Updated: Apr 25
For decades and decades, women could access the spaces and benefits offered by the music industry only if they were exceptional. From the beginning on, there was never a place for women in rock, much less in punk (genres largely dominated by men) - if they were not renowned.
The Riot Grrrl movement provided the first space in which women in music tackled the conflict of inequality and decided to fight it, united and organized. Nothing in music and feminism was the same after the impact of the movement.
In the 1960s, the fanzine served as a tool for the dissemination of feminism in small circles, such as universities.
At the end of the 80s, in the city of Olympia, Washington, a series of events began to take place that changed the history, not only of rock but also of feminism. In 1988, a girl named Tobi Vail decides to gather all her feminist thoughts joining magazine clippings, photos, handwriting, and typewriting to then paste them on a paper and create a zine called "Jigsaw" that she would later distribute in bookstores and concerts in the city. This precedent of the zine dates back to the 1960s in the United States, where it served as a tool for the dissemination of feminism in small circles such as universities. The zine created by Tobi awakens the interest of other women in the city, such as Allison Wolfe and Molly Newman, who create another feminist zine called "Girl Germs". It was first published in 1989, and then led to a band composed entirely of women called "Bratmobile."
In 199, Kathleen Hanna knows Tobi Vail thanks to the popularity of the zine "Jigsaw".
While a teenage girl named Kathleen Hanna was on tour with her band Viva Knievel, she realized that the lack of women in the undergrounds was immense. The abuse she received from her colleagues, managers, producers, and even the public, for being a woman, was something that she naturalized because of her perseverance, however, that was not what moved her most. Little by little, many of the women who began to attend her concerts would stay until after the concert to talk to Hanna and tell her countless stories about situations of sexual, physical and psychological abuse that they experienced on a daily basis, and that in a certain way was an attitude of aggression, since, for some reason, they found in her and her songs a refuge. On that same tour, Kathleen found a copy of Jigsaw #2, immediately wrote to Tobi Vail, this was the beginning of the zine Bikini Kill.
“BECAUSE I believe with my whole heart mind body that girls constitute a revolutionary soul force that can, and will change the world for real. “
The Riot Grrrl manifesto 1991.
The first zine talked about the punk music scene and its excessive emphasis on men, and the "Yoko factor": the moment when a male musician tells his girlfriend that she should not break up the band (comparing Yoko Ono's influence on the Beatles' break-up) and that the girlfriend will never be as important to him as his band. By the beginning of the decade, the alternative scenes were dominated by the machismo of hard rock, grunge, hardcore, and punk, scenes where men were always in front of the stage and girls in the background. In 1991 the zine number II of Bikini Kill, there is a manifesto that they write with some guidelines that ended up changing the path of women in the rock forever:
The success of the fanzine "Riot Girrrl" was so impactful that it immediately became an explosion all over the United States.
Together, they began to exchange letters, experiences, stories, demos and formed a new zine called "Riot Girrrl" that immediately became an explosive success. Kathleen, Tobi, and the bassist Kathi Wilcox decided to take Riot Grrrl to band format and Bikini Kill transforms into that group of girls that came to claim their space in the scene, making the group until today, not only a great inspiration for many women - but also one of the most important rock bands led by girls from the underground, indie, and grunge.
Bikini Kill did several tours with Nirvana.
From the beginning, the band was supported by Kurt Cobain, who was not only a big fan of the band but also took them on several tours with Nirvana. The relationship between both bands was not only professional, Tobi and Kurt had a great friendship since the mid-eighties, which later turned into romance, while at the same time (the early '90s), Dave Grohl started dating Kathleen Hanna. These relationships not only led them to share tours but also to the studio. Together, they composed several songs, some of which later became hits for the Seattle band. In fact, "Smells Like Teen Spirit," one of Nirvana's biggest hits, is named after a joke by Kathleen, who once wrote "Kurt smells like Teen Spirit" on Cobain's bedroom wall in reference to the brand's deodorant.
In 1991, the International Pop Underground Convention dedicated the first day of its festival only to women's bands.
All this movement began to generate a lot of noise, which is 1991, led to the International Pop Underground Convention a decision to dedicate the first day of its festival (of six days) only to women bands. The night was presented as "Love Rock Revolution Girl Style Now". This was known as Girl Night and brought together some 15 female bands including Bratmobile, Suture, Courtney Love, Rose Melberg, L7, and others. This made the Riot Grrrl movement take real shape.
During this period between the late 80s and early 90s, you could find from one end of the United States to the other women's bands doing. From coast to coast, there was a wave of female rock and punk groups with political lyrics, and feminists that spread all over the scene and at full speed. Among some of the West Coast bands were "Hole", led by Courtney Love, and in Seattle the punk group "The Gitz" led by Mia Zapata, who at 27 was the victim of femicide, after attending a bar where they were celebrating the end of a tour. Among many other bands were also the "L7", originally from the city of Los Angeles, who despite not feeling part of the movement, their leader Donita Spark is an involuntary leader for feminism in the music scene, she is considered a great influence for the Russian feminist punk-rock collective "Pussy Riot".
Throwing Muses was a very big band for American indie music.
On the other side, on the East Coast, there were bands like the "Babes in Toyland", from Minneapolis, a punk rock band to which the previously named Courtney Love also belonged. In Boston, there was the singer Kristin Hersh, leader of another feminist alternative rock band called "Throwing Muses", a very big band for American indie music that, at that time, was just beginning to emerge, but despite this, it did not become successful enough to survive the industry. The band turned out to be a great inspiration for many other groups like R.E.M and Pixies, who have performed opening a concert tour for Throwing Muses. Later, Kim Deal (bassist of Pixies) formed The Breeders together with the guitarist of Muses - a must-know band for women and the whole indie scene until today.
Kristin Hersch was a pioneer in digital distribution and online music.
In the mid-90s, Kristin refused to comply with many industry mandates of the time, so she could no longer sustain the band, however, beyond that failure, she did not move away from the environment but transformed all that anger into an independent label called "Throwing Music". The label took on a pioneering role in digital distribution and online music, showing artists the ways to interact commercially with the public, without the need to depend on entrepreneurs. To this day, Kristin continues to support this site under the name Cash Music, a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering artists to find ways to finance their projects with the public by offering them different ways to interact, like being in a video clip affiliation, among thousands of options - similar to today’s Patreon. No doubt, Kristin was a pioneer in the world of the digital music industry without knowing it at that time, and this concept of online music was absolutely unimaginable.
Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth is one of the great icons for women in the Riot Grrrl movement, as she anticipated everything that would happen at that time, in fact, in the video for the song "Bull in the Heather" by Sonic Youth, released in 1994, you can see Bikini Kill-singer, Kathleen Hanna.
The Riot Grrrl movement (also considered the third wave of feminism), as well as the band Bikini Kill, claimed from the beginning the presence of feminism for the punk scene in an attempt to interrupt its male bias, encouraged girls to take the stage both for solidarity and to protect themselves from male aggression, and encouraged them to start their own bands.
Through Bikini Kill, Tobi Vail expressed her belief that the world would change for the better if the number of girls joining gangs increased to equal the number of men - a belief of which we have no doubt and for which we will continue to fight through generations so that the day this happens is not too far away.