I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. - Groucho Marx

Riot Grrrls Make Strong Women: A Cultural Revolution


by Whitney Weiss
May 1, 2013
I didn't come of age in the 90s. Or I did, but during the wrong half of the 90s. The nu-metal and boy band half of the 90s. The Woodstock '99 starring Fred Durst half of the 90s. In a pre-internet world, or at least one where the internet took too damn long to load to do anything interesting on it, I spent a large portion of my precocious pre-teen years playing electric guitar in my bedroom, poking my way through whatever tabs happened to be in Guitar World. This was before hearing Iggy Pop and the Ramones and deciding that nobody, not even Sublime, needed to learn how to play Sublime songs. This also meant I didn't learn about very important things (Kurt Cobain, Sassy) until they were recently over, meaning no chance of a revival for at least another decade.
 
Nowadays, precocious pre-teen girls in boring medium-sized towns have speedy internet that takes them to sites like Rookie, which is run by the benevolent and wise-beyond-her-years Tavi Gevinson, who also missed out on Sassy. And while having instant access to albums, films, and encouraging advice from Jon Hamm tailored for tweens looks great and is something I enjoy in my daily faux-adult life, I'm actually a little bit jealous of the women who came of age in the first half of the nineties, slightly ahead, yet light years in front of, women of my particular birth year.
 
One major reason I say this: even if it was only cool for a minute, even if it was guys pretending to be sincere in order to sleep with girls, the early 90s seemed like a good time for the word "feminist." Also, for actual feminists themselves. Especially ones looking for reasonable boyfriends. A bit of context: Nirvana, the band that knocked Michael Jackson out of the top Billboard spot and suddenly found themselves on the cover of pretty much every magazine in the world, was fronted by a guy who openly identified as a feminist, sometimes wore skirts, and wasn't afraid of kissing his male bandmates. And he talked in interviews about riot grrrl, which was a great help for young, idealistic, and isolated fans thus far uninitiated to the world of skillshares and basement shows.  
 
While the world of skillshares and basement shows can be just as corny as late-90s commercial radio, riot grrrl was a helpful and earnest way to communicate unapologetically and also actively participate in some sort of creative process. The initial, essential lesson that one learns from riot grrrl is that all of the DIY ethos that boys who don't seem jockish have, all of the attention they're putting towards their art, well the girls should be doing that, too. And in fact, you should be doing it instead of holding your boyfriend's coat while he leaps into the mosh pit. Or driving him to band practice. If you're over the age of 15, this might sound slightly obvious and almost embarrassingly sincere, but to someone who is young and a little confused as to why the compliment being doled out on the regular is "pretty good for a girl," it can be a legitimate a-ha moment. At that age, it's quite helpful to know that there are women doing something you'd like to do, and to read interviews where they say someone told them they were "pretty good for a girl" once, too. Maybe there were as many politicians talking about how fetuses should have guns so they can protect themselves in 1993 and widespread movements of scuzzy guys devoted to not paying child support and claiming that white men are an oppressed group, but from here, it doesn't look like it.
 
The fashion magazine Elle recently interviewed Kim Gordon, the gold standard of 90s female cool. As one-half of Sonic Youth, she embodied a well-coiffed confidence that managed to stop short of making her unapproachable. Which is why she is such an enduring role model to talented, creative women--or all women--who want to do their thing, be treated as equals and not feel pressured by society to meekly condone sexist shenanigans. 20 years later, Kim Gordon is still just as creative and cool, a successful artist and the mother of a college-age daughter (though even someone as cool as Kim Gordon isn't immune to patriarchal clichés; see her ex-husband Thurston Moore and his mid-life crisis cheating, which Elle touched on but didn't harp on).
 
People like Kim Gordon were my jumping-off point for a world of solid female role models in the arts. Ladies like Lady Miss Kier from Deee-Lite and the Mo-Dettes. Elder weird stateswomen like Grace Jones, Nina Hagen, and Debbie Harry, who somehow led me back to women like Joni Mitchell, who I then listened to with a new appreciation. Without them, I would still feel like something was missing, wouldn't have enjoyed the excitement and sense of belonging that comes with stumbling across something that, even though other people may be aware of, is new and shocking and wonderful to you. I'm pretty sure a childhood spent exclusively listening to 90s alternative radio favorites would not have led me down the same path that this did. I'm very glad to have dodged that testosterone-laden bullet and owe a debt of gratitude to the cooler older riot grrrls and their sincere male partners in crime, all of whom taught me what's what through their interviews and records.

Whitney Weiss lives in Buenos Aires, where she DJs, throws a party called Father Figures, and is one-half of a band that bridges the gap between Snap! and Quad City DJs. If you want to hear what she's up to, you should visit soundcloud.com/djwhitneyweiss.