25 Years of Girls Misbehavin' -- Bikini Kill Lives On
  • MONDAY, JULY 23, 2012

  • Posted by: Amanda Scherker

Rock 'n Roll has always largely been the terrain of guys, whether we're talking b-boppers, metalheads, or safety-pin studded punks. That unspoken rule has generally relegated young rebel chicks to the backseat of motorcycles, the pits of concert halls, and of course, that reductive island paradise of "the groupie."

Not that you have to look too far to find seminal female rockers. We could rattle off all the greats, ranging from the Patti Smiths of the past, to today's Karen O's. And, like most things, it's an infinitely more even playing field than it was back when, say, Siousxie rounded up her "Banshee" counterparts.

But you don't need 20/20 vision to see the lingering imbalance, particularly when it comes to instrumentation. We may be a far cry from when Joan Jett, that badass of "The Runaways," was famously told that girls don't play guitar. But NPR's survey of 700 modern female musicians found a majority consensus that women still feel extra pressure to prove themselves worthy as musicians, as well as intense presure from record companies to market their sexuality along with their guitar chops. While plenty of rock bands have appointed a glam-girl lead singer, the imbalance of the industry is particularly prominent for women who want to incinerate a drum set or smash a guitar.

Enter Bikini Kill, the "riot grrl" band credited with telling thousands of punk rock chicks that they didn't have to date a musician, they could be one. The "Riot Grrl" movement is, of course, that 1990s-era girls' reappropriation of punk rock music and flair formerly monopolozied by angry white dudes.

Bikini Kill's vocalist, Kathleen Hanna, was attracted to the "DIY" aethestic of punk rock, where a few chords and the right attitude makes the band, rather than flowery guitar solos. She'd stand on stage in a bikini, with an attitude less "Baywatch," more "Johnny Rotten," jumping and yelling just like the guys. Feminist lyrics over decidedly not "feminine" beats was a breakthrough for every girl who'd ever wanted to pick up a guitar.

If you're a lover of pleasant tunes and complicated musical bridges, Bikini Kill may, at points, be abrupt and difficult to swallow. And they wouldn't have it any other way. Cause while we can blame male musical rage on testosterone, seeing a girl misbehave like that is difficult to reconcile with society's cotillion-like conceptions of femininty.

25 years later, Bikini Kill's influence hasn't vanished with the noonday tide. Cited as a major influence on many girl bands to follow, from Sleater-Kinney to The Gossip, Bikini Kill kicked down doors and smashed glass ceilings without apology. They just announced that they'll be starting their own "Bikini Kill" music label, which will be issuing re-releases of old Bikini Kill materials, and, we're sure, continued support for girls who just wanna rock out.

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