There are differing thoughts as to the origin of the riot grrrl movement. Those involved even go as far as to spell the term two different ways. One with two R’s riot grrl or with three R's riot grrrl. Even with all the spelling discrepancies, most can agree the movement originated as a punk movement sometime in 1991.
Like their grunge contemporaries Mudhoney and Nirvana, riot grrrl bands were beginning to arise from the Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and Olympia, Washington music scenes. Bands like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile were considered the most representative of the sound and were the unofficial leaders of the genre.
On August 20, 1991. The term riot grrl was coined by Alison Wolfe (of Bratmobile) in response to a comment by Jean Smith (of Mecca Normal) that, "We need to start a girl RIOT!" The term quickly became a battle cry for women who shared a do it yourself feminist ethic. Riot grrrl ‘s combined feminist politics, super high punk energy, individualism, and fierce new style sensibilities. They quickly launched an underground revolution with a kick ass soundtrack. Perhaps the main reason for the genre’s existence was to be an alternative to male dominated rock and punk music. It was a response to prevalent misogynist attitudes of uneducated punk rock males. The movement also created a new legion of all-women bands ready to scream their messages to whomever would listen. Riot grrrl musicians were fiercely independent, and most turned up their noses to major label offers. Rather then cash in on the movement they decided to stick with indie labels like Kill Rock Stars, Sympathy For The Record Industry, and K Records.
The very same summer, there was an explosion of self-published riot grrrl zines and organized meetings. The first riot grrrl meetings were organized for young women only. Riot grrrl meetings consisted of discussions about bands, music, and more serious issues like violence against women and abuse. The zines consisted of compelling smartly written articles that covered a variety of feminist topics. They authors attempted to draw out the political implications of intensely personal experiences which often bravely addressed issues such as rape, domestic abuse, sexuality, animal rights, sexism, mental illness, body image, homosexuality, and female empowerment.
Riot grrrl meetings soon became gatherings that were just as important as shows, where young women could make valuable connections with each other. Meetings were held at any available space; an apartment, a dorm room, or a community center. Hot topics for discussion depended on the mood of the moment.
Sadly within a year the movement started to implode (in the wake of Nirvana's wide success and new attention being drawn to Northwest rock) the term riot grrl became a meaningless overused media catchphrase and was dropped by the artists who gave the term its power. Much to their dismay , riot grrls found themselves in the media spotlight. During 1992, numerous articles publicizing the movement in magazines like Seventeen to Newsweek appeared. This onslaught of publicity good and bad lead to conflicts within the riot grrrl community because many felt that "Riot grrrl" could not be defined; it meant too many things to too many people and was way too important of a term for the press to manipulate, control, and eventually destroy. Unfortunately the worst was yet to come. On July 4, 1995, while backstage at the Gorge on the opening date of the Lollapalooza tour, Courtney Love (widow of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain and supposed riot grrrl herself ) punched Bikini Kill's Kathleen Hanna in the face. Ironically, it seemed the powerful riot grrrl movement was destroyed by the very women who built it.
In 1996 the new slogan was "girl power". It was a term popularized by Britain's latest media sensations, the Spice Girls which were made up of 5 glamorous bimbos. They had just come karate kicking their way out of a marketing executive's wet dream. With a million dollar product endorsements and positive messages of squeaky-clean, Pepsi-endorsed, lipstick feminism for the world's pre-teen girls, ones that guaranteed to sell millions of records and gain them instant cool and PC points. The Fab 5 were a very far cry from any self-respecting riot grrrl, whom would never be in a band hand- picked by men or perform songs written by men. It seemed all riot grrrls had accomplished only a few years earlier was wiped out by these, insipid, myopic, uninventive media whores from the UK.
ex-riot grrl, now a riot woman