May 12, 2023 | ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT | Kate Nixon

If you’re familiar with bands like Bikini Kill or Destructo Disk, you’ll know that their songs often have themes of feminism, abolition, and activism. If you’re not familiar, these bands (among others like Bratmobile and Le Tigre) gained popularity during the Riot Grrrl feminist movement that began during the early 1990s (during what is more widely known as the third-wave feminist movement).

The movement, originating in Olympia, Wash., brought together feminism, punk music, and politics at first, and has since turned into a subculture involving zines, art, political organizing, and activism, all rooted in a do-it-yourself ethic of, “The revolution starts here and now within each one of us,” according to The Feminist Press.

With confrontational lyrics calling for political activism, these bands also often participated in organizing and protests surrounding issues of reproductive rights, abortion access, and against sexual violence. These bands were revolutionary in not only their call to action but also their active resistance to the male-dominated genre of punk music that didn’t take seriously femme punk musicians. In showcasing how prevalent sexism is in society, these bands used their music to illustrate that feminism, to them, was about existing as you are, loudly, and unapologetically taking up space.

The term “Riot Grrrl,” (also spelled Riot Grrl, with just two r’s), came from women in punk wanting to start a “girl riot” against the punk scene and society. The term was coined by Jen Smith in a letter to Alice Wolfe (a member of Bratmobile), with reference to the Mount Pleasant riots happening in Washington, D.C. in 1991 – Smith saw a need for a similar riot, but for women. The movement gained momentum with bands such as Bratmobile and Bikini Kill and gave women a space to speak out against the gender-based oppression they faced during a time when mainstream music and other media outlets were not willing to cover.

Despite this movement’s revolutionary approaches to music and raising awareness about sexism and misogyny, it wasn’t flawless in its approach – the typical Riot Grrrl that gained popularity was often young, middle class, and most notably, white. While intersectionality was a concept beginning to emerge during the late 1980s/early 1990s, Riot Grrrl music consistently failed to consider how race impacted women of color’s experiences; the lack of diversity within the movement made it difficult for many Black musicians to feel welcome.

In response to this lack of inclusion, Tamar-kali Brown, alongside Honeychild Coleman, Maya Glick and Simi Stone founded Sista Grrrl Riots – a safe space by and for Black women to create and share music that wasn’t the male-dominated punk scene or the white-dominated Riot Grrrl scene. Although Sista Grrrl was a short-lasting movement, it served as the foundation for Afro-punk music, and some of the original Sista Grrrls are still making music today.

If you’re looking to learn more about the nitty-gritty parts of the Riot Grrrl feminist movement (and more about feminism in general), I’d highly recommend the book “Riot Woman: Using Feminist Values to Destroy the Patriarchy” by Eleanor C. Whitney. And, if you’re looking to listen to music rooted in feminist anger, here is a playlist of some of my favorite Riot Grrrl and Sista Grrrl Riot music.

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