The Original Riot Grrrl

Kathleen Hanna turned on a generation of spunky rockers.

| March/April 2002

Kathleen Hanna is the only person in the world who could possibly make me wish I were back in high school. I mean this in the best way possible, of course.

Back in the 1980s, during my preteen and teenage years, there were some female musicians who kicked butt, like Blondie’s Deborah Harry, Pat Benatar, and maybeeven the Go-Gos. But most of the music I listened to back then was being made by moody boy bands like the Smiths or the Cure.

To a girl growing up in a small Midwestern town, rock music mostly seemed like a guy thing. Sure, Prince had the ambiguously silent Wendy and Lisa, Morrissey was as sensitive as any woman, and the Cure’s Robert Smith wore lipstick, but when I turned on MTV, women were usually playing supporting roles, like the identical (fake) guitar-swinging hotties in Robert Palmer’s "Addicted to Love" video. While I couldn’t imagine myself being one of them, I couldn’t imagine standing out front, playing a real guitar, either.

Oh, what I would’ve done for someone like Kathleen Hanna!

Born in 1969, she began publishing the feminist zine Bikini Kill while attending Evergreen College in Olympia, Washington. The zine eventually morphed into a band by the same name. Pledging their support for other female musicans, artists, and zinesters, the members of Bikini Kill dubbed themselves riot grrrls. The name sparked a pro-girl rocker movement that continues, perhaps in watered-down form, to this day. (For a look at Hanna’s Riot Grrrl Manifesto, go to

When Bikini Kill burst onto the scene in 1991, I was already in college, where there was a women’s collective and a feminist literary journal and lots of guys who thought girls with self-confidence, black hair, and big shoes were sexy. So I viewed Hanna and the whole riot grrrl phenomenon with a kind of detached bemusement. As an oh-so-mature 22-year-old, I thought, "So that’s what kids these days are into."

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