When I mentioned to my boss that I was starting work on a Riot Grrrl vampire young adult manuscript, she asked me if I had read Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution by Sara Marcus. Shamefully, I admitted I had not. I watched The Punk Singer and read The Riot Grrrl Collection, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, and The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic. But I had yet to delve into the ultimate authority on the Riot Grrrl movement of the early nineties. Much to my surprise and pleasure, my boss gifted me with a copy of the book during our office Secret Santa gift exchange. I’ve been savoring the book for the last two months–wringing out every drop of Riot Grrrl backstory and insight so that I’m able to create a rich world for my characters to inhabit.
Before researching Riot Grrrl, I understood the movement in terms of its contributions to pop culture and to a lesser degree, to politics, but it wasn’t until after reading Girls to the Front that I realized how essential the movement was to the very survival of many teen girls. I was a four-year-old in a small town in Idaho when the movement took hold of Olympia, Washington, and later, DC and the rest of the country. I couldn’t think of a better moment in time to place the origin story of my vampire characters with a penchant for biting back at the epidemic of sexism in our country. The political and cultural landscape of the late eighties and early nineties was not kind to women, and everyone seemed convinced that feminism was over. Out of this time of unrest, groups of girls began writing zines, forming bands, and demanding more.
Girls to the Front details the movement from its humble beginnings on Evergreen’s campus, to the first convention in DC, to its mainstream coverage in every periodical from Spin to USA Today, and to its decline in the mid-nineties. I savored every anecdote and every hero feminist who appeared in the story. But what struck me the most, is how well Sara Marcus captures what it means to be a teen girl and how necessary the movement was to instilling autonomy to girls over their bodies and their lives as well as to giving them a platform for their anger over the injustices that were daily handed to them.
Of the movement’s early stages, Marcus describes, “A second meeting took place the following week, and it was mostly the teenagers who came back, suddenly aware that they were desperate to find a community of girls to help them make it through late adolescence unmaimed. They were stuck in that aggravating period of time when girls get hit from all sides, belittled as children and sexualized as women.”
This period of time, this adolescent purgatory is ripe for storytelling and exactly where I want to be writing. As I continue working on my Lost Girls manuscript (I’ll see you tonight, 40,000 word mark), I know I will return to Girls to the Front as a guidebook, a research tool, and most importantly, a reminder to keep my head up and keep working to tell this story. Riot Grrrl showed that a tool from the everyday, something as simple as a song or a zine printed off at the local copy store, can spark a revolution. I hope someday my story can play a part in inspiring the next generation of young feminists to revolt, grrrl style.