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Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution Paperback – September 28, 2010


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A Brooklyn-based journalist gives a brash, gutsy chronicle of the empowering music and feminist movement of the early 1990s led by young women rock groups like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile. Politicized by such national events as the backlash against feminism in the press, the first Iraq War, and the Supreme Court's gearing up to review Roe v. Wade, young women were incensed. Kathleen Hanna, a college student from Olympia, Wash., was spurred to action after interviewing writer Kathy Acker and working for a domestic violence shelter, and she decided to start a band. Hanna, along with Tobi Vail, a fanzine writer (Jigsaw) and former punk rocker who was dating Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, were on a mission to spread female rebellion via their band, Bikini Kill. Meanwhile, Allison Wolfe and Molly Neuman, who had met at the University of Oregon, were in Washington, D.C., cobbling together their own band, Bratmobile. Thus, writes Marcus in this compelling account, the Grrrl Revolution was sparked. Marcus enthusiastically tracks the "scattered cartographies of rebellion" and captures the combustible excitement of this significant if short-lived moment.
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Marcus’ compelling history covers a specific time period, 1989–1994, and a particular type of music that turned into a larger social movement. The riot grrrl movement was a potent form of female empowerment as well as a postfeminist reaction to sexism and the rising number of sexual assaults against women when expectations for equality were high. A writer and musician, Marcus describes some of the major players on the scene, including individuals (Kathleen Hanna, Tobi Vail) and bands (Bikini Kill, Heavens to Betsy)—all set against the backdrop of the so-called postfeminist period. She tells colorful anecdotes (such as the origin of the title of Nirvana’s breakthrough single “Smells like Teen Spirit”). She describes the music scene in such important riot grrrl locations as the Pacific Northwest and Washington, D.C., and chronicles the rise of riot grrrl zines and riot grrrl conventions. In all, Marcus has done a commendable job of telling the little-known history of an important social and cultural movement. --June Sawyers
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Original edition (September 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061806366
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061806360
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #54,490 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

The book is a quick and easy read.
M. Davis
Marcus does a exceptional job of documenting the "scene" and provides enough context to make the details meaningful.
Glo-Worm
I think Sara Marcus did an excellent job detailing the origins and events surrounding the riot grrrl revolution.
Raven DeLajour

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By SarahK66 on October 4, 2010
Format: Paperback
Wow! Just finished the book and many thoughts are taking over my brain. This book explains a lot of things that I always wondered about: Things such as who were the people involved in Riot Grrrl besides the famous faces we always see?, did other girls really act evil with one another besides Ms. Love? and most of all what were the good parts of the movement that I never knew. It's easy to understand why riot grrrl started/ why it fell apart, but it takes a book like this to understand the in between parts none of us knew. The latter is the best part of this book. The author does not try to kiss anyone's ass nor is she burning bridges. She's diplomatic with a healthy dose of truth and skepticism. Also, the other book with the seemingly same subject matter "Riot Grrrl: Revolution Girl Style Now!" is a totally different book because its focus is on the music/style than the nuts and bolts of riot grrrl as a grassroots movement. This one is for the people who care about what exactly happened in the history of this feminist movement while the other book is more for music and pictures. Buy both and get schooled the fun way.
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17 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Geneva M. Gano on December 20, 2010
Format: Paperback
Just finished this book and did not feel quite as enthusiastic about it as a number of my friends. It was very well-written, and especially captivating towards the beginning, but it follows a decidedly negative narrative trajectory towards the second half, basically suggesting that Riot Grrrl was always already over (the old "punk is dead" refrain) before it even began. The second half, in particular, traces a disintegration of feminism, sisterhood, and collaborative activism and privileges the voices of dissent and disillusion. This seems unfortunate to me, since Marcus is clearly aware of this trajectory and apologizes for her own perspective often, while also attempting to remind us-- in an uninspired, even pedantic sort of fashion-- that the feminist struggle continues. To me, a broader look at the organic outcroppings of Riot Grrrl around the country and a more diffuse perspective (even a longer time frame) would have enabled a more grassroots sort of movement to emerge and indicate its many permutations rather than the focus on leaders that Marcus decided to take. Perhaps a marketing decision here? My feeling is that this could have been avoided with a basic, structural shift of focus from bands to the broader movement (which included self-defense workshops, house parties, puppet shows, movie making, political protests for a wide range of issues, zines, etc.). Marcus does mention these, but her central focus (and the narrative) is music, and really just the big three bands, which I feel inherently skews the story in a direction of decline. If this "revolution" is symbolized by the concept that "a band is any song you have ever played with anybody even if only once" then perhaps evolution, growth, commitment, and sustainability are foreclosed from the start. Thoughts?
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Suki V. on August 26, 2014
Format: Paperback
Sara Marcus starts out by informing us that she wanted to uncover the mystery of a movement she herself had just missed out on, and she does...kind of. As with most things written about Riot Grrrl (particularly by those who weren't there), Marcus puts an emphasis on the girl bands that played a part in shaping the part of third-wave feminism that we now think of as Riot Grrrl. Whether because that's the part that was most interesting to her as a biographer, or because she chose to spend most of her time interviewing the musicians of said bands or for some other reason, the fact remains that music was but one aspect of the "girl culture" that was being borne from that movement.
Some people who had significant roles within Riot Grrrl, like Donna Dresch, don't get so much as a mention, while countless others that gave their heart and soul to that scene get a sentence or two in the course of the book. Lastly, Marcus' own necessary impartiality seems to get more and more tainted as the book wears on, reaching something of a crescendo by the time she details the banning of several Riot Grrrl members from the now-defunct Beehive Collective.
In summation, read the book and enjoy it for what it is: a love letter from a fan who spent some time collecting the stories of others. But do not, in any way, take this to be the be-all-end-all "True story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution", because it's not even close.
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Format: Paperback
Girls to the Front is an excellent history of a very specific time period that gets covers punk rock, feminism, media, politics and teenage girls and where they intersected to form Riot Grrrl. I only heard about Riot Grrrl and the associated bands long after they were over, and so often in the context of how it fell apart. Sara Marcus takes readers into the story from both a very personal perspective, letting us get to know not only the band members but the girls who got involved on a very intimate level, as well as the political scene at the time, to give context to the organizing she's covering.

Marcus writes almost breathlessly, but still with a reporter's eye, about the way riot grrrl unfolded, in Washington, DC and Olympia first, and then how it spread. She also captures the beginnings of bands such as Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy and shows the close personal connections that helped encourage the women who joined these bands to get onstage and what each of their agendas were, and weren't. The chapter about the media blackout, Jessica Hopper and Newsweek, which is referred back to several times later on, is especially intense, and shows that this is as much a story about pre-internet community and media as it is about feminism and connection. Marcus doesn't try to take sides, but offers up a vivid portrayal of zine culture, punk rock and feminism as they combined.

The book does end at ostensibly the end of riot grrrl, but anyone affected by the movement, whether during or after the fact, would be hard pressed not to feel a similar sense of urgency or to see echoes of the aims and actions of riot grrrl reflected back in modern pop culture, whether a woman writing on her fingers in an ad for a TV show about eating disorders or the latest girl rockers. This is a breathtaking book that speaks to a host of issues around modern feminism and what it means in lived, not academic, terms, in and outside of punk rock. Highly recommended.
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