Home » Distractions from My Angst » Back in Time: My Hypothetical Life as a Riot Grrl

Back in Time: My Hypothetical Life as a Riot Grrl

Regarding the age-old party question “if you could go back in time and live during a certain era, what would it be?”: one answer is the 1920s, but only if I’m an amazing flapper straight from ‘Boardwalk Empire’ who dies of a gin overdose utterly FABULOUSLY before the Great Depression kicks off. Another answer is Ancient Rome so I can do Julius Caesar, even if he was gross, because think of how that’d set you up for life:

“Hey Whit, guess what – I got a new car today!”

“Whatever; I did Julius Caesar.”

More seriously: my MAIN answer to the question is that I’d go back for the birth of the Riot Grrl movement.

I listened to one of my favorite bands for the first time in probably six or seven years this morning. I was exposed to Sleater-Kinney in 2000 when they came out with “All Hands on the Bad One” and quickly devoured their whole catalog. It wasn’t just their catchy guitar-work that drew me in; their androgynous aesthetic and refusal to bend to expectations was exactly what high school me needed to hear. Devotedly political and unabashedly opinionated, Sleater-Kinney immediately made me cringe over my previous acceptance of the Spice Girls as the “girl power” know-it-alls. How had I gone so long misunderstanding the difference between a business product and genuine passion?  Sleater-Kinney was my gateway drug to Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, Bratmobile, the Slits and more. “Watch me make up my mind instead of my face!” Sleater-Kinney seethed, and wow-oh-whee, I was set for life.

As exciting as discovering the culture of the Riot Grrls was after the movement had passed, I can’t imagine how empowering it must have been when it was brand new.  Imagine that – women getting on stage and concentrating on real problems.  Any woman could do it. They didn’t need to be polite. They didn’t need to have a pretty little coo of a voice. They didn’t need to be a certain size or have their eyebrows plucked a certain way, and they didn’t need a guy to tell them how to sell themselves, and they could make music by singing or playing the guitar or the bass or drums because fuck rules; women rock.  I’ve seen some of the homemade ‘zines done in 1993, 1994, and I think to myself how dizzying the movement must have been.

I was just too young when it actually happened. So when the question “if you could go back in time and live during a certain era, what would it be?” gets thrown around during parties, my answer is this: I’d go back so that I’d be 12, maybe 14 in 1990. That way I could still be pretty conscious of the late 80s (and whoever says that the 80s were awful can sincerely bite me; that shit is awesome), but I’d be well into my teens when Riot Grrl started. I would have been an amazing Riot Grrl. I could have been pals with Kathleen Hanna, Mary Timony.  I could stare in slack-jawed crushing awe at Carrie Brownstein who I might still be secretly in love with (not so secretly now!).  I could have a sensitive stoner boyfriend or girlfriend and I could wear daisies in my hair and play the guitar and campaign for Bill Clinton’s first term.

Every few years some new authority on the matter declares feminism dead (or irrelevant, or filled with misandry, or whateverrrrrr BS lingo is in vogue) and I remember how breathless that rhetoric sounded in reviews of “All Hands on the Bad On” – that Sleater-Kinney was singing to an empty theater. No one cared about feminism anymore.  All the girls had put down their guitars and gone home.

But it simply wasn’t true. Sleater-Kinney taught me the basics of feminism that I couldn’t learn from the media’s portrayal of it.  And if given the chance, I’d run straight for them in their hey-day.


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