, on her way to meet Kathy Acker in 1989. We learn that Riot Grrrls used magic markers to draw stars and hearts on their hands, which helped them to identify each other in public. We sit in on Riot Grrrl meetings and experience the frustrations over sexist media portrayals of the movement. And we read about Mary and Erika, two zinesters who made Wrecking Ball, a zine which they used to acknowledge the fact that many white girls in the Riot Grrrl movement were ignoring issues of race and class.

Marcus writes about what she learned from Riot Grrrl: that emotional challenges often result "not from personal failings but from political and social forces" and that through fighting these forces, one can "change the world for real". In the years that have lapsed since her connection with Riot Grrrl, she notes that she kind of lost track of this enthusiasm. But through researching and writing this history of Riot Grrrl, she finds herself reconnecting with her convictions. And through reading this book, it seems that lots of us are reconnecting with ours.

One thing's for sure: this book has prompted lots of women who were involved with the movement to start talking about it again. Johanna Fateman reviewed the book for Bookforum. Jessica Hopper praised it on her blog, stating that she hopes this book will open the door to future Riot Grrrl scholarship. And Tobi Vail recently responded to the book, and concluded her review by stating that punk rock feminism is not dead, and that Riot Grrrl belongs to anyone who needs it:

If you are interested in starting a young feminist movement rooted in your generation, my advice to you is not to let anyone stop you. People will laugh at you. Ignore the sound of their voices and listen to your own. Scream if you have to, even if you think that no one can hear you. If you are actually threatening the status quo you will not have the approval of the status quo. Call it whatever you want, the point is to fuck shit up. This is true for feminists of all ages and eras by the way.

Marcus is about to start her book tour, complete with appearances from Jessica Hopper, Anna Oxygen, Kathleen Hanna, Mirah, and Tara Jane Oneil, among others. Girls to the Front is very likely coming to a city near you, and I don't think you'll regret taking part in this Riot Grrrl revival. Check out the complete events list here. The upcoming Bitch podcast will feature an interview with Marcus by Bitch contributor and Page Turner blogger Ellen Papazian, so stay tuned!

And if you're in Portland, stop by our library to get your hands on a copy of Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution.

by Ashley McAllister
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5 Comments Have Been Posted

Thanks! It's great so far.

Hey there. I work in an independent record store in NH, and though I missed the hey-day of Riot Grrrl by quite a few years, that movement has had such a huge and largely unrecognized influence on my musical and social/political life. The book just came in to me last week, and I'm reading and reviewing it for our store's broadsheet. It's definitely worth reading, for anyone whose aesthetics, ethics, and/or experience lines up with Riot Grrrls'. The movement's shortcomings - mainly, its ignorance of/inaccessibility for people who were not white, middle/upper income level - are addressed, and I hope that if this book kicks of a Riot Grrrl Revival, those involved this time around will be folks from and/or more aware of these previously overlooked communities of kick-ass women.

Wrecking Ball

well, maybe this is controversial and somewhat arguable, but I remember Wrecking Ball as document of some of the racism inadvertently perpetuated by members of RG, rather than an example of an anti-racist fanzine...


Thank you for drawing our attention to that - I've not read Wrecking Ball myself and was not aware of the racism perpetuated within it. While the book doesn't discuss the racism within Mary and Erika's work, it does look at how racism and lack of inclusiveness within the movement have so much to do with why it fell apart.

A good read for sure, but...

there is absolutely a bit of an edge to it that some readers may not be able to scale over.

I assigned this book to the Intro to Women's Studies class I'm teaching at a local state university and as fun as it was for me (who landed in OlyWa in 1995 and loved the DIY/Pro-Women feel of the city, and even attended an actual Riot Grrrls meeting, after the author says the movement was pretty much dead) to relive some places and moments in history (like the grrrl I dated who lived in the actual Martin bldg mentioned in the book. :) lol), it was a huge stretch for my students to "get" what it was all about except in vague terms. They did find it very empowering -- several mentioned that it made them want to go start a scene, a band, and so forth. One student even decided to write a Zine and a blog for her project.

However, based on the fact that they felt they needed "a map" to keep track of everyone and what was going on, it did come off, to my students at least (all of whom are under 27, and the one who is 26 is a male from another country, so all too young to have been involved), as something slightly on the elite, unattainable side. I was pressing them today if they saw how this might be intentional, one mentioned a quote in the book that basically said "if you don't get it, I can't explain it," but if you're writing a book, you're obviously spending the time recording some herstory for someone. So, I suggested that it is partly b/c things didn't turn out quite as all had hoped and therefore it was written as a bit of a fortress -- strong on the outside, protective of the inside story, which may be a bit of a vulnerable spot for many who were involved.

Did Riot Grrrl meet all the objectives set forth? I do not believe so. Did it have a lasting impact to those who realized they could shift things around even if the mountain itself didn't move? Yeah. Was it worth it? I believe so. If only for the fact that I now have a classroom of young women (and a couple guys) who've seen how a handful of people can make a scene and change a little corner of the world for a little while.

I have two daughters now. They're 2 and nearly 5. I got them a bunch of cool plush dolls with punk outfits and a used kid's drumset for Solstice this year. If anyone hears of some rockin' music for littles that is all feministy, please feel free to contact me via my homepage.

Keep doing what you do, Bitch!

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