Girls in Front
The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution
Harper Perennial 2010
New Books in American StudiesNew Books in Arts & LettersNew Books in Gender StudiesNew Books in MusicNew Books in Peoples & PlacesNew Books in Politics & SocietyNew Books Network July 3, 2012 Matt Smith Lehrman
Harkening out of the United State’s Pacific Northwest in the early 1990s, Bikini Kill and Bratmobile made a big enough splash that their names and songs are still recognized by many rock fans. And those of us who do recognize these bands tend to link them to a larger artistic and musical genre known as Riot Grrrl. In Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution (Harper Perennial, 2010), Sara Marcus traces the first five explosive years of Riot Grrrl, 1989-1994. She convincingly shows that although some very cool music was at its core, the movement went far beyond the bands, and far beyond Olympia, WA. Marcus follows the members of Bikini Kill and Bratmobile as they travel to Washington, D.C. forming girls-only collectives, participating in nationally organized political demonstrations, writing stridently feminist fanzines, and playing gigs to audiences of outcast girls who found there was indeed a supportive place for them to express themselves freely. By ’93 the movement was international with Riot Grrrl chapters in Minneapolis, Oklahoma, New York City, Vancouver, B.C., and London to name just a few. Toward the end of the book’s timeframe, Riot Grrrl was weakened by forces that befall many social movements: the mainstream press and music industry co-opted some of its important leaders and images, infighting among members kept some chapters from realizing their goals, and strident localism kept geographically disparate branches from forming lasting network ties. All-in-all, however, Marcus convincingly shows Riot Grrrl to have been an important wave of an ongoing feminist movement in which young women and girls redefined sex, gender, and sexuality as their own.
Sara Marcus writes about music, books, and politics for numerous publications, including Bookforum, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Artforum.com, Slate, Salon, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Time Out New York, The Forward, and Heeb magazine, where she was politics editor for five years; her poetry has appeared in Death, Encyclopedia, EOAGH, Tantalum, and The Art of Touring. She has taught at girls’ rock camps in Portland and New York, has played drums and keyboards in a long string of relatively short-lived bands, and continues to instigate communal, de-skilled music making whenever possible.