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Monday, June 3, 2013

The Riot Grrrl Collection: Preliminary Thoughts by Tobi Vail

INTRODUCTION: I am an author/fanzine editor featured in this book. My contribution includes excerpts from Jigsaw #1 1989, Bikini Kill #1 1990/91, Bikini Kill #2 1991, various correspondence and flyers/graphics. I am enjoying reading The Riot Grrrl Collection and I think it looks fantastic. I would like to thank everyone involved in making this happen. I appreciate all of your hard work. I fully support this project and I am looking forward to seeing what people have to say about The Riot Grrrl Collection after they read it. I know I am not alone in welcoming critical, analytical responses to this document and the history that it represents.

I will post a full review when I've finished reading the book but I already have a lot to say so I will start with the introduction. First of all, there are some factual details I would like to correct, question and/or add to the book. I am keeping a running list of mistakes or questionable claims, as I do every time a book is written that includes local history that I have witnessed/taken part in. This is one way history gets revised so I don’t want to just ignore errors or inconsistencies. History that is being written and recorded is contestable terrain.

So far this is what I have down:

Lisa's intro to The Riot Grrrl Collection ends with a quote from Girl Germs #3:

“If you are sitting there reading this and you feel like you might be a riot grrrl then you probably are so call yourself one”

She attributes the quote to me, Tobi Vail, but this should be credited to Molly Neuman.

When I first read this I thought -

I don’t think I would have ever said this, I don’t remember ever feeling this way about riot grrrl, I actually remember feeling like it was really important to acknowledge that many of us (myself included) were a bit apprehensive about calling ourselves riot grrrls for legitimate reasons.

This is obviously a-whole-nother article but, in short, some of these reasons included class, race, sexuality, gender expression as well as theoretical differences – for example, following feminist/political theorists such as bell hooks, Judith Butler, Alison Jaggar, Michel Foucault, Joan Cocks, Elizabeth Spelman, Angela Davis - not wanting to universalize a utopian idea of sisterhood or promote an essentialist idea of gender. I also had problems witnessing what I later learned is called the oppression Olympics (see Elizabeth Martinez) and some of the self-serving misuses of identity politics that I saw happening in the riot grrrl scene. There were also strategic differences – like wanting to play in bands and make zines but not wanting to go to C.R. type meetings (but still respecting those who did go to meetings, blah blah blah....) and in general, being focused on trying to build a culture of resistance rather than wanting to get involved in more traditional forms of political organizing, which, at the time, I felt were ineffective in that they no longer spoke to young people. Then the media coverage happened and it got even more confusing/alienating adding all these additional layers and layers of complexity...one being that I was not interested in being a leader or a star or taking part in a feminist movement that had leaders or stars. I was interested in encouraging and participating in radical, anti-capitalist, non-hierarchical, diffuse, localized feminist movement/scenes/action and was trying to help build an international network through punk rock /d.i.y. /underground music culture that connected us via bands and zine-making – I wasn’t really focused on A NAME, I thought there should be multiple names and mutability and when riot grrrl started to seem to represent something else it didn’t speak to me so much AS A NAME…I thought it would keep moving, evolving, changing, growing – now, of course, that whole time/place is known as “riot grrrl” and you have to just say, yes ok, that is the term, fine, I surrender.

This is all to say that YEAH - I understood the hesitancy to call yourself a riot grrrl as something to respect and not something to gloss over. You could be a feminist, a punk feminist even, a self-identified grrrl even, a member of a so-called “riot grrrl band” and not feel represented by that category.

I thought about it some more…

I thought, MAYBE, it is POSSIBLE that the quote is mine. MAYBE I felt this way once a long, long, time ago - way back at the very beginning of riot grrrl…the year before it started…the summer it started, the month it started, the week it started, the day it started…that long hot summer evening in Malcolm X Park…in a secret grrrl gang solidarity letter to Jen Smith that spring? Before meetings were happening and it all was just this big utopian dream of revolution that some of us girls were using as a metaphor - or maybe a dare - as a way to imagine and talk about what a feminist network of action would actually look like, as a way of getting to that next step, as a way to create a feminist future, as a way of asking for back up or to gather an army?

When I look back at some of my writing in Jigsaws #2-#4 I see some of this kind of hopeful romanticism there in the form of sisterly sloganeering and it’s not totally formulated on paper yet but it is inspired and it did inspire others to action, it did get me from point a to point b to point c, and so - YES - maybe I could have written this but I don’t remember feeling it. That makes sense, as a lot of emotions you experience as a young person are hard to feel or even relate to later in life. Perhaps this is just something I blocked from my memory years ago? Hmmm.

But then I noticed that the quote was credited to an issue of Girl Germs. I didn’t write for Girl Germs. Molly Neuman and Allison Wolfe were the editors/main writers of Girl Germs and I don’t remember ever contributing any writing or being interviewed for Girl Germs but, again, I thought maybe I had forgotten? So I looked around and started rereading Girl Germs #3, which is included in the Riot Grrrl Collection in its entirety, and I found it - see page 78 of the book, page 27 of the fanzine - as a part of Molly’s Top Ten (Extended Dance Remix) under the sub heading "#9 riot grrrl":

I encourage those of us who were participants to comment on the historical record, to tell our version of what happened, to record our memories and thoughts and find a way to share them. If you are reading "riot grrrl" zines for the first time I look forward to finding out how someone in 2013 will hear what we had to say about the world 20 or more years ago when we were much younger.

Ok, that's it for now! Back to the book.