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What is a Riot Grrrl?

Dana Hinders
By
Updated May 23, 2024
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The riot grrrl movement is an alternative subculture that was extremely popular in the 1990s, but still remains active in some areas of the United States today. Riot grrrls, sometimes referred to as riot grrls or riot girls, are often considered to be part of third wave feminism. However, many people believe the riot grrrl emphasis on a universal female identity is more closely aligned with the philosophy of second wave feminist activities.

Indie-punk music that addressed issues of sexuality, rape, domestic abuse, and female empowerment was a primary key component of the riot grrrl movement. Many of the original riot grrrls were teenagers and college students who felt left out of the existing music scene. By joining together, they created an independent female-centric subculture.

In addition to attending concerts and music festivals, active members of the riot grrrl movement were heavily involved in feminist political causes and social activism. Riot grrls also published a number of underground fanzines providing details about their favorite bands and leftist political views, as well as an opportunity for aspiring writers and artists to showcase their creative talents.

The origin of the term “riot grrrl” is still unclear. However, the Riot Grrrl fanzine started by Allison Wolfe, Molly Neuman, Kathleen Hanna, and Tobi Vail may have been responsible for popularizing the usage of the term to describe this female-centric movement. Vail also used the term "angry grrrls" extensively in her fanzine Jigsaw .

Although one might assume all members of the riot grrrl movement were female, it is interesting to note that there were plenty of men involved in riot grrrl activities as well. Bikini Kill and Huggy Bear, two of the most popular riot grrrl bands, both had male musicians as active performers. There were also a number of men who could be seen attending riot grrrl events with their girlfriends, sisters, or female friends. Although riot grrrls were often mistakenly characterized as “anti-boy” in the mainstream media, most considered themselves to simply be “pro-girl.”

In popular culture, references to the riot grrrl movement have appeared in movies such as All Over Me and Tank Girl, as well as the book Tales of a Punk Rock Nothing . The legacy of riot grrrls can be seen in the continued popularity of Ladyfest and other female-centric music festivals that combine music with a feminist philosophy. In addition, there are a number of websites still active today that offer forums and message boards for visitors who identify with the subculture of the original riot grrrls.

PublicPeople is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Dana Hinders
By Dana Hinders
With a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Iowa, Dana Hinders brings a strong foundation to her work as a freelance writer. After discovering her passion for freelance writing following the birth of her son, Dana has been a vital part of the PublicPeople team. She also showcases her versatility by creating sales copy and content for e-courses and blogs.
Discussion Comments
By whiteplane — On Dec 13, 2011

@tigers88 - I think you're right. Just this past summer I participated in a "Slut Walk" event that was organized to help shine light on sexual violence and the way women get stigmatized for their sexuality.

The message is one that women's groups have been championing for years, but the way the slut walk operated drew on the influence of riot grrl. It was loud and aggressive and about uncompromising empowerment. There was a kind of take no prisoners feeling to the event and afterwards a bunch of punk bands played. It was an amazing day and I think the original riot grrls would have been proud.

By tigers88 — On Dec 12, 2011

People like to pinpoint riot grrl to a certain time and place, namely Olympia Washington in the early 90s, but I think that it never really went away and is now a feature of a lot of punk movements throughout the country.

The philosophy and aesthetic have evolved and grown a lot in the last 20 years but the core is essentially the same. Strong women, loud music, self reliance and acceptance of difference. That is reducing it down to its core, but I think those are all important features of riot Grrl style and still present today.

Dana Hinders
Dana Hinders
With a B.A. in Journalism and Mass Communication from the University of Iowa, Dana Hinders brings a strong foundation to...
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