In the Spring of 1991, Bikini Kill kicked off a mission to radicalise girls and women when singer, Kathleen Hanna, dared: “You’re a big girl now, you’ve got no reason not to fight…”
On the song, Double Dare Ya, as on the rest of the band’s independent demo cassette, Revolution Girl Style Now, Hanna’s distinctive voice is already recognisable as she skips between pseudo-saccharine, sing-song taunts and galvanising shouts.
As Hanna, drummer, Tobi Vail, guitarist, Billy Karren, and bassist, Kathi Wilcox, prepare to reunite for the third time since splitting in 1997, it’s hard not to feel depressed that three decades later, it’s not only the confrontational vocals and lo-fi punk abrasion that are still so relevant.
From the sexualisation of female musicians and abuse of women fans in a toxically macho music scene in songs like Tony Randall, through themes of gaslighting, violence and assault, to the explicit exploration of rape culture in White Boy; Bikini Kill songs are more than just entertainment, they’re a call to arms.
Whilst being some of the best lyrics to belt out since the anarchic politics of Crass and every bit as danceable as the dub-infused punk of The Slits, songs like Don’t Need You and Lil Red spoke directly to my already-weary soul, and lit a fire in my teenaged belly.
Against a landscape of media that aimed to mould yet another generation of girls into modest, passive “ladies”, I heard the single I Like Fucking/I Hate Danger on 7” vinyl and felt like I’d been let into a secret. The closing line of the A side, “I believe in the radical possibilities of pleasure, babe” gave me hope.
Change was coming; girls’ bodies were made for more than starving to fit into the shape prescribed by the patriarchy via our magazines, for acquiescing to the desires of boys and men. Ownership of our power as women, of our bodies, was about to be reclaimed. I believed in the radical possibilities, too.
30 years later, the themes are more visible in the mainstream than they were, the #MeToo movement one notable example, but has anything really changed? Daily, women are still victims of violence; from street harassment to sexual assault, rape and murder. While the phrase “Not All Men” is a thing, when women are torn down for owning their sexuality, for being too outspoken, are we anywhere even close to the future Bikini Kill dared us to fight for?
Women are still afraid to walk the streets alone, abused after spurning crude inbox requests, shamed for the way we act, blamed for how we dress. Social media is awash with vitriolic memes about OnlyFans, and the violent sexualisation of teenage girls like Billie Eilish and Greta Thunberg is passed off as banter.
Yes, it’s hard not to feel depressed, but fuck that, get angry instead. Listening today to Rebel Girl, the emblem of the riot grrrl movement and Bikini Kill’s most iconic song, the embers of hope are back. The line, “When she walks, the revolution’s coming” could be written about the #MeToo demonstrations, the Sarah Everard vigils, Reclaim the Night marches, any of this decade’s powerful displays of feminist solidarity.
Yes, it’s hard to believe we’re still marching, still fighting for what the riot grrrls of the ’90s started, but we can’t stop now.
There’s more than just a Bikini Kill revival coming, there’s about to be a revolution; girl style.