By the time I heard about the riot-grrrl movement of the early 1990s, I'd missed it. However, as a relatively short-lived and deliberately noncommercial development in music, its influence on what followed it outstripped its immediate impact, and I suspect a lot of women who were past high-school and college age (I was in my late 20s, already married and a mother) missed it at the time. In this exploration of women in music during the last couple of decades, Marisa Meltzer looks at the music's anyone-can-do-it roots in punk, its filtering into mainstream consciousness, and its sometimes-shaky connections to modern feminism.
Meltzer argues that the original riot grrrls viewed their independent music-making, writing and publishing activities as feminist, political acts, but their determination not to be exploited diluted their potential impact on the direction of third-wave feminism. However, the 1990s were notable for the assimilation of alternative culture into the mainstream, and stylistic elements of riot grrrl - assertiveness, embracing and expression of negative emotions, an upfront expression of sexuality, and reclaiming "girl" as a positive term rather than a demeaning one - became part of a pop-culture-based empowerment that may have helped produce more confident girls, but affected very little genuine social change. The sense of community, sisterhood and women for women that spurred the feminist movement through the 1960s and into the early 1980s was present in riot grrrl, but it too became diluted and the focus shifted to the individual. Meltzer suggests that without a revived sense of community, genuine progress for feminist values may be limited - and I think she's right.
Girl Power is a fast read that touches on a lot of material, but doesn't explore much of it in great detail, and I admit I was somewhat disappointed by that - I'd have liked more, not just about the politics but about the music; too many of the early-90s artists Meltzer references were unfamiliar to me. The book's appendices include a bibliography and filmography; I'd have liked a discography as well, but I'm not sure that some of the music discussed is even available (several playlists linked in the books website may help with that). It's not enough to satisfy your 1990s nostalgia, but it may pique your appetite for more. Hopefully, it will also get you thinking about further exploration of the feminist questions it raises.