How to Celebrate Riot Grrrl Day: A Primer

Yesterday, Boston mayor Marty Walsh declared that today (April 9) would be Riot Grrrl Day throughout the city, in honor of feminist punk icon Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Le Tigre, The Julie Ruin). A proclamation signed by Walsh reads, in part: “The Riot Grrrl philosophy has never felt more relevant, with misogyny still rampant in many cultural spaces… Riot Grrrls redefine the language used against them and continue to fight the newest incarnations of patriarchy. In doing so, they ironically confirm one ex-congressman’s accidental wisdom: ‘the female body has ways to try to shut that down.’ It sure does: women’s voices telling their stories can shut that down.”

The obvious way to celebrate Riot Grrrl Day is to see The Julie Ruin play at Boston’s Wilbur Theatre. But that’s not really going to work for those of us outside New England, so here’s a 22-point guide to celebrating Riot Grrrl Day through the Olympia, Washington-bred movement’s quintessential albums, zines, documentaries, archives, reads, and more.

1. Read the Riot Grrrl Manifesto, first published in 1991 by Kathleen Hanna and her Bikini Kill bandmates in their Bikini Kill Girl Power zine.

2. Listen to Bikini Kill’s Pussy Whipped.

3. Watch From The Back Of The RoomAmy Oden’s 2011 documentary on women in punk. Riot Grrrl is just one small part of the film (the movement’s main players sound off), but seeing what came before and after the movement is insightful to understanding the full context of Riot Grrrl.

4. Listen to Calculated by Heavens to Betsy, Sleater-Kinney singer/guitarist Corin Tucker’s first band.

5. Watch a full Bratmobile set from 1993, which shows just how much the audience and the crowds typically interacted during shows in this scene.

6. Make an appointment to see the Riot Grrrl Collection at NYU’s Fales Library, which is as comprehensive an archive of Riot Grrrl zines as we can ever hope for (more than 1,000, within tens of individual collections straight from Riot Grrrl activists), particularly when you consider that some of these zines produced just five to ten copies of each issue. (Barnard also has a great zine collection with an emphasis on women of color, including some Riot Grrl zines.)

7. If you’re not in NYC or don’t have an excuse to do research, buy The Riot Grrrl Collection, as edited by Lisa Darms, the senior archivist behind NYU’s archive. It compiles the bulk of the collection. You can peruse a small selection of zines from the archive via Flavorwire, read the collection’s opening essay from Johanna Fateman (Le Tigre, co-editor of the Snarla zine with Miranda July), view part of Kathleen Hanna’s collection via NYT, or read our interview with Darms upon the book’s release in 2013.

8. Listen to Such Friends Are Dangerous, the second and final album from Excuse 17, Carrie Brownstein’s first band.

9. Read a teenage Sheila Heti’s long-lost feminist zineBrillantine.

10. Watch Lucy Thane’s fantastic 1997 documentary on queercore Riot Grrrl, She’s Real, Worse Than Queer. (Part two here.)

11. Read the mainstream media coverage of Riot Grrrl in Newsweek and Seventeen that led the movement’s leaders to implement a media ban.

12. Listen to Bratmobile’s Pottymouth. 

13. Read Bikini Kill drummer and writer Tobi Vail’s 2014 Wondering Sound piece on “the album that saved Bikini Kill,” 1993’s Yeah Yeah Yeah (a split album with Huggy Bear). (Additionally, Vail’s Jigsaw zine is now a blog she updates from time to time with dispatches from her archives.)

14. Watch Huggy Bear, England’s most prominent Riot Grrrl band, appear on a British TV show called The Word in 1993. After the performance, the band and its fans infamously raged out against the host’s discussion of Barbie-like models.

15. Buy Sara Marcus’s Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolutionwhich is both meticulously researched and accessible to those less familiar with Riot Grrrl.

16. Listen to Sleater-Kinney’s first album, which arrived in 1995 towards the end of Riot Grrrl’s peak and thus straddles the line between the movement and the feminist punk that would follow.

17. Read “Not Every Girl Is a Riot Grrrl,” Lindsay Zoladz’s memorable 2011 Pitchfork feature on Riot Grrrl’s legacy, specifically its effect on contemporary female punk musicians living in the movement’s shadow. You’ll come out the other side with a new perspective on Riot Grrrl.

18. Watch Lucy Thane’s 1993 tour documentary on Bikini Kill, It Changed My Life: Bikini Kill In The UK, or footage of Bikini Kill playing “Girl Soldier” in front of the U.S. Capitol building in 1992.

19. Buy one of these grab bags of O.G. Riot Grrrl zines on Etsy, or perhaps just this “Kill Your Local Rapist” button.

20. Re-watch The Punk Singer, Sini Anderson’s compelling and complicated 2013 documentary on Kathleen Hanna. Sadly, it’s no longer on Netflix streaming, but it is under $5 to rent on Amazon Instant.

21. Listen to Personal Best, the hidden gem of a debut from queercore Riot Grrrl band Team Dresch.

22. Spend all day perusing this excellent Riot Grrrl board on Pinterest while pretending to do work.