This spring, the underground feminist punk movement Riot Grrrl turns 27. Anyone who knows me probably won’t find this the least bit shocking, but back in 1991, I was an angsty young woman. I wasn’t a juvenile delinquent or anything – just a stubborn, smart-ass adolescent who consistently got in trouble for talking back and not entirely abiding by the rules. 

Despite having some great friends, I definitely felt like an outcast. This made sense considering I was a pre-teen girl who wore my dad’s old Joy Division shirt and carried around a backpack full of cassette tapes. All this changed one summer afternoon in the early ’90s when my dad and I went on our weekly trip to Cleveland’s own Coconut Records (RIP). As I was sifting through various tapes and CDs, trying to select my one allotted purchase, an overpowering screech came over the record store stereo. It was just like the punk rock music I had grown up with, but with one distinct difference: the singer was a woman! I immediately marched to the register to ask what it was. The answer: Bratmobile. Sensing my excitement, the cashier lead me to the punk section and pulled out further suggestions: Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland and the Slits. Needless to say, I was mesmerized. The Riot Grrrl phenomenon was working its magic on me, and nothing would be the same from here on out.

Unlike the female pop stars of my day (Madonna, Mariah Carey, etc.), these were musicians to whom I could actually relate. They were women who wouldn’t — couldn’t — be boxed in. They embodied this beautiful dichotomy that I had never encountered before: tomboys who wore lipstick and dresses, who could be angry and happy at the same time. Most of all, they were loud and outspoken just like me.

Of course, countless other experiences with music have shaped who I am and saved my life in some way, but this one sticks out. It was the very first time I realized it was OK to be a little different. To this day, I think of these underground artists and their relentless breaking of boundaries. Well over two decades later, they still inspire me to remain completely and unapologetically myself.

Listen to Riot Grrrl Radio on Pandora


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