“The early ‘90s were a difficult time to be a woman, especially a young one, and too little has changed in the intervening decades.” — Sara Marcus, Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution
This quote is the epigraph to my latest novel, Grrrls on the Side, and I chose to use this particular quote because it’s the sentence that inspired me to write the book. Literally. I actually set the book down and immediately copied it down because it hit me so hard.
Even after I finished reading Marcus’ book, this quote stuck in my mind. Why had it been such a powerful statement to me? I looked through old zines to see if I could see what Marcus meant. Because Riot Grrrl had formed the bedrock of my feminist viewpoints, I wasn’t shocked that I could still feel passionate reading an issue of Jigsaw or Girl Germs. But I wondered if that was the only reason. I could certainly relate to cries for a “revolution, girl style” and something told me I wasn’t the only one who might still feel this way. In fact, I started to notice how much these old zines were eerily familiar to what my friends and followers were saying online.
The more I paid attention, the more it became clear: the very same issues that riot grrrls wrote about in their zines and music in the 1990s are still on the minds of girls and women today. These issues get talked about on Twitter and Tumblr as well as queer and feminist sites like Autostraddle, Bustle, BGD and more. The Riot Grrrl era is still highly relevant, although I like to think feminism has come much further in its awareness of intersectionality and inclusion. But the same basic ideals are still the zeitgeist of 21st century feminism. There are clear parallels between social media activism and the feminist zines of my youth. Discussions of rape culture, sexuality, gender expression and body autonomy pop up frequently.
In the end, this realization angered and confused me. How is it than in the nearly three decades since Riot Grrrl began, we’ve only come this far? Especially when our current political climate often feels like a giant step back for women, how do we find the motivation to keep pushing? Is the cause lost? I don’t think so. In fact, I choose to look at this situation another way. I think this is the last, pathetic effort of an oppressive, white, heterosexual patriarchy that knows its days are numbered. It’s a final Hail Mary play to control the discussion, our bodies, and even our minds. But we can’t and won’t let them win. I know that in my heart. I think all of us Riot Grrrls do.
So why did I write a book for teens in 2017 that takes place in 1994? Because it’s a universal story that I hope one day feels antiquated and naïve. I hope it inspires teens to make that happen.
Grrrls on the Side is available now wherever books are sold.