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Girl, Uninterrupted: How the 1990s nurtured feminism in rock music

Men have dominated rock 'n' roll in the music industry since the beginning of the genre. Jack White pointed out in a 2014 interview that female musicians are often viewed as little girls playing dress-up and pretending to play instruments. Even famous, accomplished women like Stevie Nicks faced sexism throughout their careers (see this clip from 1977 of a sexist interviewer).

When the '90s came around, women were ready to take over the rock scene. During the birth of grunge, many all-girl bands started popping up in a craze referred to as Riot Grrrl. Bands like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile used zines (smaller, artsy and independently produced magazines) to spark the Riot Grrrl Movement.

Riot Grrrl consisted of girl groups who wanted to create an environment where women felt safe. The music was all about girl power and the struggles of women, people of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community. "Rebel Girl" by Bikini Kill is about the singer being infatuated with a girl who breaks female societal standards. The song praises female independence and the meaninglessness of shaming sexually active women. 

Riot Grrrl even put on Rock for Choice, a concert series that began in 1991 to promote feminism in rock. Nirvana, Hole, L7 and other major bands were encouraged to speak about women's rights and the importance of feminism in between their performances. Rock for Choice inspired young punk rockers to vote in favor of women's rights, especially regarding reproductive rights.

Although Riot Grrrl was only popular until about the mid-1990s, the genre paved the way for more women and other compromised groups to be more involved and respected in rock. Riot Grrrl taught women to stand up for themselves and publicly fight for their rights. Former lead singer of Bikini Kill, Kathleen Hanna, said, "I would much rather be the 'obnoxious feminist girl' than be complicit in my own dehumanization."

In 1992, Pearl Jam was still riding the high from its hit debut album, "Ten," released the year before. Their chaotic performance antics, such as Eddie Vedder's tendency to climb the stage, already caused a stir with some of the non-grunge members of the public. Then, during the live MTV Unplugged performance of their song "Porch," Eddie Vedder, teetering on a stool, pulled out a marker and scrawled "Pro choice!!!" onto his arm. Because of the band's popularity — and its gender profile — this became one of the most iconic pro-feminist showcases on live television.

Luckily for the '90s, the members of Pearl Jam weren't the only famous men advocating for women's rights. Nirvana was strongly tied into the Riot Grrrl scene, and Kurt Cobain was an outspoken feminist. Songs like "R- - - Me" and "Polly," although sometimes difficult to listen to, very obviously brought feminist issues to light. Nirvana also famously sported dresses in the band's "In Bloom" music video, presenting their disregard for traditional gender roles. 

Some rock fans view the 1990s as the decade that killed rock 'n' roll, as hip hop was already on the track to become the next big thing. However, the '90s grunge scene made great strides for women in the music industry. Although there are still many changes to make in the music industry, bands like Nirvana and Bikini Kill made women feel a little more welcome in rock. 

Kenzie Shuman is a freshman studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Kenzie know by emailing her at or messaging her on Instagram @zieshuman.

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