No Boys Allowed.
These girls rule, and they won’t apologize for it. The riot grrrl phenomenon (‘grrrl’ for the aggressive roar of the once shy pussycats that girls were supposed to be) turned the world on its head in the early 90’s. Leading the charge were rock girls like Courtney Love of Hole, who broke through the music barriers and exposed middle America to the kick-ass power of girls.
But riot grrrls had been around for much longer than the overnight sensation of high-profile girl power bands. The riot grrrl rage was a product of the testosterone-heavy punk scene of the 80’s, and had been a strong underground movement of post-modern feminism.
Girls were tired of being pushed around by a macho, male dominated society, and tired of being fed a steady stream of impossibilities from slick, high-fashion magazines and unrealistic television programs. The stick thin models on the page and the boy-crazy fiends on TV weren’t the role models that these girls wanted to emulate. And so they created their own.
Punk bands like Bikini Kill and zines like Girl Germs spread the word that was heard around the world. “Revolution Girl Style Now!” was a war cry heard from groups of girls tired of taking a back seat to boys. This punk-feminist creed was spread via indie music labels, zines, and t-shirts plastered with pro-girl slogans like ‘Girl Power’ or ‘Girls Rule.’ The few punk bands fronted with female singers like Sonic Youth (Kim Gordon) or X (Exene Cervenka) were the role models for a new generation of girls in 90's bands like Bratmobile. Not content to be the token female in a boy band, these girls banded together to spread their sermon via hard guitars and confrontational lyrics.
Valerie Solanas (who achieved infamy as the assassin of Andy Warhol) and her SCUM manifesto (Society for Cutting Up Men) became the first in a long line of zines dedicated to speaking out against sexual abuse and patriarchal oppression. Modern grrrl zines like Satan Wears a Bra carried on the tradition by publishing pamphlets of artwork and articles that confronted girls with the new feminism.
Where the riot grrrls’ mothers had burned their bras, these girls were destroying and rejecting the male-driven standards of beauty. They confronted girls about media-induced eating disorders and the unhealthy body image girls were suffering from because of it. They started support networks to remind girls they didn't have to be submissive to be beautiful. Grrrls redefined femininity with an aggression previously considered unfeminine.
Riot grrrl fashion was as in-your-face as the attitude. They wore combat boots with fishnet stockings and little girls’ dresses, proving that virgin/harlot/destroyer all had a place inside a girl’s body and psyche. Tattoos and body piercings were paired with ribbons, lace and baby barrettes; they went braless and showed off their midriffs, on which they scrawled words like “Slut” or “Whore.” They flaunted their sexuality, unashamed and unapologetic. Demure they were not.
Courtney Love’s high-profile relationship with king of grunge, Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, threw the girl power creed into the media spotlight. Love's version of ‘kinder-whore’ in laces and bows, with smeared red lipstick and heavily made up face, got attention as the next big ‘shocking’ thing. Before long, groups like the Spice Girls were shouting out “Girl Power!” while scantily clad and strutting their stuff. But that was okay. Riot grrrls celebrated the contradiction that was being a girl and a woman, both at the same time.
Within the blink of an eye, the very media that these girls were rejecting found the riot grrrls their darlings, and unveiled the strong underground scene to mass commercialism. Bands that had carved out an underground niche now found themselves in the unwanted spotlight. L7, Babes in Toyland and Hole were sensationalized overnight, and their message was skewed by the media’s attempts to cash in on the latest craze.
Singer Sara McLachlan formed Lilith Fair, a new concept of girl rock that brought the girls together in solidarity and empowerment under one venue. Female singers like Fiona Apple and Jewel had broken through to the mainstream, but some of their sisters, like Ani DiFranco and PJ Harvey, preferred to remain in the independent shadows, creating and producing their message on their own labels.
Grrrls lived for sex and rock and roll, but drugs had no place in a pure body, mind and spirit. The companion to punk’s ‘Straightedge,’ these girls celebrated life. They changed the rules—in fact, they made their own. They didn’t hide their sexuality like the feminists of the 70’s—they flaunted it. Their bodies were their own. They were not just men-hating, feminazi lesbians, they were girls who felt they had something to say and weren’t afraid to say it.
The riot girl phenomenon broke through the barriers and told girls that they could do anything boys could do, and probably even better. While the riot grrrl tag has mostly been put to rest, ‘Girl Power’ remains a silent mantra to a new generation of girls growing up with freedoms and attitude that wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for the fight of the girls of preceding decades. The message was out, and girl power was everywhere: from Britney Spears to Charlie’s Angels, girls were kicking ass!
P.S. We're just kidding about that 'No Boys Allowed' thing.