Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus. Harper Perennial, trade paperback, 384 pages. $14.99.
In the late ‘80s pop was filled with girls, but punk rock was a different world. Still a bastion of maleness, Joan Jett, who straddled punk and rock, was the only girl who pushed through the testosterone to make it. Other girl rockers got pushed to the back and were simply deemed playthings by boys until girls rose up teaching themselves how to play instruments and write songs and stormed the stage. Raging with anger and feminist angst Riot Grrrl revolution was born.
Musician and writer Sara Marcus poignantly takes readers back in time to Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy, L7, Tribe 8, and the band that became the poster child of Riot Grrrl revolution Bikini Kill in Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution. The first historic look at the Riot Grrrl Revolution, Sara maps the beginnings of the collective consciousness of young women who grew up with the message of equality to only realize that the promise of feminism hadn’t been reached. She follows the trails of rage that began in 1991 to the end of the movement that caught like a grassfire that blazed across the United States from Olympia, WA to Washington, DC and became known as the Riot Grrrl Movement somewhere around 1996.
Fine tuned like the girls screeching guitars and voices screaming out stories of abortion, incest, rape, unwanted stares, and more Sara gets to the heart of the pivotal women in the movement. She documents how the girls embraced their frustration and fine tuned it to a searing point using the only weapons they had, their brains, voice, and bodies the turned into a wildfire.
Riot grrls were known for marking their bodies up with the very words used against women: “bitch,” “cunt,” “dyke,” “slut,” and “rape” to name a few. They sang songs about their experiences and wrote ‘zines handwritten or typed up on an old electric typewriter that were copied and stapled at the local copy store and distributed through concerts, mailing lists, sold at some bookstores, but usually passed hand-to-hand from friend to friend.
Riot grrrl wasn’t only about the music or self-expression, it was deeply about consciousness raising and a political awakening to the status of women in North America and the western world. The early 1990’s saw Anita Hill testify against Clarence Thomas on Capital Hill during his confirmation hearing for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. The hearings brought sexual harassment directly into public consciousness. The Feminist movement experienced a shot of energy as a new generation began writing and publishing books like Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women and The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women.
In Girls to the Front, Sara captures the riot grrrl revolution and the politics that fed the movement with precision, smarts, and poetry. She engages the reader taking them on a historic adventure that is a rocking good time that any music lover, historian, or women’s studies enthusiast shouldn’t miss.
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