Riot Grrrl Respect: Creative Women Influenced by the Punk Movement of the 90s

Kathleen Hanna talked to MAKERS about being a punk frontwoman and feminist activist. It all started with one question, she says. "I had this really crazy epiphany in college, where I was standing at the bus stop and I just asked myself a question, What is the most important thing to you? The answer was, I want to end violence against women."

Kathleen started volunteering at a rape relief and domestic violence shelter, where she saw the effects of abuse and the importance of feminism. "I had to tell other women that feminism still existed." She started her bands Bikini Kill and Le Tigre to empower women and spread the feminist message to grow the community in the punk scene. "If [girls] couldn't see how easy it was to play the bass, then how are they going to start their own bands?"

Kathleen wanted to create a bed of culture that could turn into political change. "Sixteen-year-old girls come up to me and have discovered Le Tigre or Bikini Kill, and they feel like it's theirs," she told MAKERS. "They feel like it belongs to them. And that's the great thing as an artist about using a medium like music, is that it kind of goes on forever." More than two decades after Kathleen coined the term Riot Grrrl with other feminist punk women, musicians, actors, and countless Tumblrs are inspired by the movement. Meet a few of the artists influenced by this kind of girl power by clicking through the gallery above, and hear more of Kathleen's story below:


Tavi Gevinson’s sisters say she’s lucky she discovered feminism and Riot Grrrl before she became a teenager. She reviewed Girl Power, a book about the riot grrrls of the ‘90s, on her now-famous blog Style Rookie. It includes the sentence, “If you ARE Kathleen Hanna, I also recommend that you call me and be my best friend.” Tavi’s dreams came true. She met Kathleen Hanna in New York, where Kathleen gave Tavi a feminist sweater and Bikini Kill zines. Hear Tavi's perspective in her words.

Miranda July dropped out of UC Santa Cruz and moved to Portland, Oregon for love. That's when she really started experimenting with performance and film. “I was meeting girls in bands and riot grrl was having as much of an effect as everything else,” she told MAKERS. "It wasn’t just dropping out of school. The whole world I was in was fueled by a sense of rebellion.”

Musican and actor Carrie Brownstein (maybe best known for Portlandia) also went to Evergreen State College, Kathleen Hanna's alma mater. That's when she started feminist rock band Sleater-Kinney. “I didn’t feel like we were early in the movement, because things had already been happened," Carrie told MAKERS. "There was Bikini Kill and Bratmobile…” Still, Carrie's band made a name for itself. The staff of Pitchfork included them in a lot of top tracks lists. More on Carrie Brownstein's creative intent.

Rapper Mykki Blanco posted a photo from the studio this week, where she got “artsy and experimental” with Kathleen Hanna. SPIN writes that Blanco “echoes the punk-rock defiance of the riot grrl movement,” and Blanco herself said, “I grew up listening to riot grrl, rap, and trip-hop. Those are my influences.” Get more Mykki in Interview Magazine.  

Julia Stiles was first connected to Kathleen Hanna in her movie 10 Things I Hate About You, when her love interest (the adorably grinning Heath Ledger) gestures to the band playing at punk Club Skunk: “You know, these guys are no Bikini Kill or Raincoats, but they’re not bad,” he says. Julia Stiles’ character, the feminist protagonist Kat, is surprised he's familiar with those bands. This is the moment we sense the first possibility of romance (and then there’s an amazing scene with paintball guns. If you haven’t seen the movie, you should). Fast forward to today, when Julia recently tweeted in support of Kathleen’s documentary The Punk Singer.

By now you've probably read the story of Miley instagramming two photos of Kathleen Hanna, one with the caption "coolest ever." In return, Kathleen reached out to offer a collaboration on an album only Miley is "daring enough to make." Who knows if talks are going on behind the scenes, but hopefully something epic is underway. 

DJ and frontwoman of The Misshapes Leigh Lezark showed up to Kathleen Hanna’s book launch at VFILES, and by all accounts, the it-girl was starstruck. In an interview with the editor’s blog of French site, Leigh reported on her current favorite music (A$AP Rocky, Azealia Banks, MS MR) but also made sure to mention her ever-present influences: Bikini Kill and Siouxie Sioux.