girls to the front say what?

so i’m getting ready to move into my adorable little bungalow, & slowly packing up the current apartment. i started boxing up my office yesterday & don’t know what to do with the box of zines i have left from last summer. i have maybe forty copies left of “love letters to monsters” #3/”alamaba grrrl” #9. if you want one, or if you run a distro & are running low on copies (or don’t have any copies), please order so i don’t have to move them! they are $3 for a single copy & $1.50 each wholesale (for ten copies or more). i accept paypal at or cash to:
ciara xyerra
1126 tennessee st. #5
lawrence KS 66044

my address is changing at the end of the month, of course, & i’ll post it when we get closer to the date.

so zine month at book club kicked off last night. i got some requests about posting the names of the zines we are reading. last night was narrative personal zine night, & we read “doris” #12, “what i saw from where i stood”, “do not file under manifesto” #5, & “alien” #11. except most people, as usual, did not do the readings. we didn’t get scanned copies up before the meeting & the photocopies we provided last week were not of the highest quality. (for people that are concerned about scanned copies of their zines floating around: we’re taking down all the zines we scan at the end of the month, so they will not be forever floating around on google docs. but if people are cool with having their zines up on the internet, solidarity–which was formerly our local anarchist community space–has been working on a big internet archive of radical zines & will happily include yours. or if you discover your zine has been scanned & put online by solidarity, just drop them an e-mail & they’ll take it down.)

i re-read all these zines on wednesday, in between reading girls the front: the true story of riot grrrl by sara marcus. even though the zines we read were really old (the most recent one was from 2006 or 2007, a few dated back to like 1996), & i’d read them all before, it was awesome to read them again! especially in a mental riot grrrl context. girls to the front was a crazy read, in a good way. it was really dishy. i mean, who knows how much of it was a subjective history marred by over-simplifications or misinterpretations or flat out inaccuracies. tobi vail, johanna fateman, & allison wolfe have all written up their own responses to the book, as people that figure prominently in it.

sara details the reasons why (some) riot grrrls called for a media black-out, which seemed sympathetic to both sides. one side wanted the black-out because they were getting tons of requests from the media & they feared having the movement reduced to fashion statements, & having their political ideas written about in a condescending way. sara makes a lot of good points about how people seem incapable of taking young women seriously as political actors, even while establishment politicians use the lives & experiences of young women as talking points. but she also describes the way in which calls for a media black-out were handled in a kind of weirdly authoritarian way, & addresses the fact that there were little pockets of riot grrrls around the country who were not being besieged with media attention. the problems of media misinterpreting the movement just weren’t on those girls’ radar.

& then she goes into jessica hopper’s decision to ignore the black-out requests & allow herself to be interviewed by “newsweek”. i was certainly among the teenage girls who read that “newsweek” article. i was already aware of riot grrrl at the time, but i was by no means in the “inner circle,” & i think it was good for me in some ways to read the article. i also read the follow-up interview jessica gave to “seventeen” magazine, which touched upon the aftermath of the “newsweek” piece. & i remember it made me feel weird at the time, because the “seventeen” article did portray jessica as a victim of mean girls who were trying to control jessica’s personal decisions. i was like 14 years old then, really too young & politically naive to understand that allowing yourself to become a mouthpiece for an incendiary national movement means that you’re giving the media a chance to portray the movement in ways that might seem fucked up or inaccurate to a whole lot of other people invested in the movement. too unsophisticated to fully comprehend that such an action could certainly be interpreted as self-promotion on the backs of other women that trust you.

there was also a lot of really interesting stuff about erika reinstein & her crew. the book didn’t get into all the race controversy that happened after erika wrote in her zine about the racist antebellum “one-drop rule” & how it is possible that she may have a black ancestor & so she can speak on behalf of all people of color everywhere–basically turning into a denier of privilege & positioning her identity in a big sick game of oppression olympics in which she can do no wrong. but it did kind of edge in that direction & shared a bunch of other ridiculous shit erika did that was pretty similar.

it made me think about all the ridiculous arguments i have had with people over political things–things that sometimes seem like pointless internecine in-fighting, especially in retrospect. it made me think about how imperfect riot grrrl was, but in a way that didn’t really make me feel sad. it made me think more about how these girls were just muddling along, trying to make something out of nothing, doing what girls do, & because they managed to concoct this historical movement that has created such an intense feminist legacy, all the fights & snap decisions that didn’t seem so huge at the time, are being documented, & then they become evidence of the fractiousness that has plagued feminist movements since the inception of feminism. i am GLAD that sara included so much of that stuff in her book, rather than cleaning the movement up to make it seem like a happy little la-la land of girls with funny hair being best friends for life. i think it combats the nostalgia that people have about riot grrrl. if they can understand that their current feminist cultural & political production is fraught with so many of the inter-personal weirdnesses that impacted riot grrrl for both good & ill, maybe that will enable them to move forward in a cultural & political context more useful for today.

i am still digesting the book, but if any of you have read it, let me know what you think!

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

3 thoughts on “girls to the front say what?

  1. I read Girls to the Front a few months ago when it had just come out. I probably need to go back and read it again, but yeah, I agree with you: so glad riot grrrl wasn’t glossed over. At and the same time, I wish its problems with inaccessibility and exclusivity were given more weight.

    I’m maybe a few years too old to have experienced riot grrrl first hand. I had no idea it even existed until the late-90s, and by then it was inseparable from its music, or, even more sadly, its “look.” Being a working-class, Midwestern kid not attending a liberal college, and no access to ‘zine culture, it mostly passed me by. But I think that’s the problem with underground movements in general: not everyone has access to the underground, especially those who’d really benefit from it.

  2. I liked the book way more than I thought I would, because I was afraid that it was just going to be very nostalgic and rosy. I think Marcus was pretty fair to everyone in the book and the Jessica Hopper situation, and it had its nuances if you knew enough about some of the situations or people in the book. Marcus e-mailed me via Goodreads about the Reinstein thing when I posted a status update about it earlier this week…she’s good people and an old school zinester in that she’s open to criticism and dialogue. I poked around the Index after finishing Chapter 10 and realized that there was no way that the Reinstein “one drop” thing was going to fit into the timeframe of the book, nor the focus of the book really, but when I finished the book that night, Marcus heavily foreshadowed it. But it was hard at times reading the book, knowing what I know about Reinstein and even Kathleen Hanna’s later actions. They’re humans and they have made mistakes, but they’ve just made some really offensive and public mistakes that are still hard to reconcile with their feminism or feminist images.

    As the book progressed, I was reminded of the adage “the more things change, the more they stay the same;” and I don’t know if that is a good thing or bad thing.

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