When Girls Pick Up Guitars and Start Screaming


Abby Tow, Staff Writer

Punk Rock is For Boys flooded the rhetoric of the indie music community of the 1990’s. The punk movement: fashion, politics, and music that was shredding notions left and right as to what music should sound like. But in the college arts scene, this was a boys’ club. Fortunately for all of us, a couple of brassy young women at the Evergreen State College in Washington refused to be bruised into silence amid a mosh pit of prejudice.

Kathleen Hanna teamed up with feminist zine writer Tobi Vail and almost single-handedly began a revolution by forming their band: Bikini Kill. Hanna’s frustrations rose out of her college’s censorship of her artwork, deeming it too uncomfortable and controversial. However, to her, nothing was more uncomfortable than the quiet murmur of suffering girls everywhere. A controversy needed to rise; a conversation needed to take place.

Hanna was a powerhouse performer, ranting about injustice through her blunt lyrics and impossible to imitate presence. Women at the time were not welcomed widely at rock concerts, and violence against them was enough to keep them at home. So, Bikini Kill hosted their own shows where anyone was welcome. At one fateful show, Hanna announced, “All girls to the front. I’m not kidding.” This was more than a request for all women at her concert to come forward to the front of the crowd. This was an invitation for girls to demand space in a male-dominated genre, and more broadly, a male-dominated world. This was a revolution of screaming women, but this time, it wasn’t about men hearing them at all; this was college-aged women starting bands all over the United States, learning how to be musicians and writing about the ways in which girlhood was a dirty word. All of it was for other women. As such, these self-proclaimed Riot Girls became Riot Grrrls, and band after band formed across the nation. Inspired by pioneering female rockers before them (Patti Smith, Joan Jett, Chrissie Hynde, and others) women began picking up guitars and making names for themselves, Bratmobile, Skinned Teen, and Sleater-Kinney to name a few.

The objective of the music was more than music. The objective was to allow women an outlet and a place to talk about what their feminist mothers in the 70’s left for them to sort out. Politically charged artwork and zines emerged from organized meetings on college campuses where women talked about issues they experienced in a post-female-liberation world, namely domestic violence and sexual assault. This DIY activism sprouted and stayed. Many consider the work of these collectives as the beginnings of third-wave feminism, one that was significantly more inclusive and prepared to link arms with all women in the fight against discrimination.

What was left of this movement was a new participation of girls in punk music. The music world underwent what started as a small movement but grew into a revolution, one that gave college-aged girls a voice they hadn’t had before. If you’ve never listened to this music, give it a shot. It isn’t for everybody, but it’s history, and it changed the world at least in a small way.