Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
So began the primal scream of a frustrated girl, an angry band, a feminist movement.
Girls to the Front is about the Riot Grrrl movement of the early '90s, and when you speak of Riot Grrrl, you speak of Kathleen Hanna and her band Bikini Kill. Hanna released her rage against the sexism that surrounded her through music, discovering a sort of cadre of like-minded girls in Olympia, WA, some of whom were already entrenched in grassroots feminist punk ideology. Together they formed a united sisterhood that sought an end to sexist behavior and actions - be it catcalls or rape - through violence if necessary. They were sick of boys (and men) keeping them down, holding them back, and they were ready to fight for equality.
At its pinnacle of success, Riot Grrrl was a glorious camaraderie of young women gathering together to express themselves, their fears, their longings, to pour out their darkest nightmares thrust upon them by horrifying encounters. Some had suffered worse than others, but nearly all rejoiced in having a safe place to gather and discuss their stories, whatever backgrounds may have driven them to Riot Grrrl.
At its lowest point, Riot Grrrl was a misunderstood and misguided, amoebic, antagonistic entity flailing against the mass media that infiltrated and eventually corrupted it, just as much as it flailed against itself, with grrrls fighting grrrls over petty squabbles or the very fabric of their own ideology.
While in college, a friend and I attempted to go to a Bikini Kill concert in Boston, but it was cancelled. Rumor had it that a fight had broken out at the previous night's show and, due to some guy getting his ass kicked by a bunch of girls, the tour was on hold. From an outsider/boy's perspective, that was Riot Grrrl. As an outsider on the fringe of this underground movement - going to shows and putting out my own zines - I wanted to know what was going on. But this was a girls' club and I wasn't invited.
Luckily, along came Sara Marcus' book, perhaps 20 years too late for me, but I was glad nonetheless to finally lift the veil and discover what I'd missed, to learn what had really gone on. Marcus wields her words with a deft hand, a mighty stroke and blunt force. Girls to the Front is not perfect (It gets an extra star from me for pure nostalgia's sake), but you are in good hands with this writer on this topic. Most of society won't get this. Those girls that were part of this movement won't need this. But for those of us who collected riot grrrl band 7 inches or caught their record store shows with a couple dozen other folks, but got no closer, this book is for us.