100 Years of Activism

1991: PNW Riot Grrrls Stage a Revolution

Northwest bands like Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney and Bratmobile pioneered feminism’s third wave.

By Madeline Ostrander and Valerie Schloredt November 21, 2017 Published in the December 2017 issue of Seattle Met

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Bikini Kill performing in Olympia, August 1991.

“You’re a big girl now / You’ve got no reason not to fight,” lead singer Kathleen Hanna wailed on a demo cassette called Revolution Girl Style Now, the debut album for the Olympia-based band Bikini Kill, released in May 1991. In July of that year, Hanna, along with punk musicians Molly Neuman, Jen Smith, and Allison Wolfe, published the first issue of the zine Riot Grrrl, assembled with a typewriter, Sharpie markers, scissors, paper, and a photocopier. 

Taken together, the zine and the cassette were both an expression of youthful fury and the dawn of a movement—the riot grrrls, who expressed themselves, throughout the 1990s, in music, DIY art, and a proliferation of more zines akin to Riot Grrrl. Members of the movement rose to the status of pop culture icons through the success of Northwest-based bands such as Sleater-Kinney, Bratmobile, and Heavens to Betsy. Often considered the trailblazers of third-wave feminism, riot grrrls acknowledged that the work of female empowerment wasn’t finished. “I want to scream at the guy who told me that women should stop complaining because they already have all the rights that they need,” read an anonymous monologue in one zine (more recently recounted in Sara Marcus’s history of riot grrrls, Girls to the Front).

The riot grrrls’ confrontational style also influenced the guerrilla performances of Russian protest band Pussy Riot, founded two decades later.

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