Real girl power? Representing riot grrrl

Riot grrrl was a feminist youth movement that first emerged on the west coast of the United States in the early 1990s. Initially associated with a small number of rock bands, it was disseminated through mainstream and alternative publications to become a national and an international movement. Riot grrrl can be understood as a double reaction – both against the misogyny of post-punk musical subcultures, and against the style of feminist politics practiced by an older generation of women. In this essay, I focus on two key aspects. I consider how riot grrrl was represented in the mainstream media, and how the participants sought to represent themselves, especially via independent publications (zines), which were in many respects more distinctive and original than the music. I then move on to consider the internal politics of riot grrrl as a ‘movement’ or a ‘scene’ (or a network of scenes): I look at debates about inclusiveness and leadership, and particularly about identity politics. Each of these areas was a focus of tension and conflict for the participants; and the essay traces how the combination of them led to riot grrrl’s fairly rapid demise.

You can download the whole essay (without illustrations) by clicking here, or if you want to read the illustrated version, click on the subheadings to read the different sections:

  1. Introduction; riot grrrl in context
  2. Riot grrrl meets the media
  3. The means of production: alternative media
  4. Inclusion and identity politics
  5. Conclusion: selling ‘girl power’
  6. Sources and references