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Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution

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Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution [Paperback]

Sara Marcus
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 28, 2010

“For a Second Wave feminist like myself, Girls to the Front evokes wonderfully the way the generation after mine soaked up the promise and the punishment of feminist consciousness....A richly moving story.” —Village Voice writer Vivian Gornick

Girls to the Front is the epic, definitive history of the Riot Grrrl movement—the radical feminist punk uprising that exploded into the public eye in the 1990s, altering America’s gender landscape forever. Author Sara Marcus, a music and politics writer for Time Out New York,, Pos, and Heeb magazine, interweaves research, interviews, and her own memories as a Riot Grrrl front-liner. Her passionate, sophisticated narrative brilliantly conveys the story of punk bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, Heavens to Betsy—as well as successors like Sleater-Kinney, Partyline, and Kathleen Hanna’s Le Tigre—and their effect on today’s culture.

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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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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

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 (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,205 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A revolution I knew but didn't REALLY know October 4, 2010
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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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Nostalgic Look By Someone Who Wasn't There. August 26, 2014
By Suki V.
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the grrl i was loved this book March 20, 2015
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Caveat: I was way into Riot Grrrl in the early 90s, so i am not remotely an objective reader of this book. That said, i loved the s*** out of it in a grand, passionate, angry, weepy, wall-punching, boot-stomping way. Perhaps it's partly nostalgia, and perhaps it's partly directionless frustration at a lot of present-day misogyny, but even though this book is far from perfect, i am thanking every last star that Marcus wrote it, and that i read it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential reading March 4, 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is a powerful rendering of some crucial years, a time that still resonates today in phenomenon like Pussy Riot and Girls Rock! I was part of this moment, and it still matters immensely to me... this book is a worthy document, and the result of painstaking research... check it out if you can!
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Politics to the Back December 20, 2010
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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4.0 out of 5 stars Would have preferred less revolution, more music. September 14, 2015
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I wanted to give this 3.5 stars, but since half stars aren't an option I felt like this deserved a bump up instead of a bump down. The book covers the years grunge became pop music between 1989-1994, and tells the rarely heard feminine side of that culture. With a movement like Riot Grrrl it's impossible to separate the political from the music, but I wanted to read more about the music than was presented here.

The author jumps around a bit, and at times seems to lose focus. I would have also like to read more of an analysis of the movements broader impact on culture (other than "big media tried to buy and sell us" and "Spice Girls ripped off Girl Power") but the subtitle is "true story of" not "analysis of."

As someone who wasn't there (obviously) I think between this book, and the documentary "The Punk Singer" I was able to get a good idea of what the Riot Grrrl movement ment to the women of the early 90s.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars This is an extremely detailed account of the riot Grrrl ...
This is an extremely detailed account of the riot Grrrl movement which I found very satisfying bar this book if you are interested
Published 1 month ago by Helen
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great read. Made me very nostalgic.
Published 1 month ago by Mindy M
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 2 months ago by Alejandra Devescovi
5.0 out of 5 stars music lovers and people who enjoy great writing
A must-read for all feminists, music lovers and people who enjoy great writing.
Published 2 months ago by CaityB
1.0 out of 5 stars True Story?
This is not exactly a true story. Author was not actually there during the time period. Her thoughts sound like a winey middle school girl. Not worth the read.
Published 3 months ago by Caravanpark3
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 9 months ago by Clarice M. Zayas
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
this book is fantastic I recommend it to everyone
Published 11 months ago by Emma
4.0 out of 5 stars The last two chapters on commentary heavy and probably my favorite...
This book examined an important movement that is often mis-remembered. Marcus writes about the evolution of the movement as well as some of the issues that occurred. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Luke
5.0 out of 5 stars Bikini Kill Babe
What a great book and I'm very happy with the fast shipping.
Published 12 months ago by Koral Rincon
4.0 out of 5 stars A quick, easy, yet in-depth and well-researched read
Girls to the Front begins with the formation of Bikini Kill and ends in 1994 as it began to fizzle out. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Tiffany /hall
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