Inquiring Minds

Double Dare Ya: Author Sara Marcus Looks Beyond Riot Grrrl

To many, the term "Riot Grrrl" evokes images of impassioned, barrette-clad girls shrieking into microphones, the word "SLUT" scrawled across their bare bellies in magic marker.

Those images are mostly accurate -- but more notably, the Riot Grrrl movement of the early '90s carries a passionate story of grassroots feminist activism.

Bands like Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy and Bratmobile have preserved the essence of the era musically, but, as any true Riot Grrrl will tell you, there is oh-so-much more to the story than the recordings its key players produced. Thanks to writers like Girls to the Front author Sara Marcus, the movement is finally receiving thorough appreciation.

In anticipation of her reading tonight at the University of Houston, we spoke with Marcus about Girls to the Front, her Riot Grrrl roots, and the driving force behind one of the most radical and emotionally charged feminist eras in history.


Rocks Off: How did you first hear about Riot Grrrl?

Sara Marcus: My first intimation of Riot Grrrl stemmed from this (1992) Newsweek article I read in my sophomore year of high school. I was living in a suburb of Washington, D.C., where it often felt like I wasn't in the center of things culturally.

RO: What part of that Newsweek article spoke to you?

SM: It all blew my mind, because it described these young women who were fighting sexual harassment and playing rock music, which resonated with me. It gave me inspiration to act on my feminist impulses and find these women.

RO: How did you incorporate Riot Grrrl into your life at that point?

SM: I started a feminist club at my high school, and my friend and I started a zine. I got in touch with Riot Grrrl people through an article in a feminist newspaper, and I started going to meetings.

RO: Do you think it has become harder or easier for today's young feminists to connect with one another?

SM: I think the ability to find one another is now greatly enhanced. If you're a young person nowadays, and you think, "I'm a feminist and I don't know any other feminists at my school," you just tap a few things into your computer and get connected with groups, blogs, and Facebook communities.

But I believe there is still value to bodies being together; the power of the Internet to connect people can only be fully realized if we recognize that its opportunities online are the not the endpoint, but rather the means to start a community to group in real-time.

RO: There's something about the roots of Riot Grrrl and the '90s era that seems so romantic.

SM: Of course. In the '90s, we communicated through means that carried great emotional charge -- handwritten letters, trips to meet each other... We didn't even talk on the phone much, because it was so expensive.

Instead, we wrote letters, which have a personal stamp on them in a way that today's emails do not: They were hand-written, or typed on your personal typewriter, and we'd decorate the envelope and add a mix-tape, you know?

But I don't think the Internet has removed our capability to connect in deep ways. I think we just need to be conscious that the Internet is not going to do all that for us. We have to put in the added effort to make these connections meaningful.

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Neph Basedow
Contact: Neph Basedow