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Rebel Girls: i-D’s favorite Riot Grrrl Moments

It wasn’t her ride around the Staples Center aboard an enormous hot-dog or even the reveal of her five-foot bong that marked Miley Cyrus’ most surprising moment. No, it was when the former tween queen recently posted two photos of Bikini Kill frontwoman and riot grrrl icon Kathleen Hanna, one captioned “coolest ever.” The internet promptly exploded. Was invoking the underground 90s feminist movement a calculated push from her Disney roots, or is Miley actually this generation’s “Rebel Girl”? Hanna herself apparently believes the latter, responding to Cyrus on Twitter: “I have an idea for an album that only you are daring enough to make.” Until the Kathleen Hanna Montana supergroup actually comes to life, here are i-D’s five favorite riot grrrl moments.

Text Emily Manning
Image from The Punk Singer: A Film About The Punk Singer

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  • start of it all

    The hippies had Woodstock, riot grrrl had the International Pop Underground Convention. A six-day showcase in Olympia, Washington, the IPU is considered one of the first organized events that pulled together independent bands from both burgeoning grunge and riot grrrl movements. IPU opened with “Grrrl Night,” a heavy hitting lineup of female punk bands including Bikini Kill, Bratmobile, and Heavens to Betsy in one of their first public appearances. IPU’s popularity is credited with bringing the riot grrrl movement to a broader public, galvanising women across the country to start rocking.


  • girls to the front

    As the grunge and riot grrrl DIY scenes began to explode with popularity, more bodies moshing at cramped venues without security left women physically vulnerable to injury and violence. This clip from The Punk Singer, a recent documentary about Kathleen Hanna, includes footage of her famous rallying cry, “girls to the front!” Often policing her own performances to create safe spaces for women at her shows, Hanna championed changing a culture that left girls relegated to the back of the crowd or with broken ribs.

  • i was a teenage serial killer

    Riot grrrl isn’t just a musical movement, it’s a larger subculture based on activism and empowerment. Directed by one of New York’s most seminal filmmakers, Sarah Jacobson, I Was a Teenage Serial Killer shows a 19-year-old exacting murderous revenge on the sexist men in her life. Boasting a soundtrack by foundational riot grrrl outfit Heavens to Betsy, Jacobsons’ work was praised by everyone from Roger Ebert to SPIN as one of the “Top Influences on Girl Culture.”

  • just a girl

    No Doubt’s sold out stadium shows weren’t exactly the basement bashes of riot grrrl’s early days, but it’s clear that the movement’s message informed all types of music. Gwen’s anthem taps into a similar exhausted ethos: girls being fed up with “living in captivity.” In this 95 performance, she flips the script on her audience, making the boys coyly coo “I’m just a girl in the world,” while the girls scream “Fuck you, I’m a girl!” in a way that harkens back to Hanna’s gender role reversals.

  • if ya wanna be my lover…

    Scary, Sporty, Ginger, Posh, and Baby’s choreographed dance routines and corporate collaborations might seem a world away from Washington’s third-wave feminist collectives (the Bikini Kill line of Barbies never really got off the ground), but hear us out.  The most commercially successful girl group of all time definitely had a thing to say about feminism and friendship. In this radio interview, a male caller is entirely insistent the girls “drop the fellows over in England and pick up some American guys.” The only thing Mel B dropped was some much needed knowledge about the Fab Five’s philosophy: “Girl power is about spreading a positive vibe and kicking it for the girls. It’s not about picking up guys. We don’t need men to control our lives, we control our lives anyway!”