In the early 1990s, a feminist punk movement known as Riot Grrrl emerged simultaneously in the Pacific Northwest and Washington D.C. Riot Grrrl bands initially went unnoticed by mainstream listeners, and its members, heavily influenced by punk, only focused on a grassroots approach to music and performance. Fanzines, posters and word-of-mouth were the primary means of connection to audiences. Many women in the movement didn't care about or seek national recognition, and thrived in the underground music scene. By the mid 90s, when mainstream media learned of the movement, articles published in national publications like Newsweek exposed Riot Grrrl to the public, and greatly altered its aesthetics (Rosenberg, 810). Listeners who found Riot Grrrl music through mainstream platforms had a different perspective of the music and its meaning than the originators. When movements become divided, there is often a greater focus on and recognition of the more "accessible" ideals, thereby erasing the multitude of experiences that contributed to the same cause.  

Despite a variety of responses on what Riot Grrrl actually is or stands for, one factor has remained constant: the movement created a musical community by women, for women, who, using the instrumentation and aesthetics of rock and punk, were able to speak openly about women’s issues.

In her book, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, Sleater-Kinney guitarist, Carrie Brownstein, describes the influence Riot Grrrl bands had on her playing. After seeing her now bandmate, Corin Tucker, perform in the group Heaven's to Betsy, she recalls, "her singing and playing really influenced me, the way she sang her guitar lines, made them a unified theme, and then broke them apart" (Brownstein, 86). Though the movement was still small at this time, it already began to re-conceptualize the technology of the electric guitar. The instrument didn't have to be played in a particular way, it could be amended to fits one's personal style. Tucker would even tune the guitar to her voice, rather than use a standard tuning, taking ownership of the technology (Brownstein, 110). As a result, women became inspired to pick up the instrument and be apart of a movement that was inclusive and freeing.

Keeping with the theme of erasure, it is important to analyze the shortcoming of the Riot Grrrl scene when dealing with intersectionality. Author, Gabby Bess, writes that “the history of Riot Grrrl is inevitably written as "predominately white," glossing over the contributions of black women and other women of color” (Bess, 2015). To combat this erasure, there needs to be more inclusion of the experiences of women of color in Riot Grrrl, and how their contributions shaped punk history.  


Tamar-kali was a member of the New York punk scene of the late 1990s. Fed up with the exclusion of the Black experience in the Riot Grrrl movement, she started an alternative movement called Sista Grrrl’s Riot. Of all the information that is circulated about Riot Grrrl, this is one of the least recognizable offshoots. In fact, trying to research Sista Grrrl’s Riot leads to a circle of information back to one singular document written about the movement. And this was no small movement, as Sista Grrrl's Riot shows sold out clubs across New York and even performed at the famed CBGB (Bess, 2015).

Along with three other musicians in New York’s punk scene - Honey Child Coleman, Maya Glick and Simi Stone - Tamar-kali played “to a packed crowd who could finally see versions of themselves onstage” (Bess, 2015). This is an unbelievably powerful statement, and a huge contribution to what reconceptualization of the guitar can do for future generations of musicians. Recognizing Tamar-kali suddenly makes playing the guitar in a punk band so much more than just being angry or rebelling against mainstream rock. Tamar-kali and her bandmates used the technology to unite a community in an era which regarded that technology to a handful of players. The guitar can be seen as intertwined with conformity and patriarchy, or it can be viewed as a tool for individual expression that can be accessed by anyone.

Sista Grrrl's Riot Show
 "The thing that was really kind of heartbreaking and awesome was that none of us had ever played to so many black people in one room in our lives until we threw that first riot"
-Honeychild Coleman
“Bikini Kill songs taught me…that my teen girl soul mattered. That who I was mattered, that what I thought and felt mattered, even when they were invisible to everyone else”.
-Jessica Hopper, Music Critic
Heaven's to Betsy - "Complicated"

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