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In the early nineties, riot grrrl exploded onto the underground music scene, inspiring girls to pick up an instrument, create fanzines, and become politically active. Rejecting both traditional gender roles and their parents’ brand of feminism, riot grrrls celebrated and deconstructed femininity. The media went into a titillated frenzy covering followers who wrote “slut” on their bodies, wore frilly dresses with combat boots, and talked openly...
In the early nineties, riot grrrl exploded onto the underground music scene, inspiring girls to pick up an instrument, create fanzines, and become politically active. Rejecting both traditional gender roles and their parents’ brand of feminism, riot grrrls celebrated and deconstructed femininity. The media went into a titillated frenzy covering followers who wrote “slut” on their bodies, wore frilly dresses with combat boots, and talked openly about sexual politics.
The movement’s message of “revolution girl-style now” soon filtered into the mainstream as “girl power,” popularized by the Spice Girls and transformed into merchandising gold as shrunken T-shirts, lip glosses, and posable dolls. Though many criticized girl power as at best frivolous and at worst soulless and hypersexualized, Marisa Meltzer argues that it paved the way for today’s generation of confident girls who are playing instruments and joining bands in record numbers.
Girl Power examines the role of women in rock since the riot grrrl revolution, weaving Meltzer’s personal anecdotes with interviews with key players such as Tobi Vail from Bikini Kill and Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls. Chronicling the legacy of artists such as Bratmobile, Sleater-Kinney, Alanis Morissette, Britney Spears, and, yes, the Spice Girls, Girl Power points the way for the future of women in rock.
As a teen girl growing up in the mid-'90s, Marisa Meltzer admits she participated in "the treasured cliches of the decade...complete with the standard-issue indie-rock tale of being rescued from life as an apathetic suburban teenager by riot grrrl, the feminist punk movement. I cut my hair short, wore YOUR BODY IS A BATTLEGROUND buttons on my backpack, and engaged in all girl singalongs to 'My Red Self,' the early riot grrrl band Heavens to Betsy ode to menstruation."
But Meltzer went a few steps further than most her peers in integrating her favorite bands into her life. She enrolled at Evergreen State University in Olympia, Washington, incubator for many of the overtly feminist, hyper political all-grrrl bands that defined the era, including Sleater-Kinney, Hole and Bikini Kill (whose lead singer, Kathleen Hanna, was her upstairs neighbor). There are any number of ways an homage to an era that happens to coincide with one's fan-girl youth can go horribly wrong, but Meltzer's new book on women rockers of the '90s is nearly perfect in its pitch and far from a one-note love letter. She openly -- and often comically -- skewers her younger self, and refuses to flatter herself by feigning indie-cred that some might say she deserves.
Instead, she reports: She gets original riot grrrls to talk (all the more impressive, given that many of them stopped talking to reporters after the media black-out of 1992); visits the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival (and its more inclusive transgendered cousin up the road); and looks at how the politics of the underground informed more commercial acts, including Alanis Morrissette, the Spice Girls, Britney Spears and Avril Lavigne. As shewrites: "While girl power might be empowerment-lite, it's not going away. When a movement transitions, it doesn't lose all it's potency. Instead, it leaves us with a pop infused with politics."
1 Riot Grrrls 3
2 Angry Womyn 41
3 Girl Groups 71
4 Pop Tarts 95
5 Ladies First 117
6 Girl Power 139
Selected Bibliography and Filmography 147