Reflecting a ‘historical’ moment for a 21st century reader
by Carrie Pack, author of Grrrls on the Side
Riot Grrrl was a moment in time that represented what being young and female meant within the greater context of our society. When this movement began, many young women knew that even though significant strides had been made for gender and racial equality, the world was far from equal. It was the early 1990s, and a group of socially aware young women created (some would argue that they stumbled upon) a feminist movement they dubbed Riot Grrrl. My latest novel, Grrrls on the Side, is predominantly about that movement as seen through the eyes of 16-year-old Tabitha Denton.
Tabitha’s experience reflects what many first-person accounts of Riot Grrrl have revealed. Girls talked about everything from makeup and parties to sexual assault and political causes. It was a way for girls to get socially and politically active in a safe and supportive environment. They expressed their views through music, zines and even by writing messages on their bodies. Using words like “Slut,” Riot Grrrls hoped to express ownership over their bodies by reclaiming words that had been used as slurs. These were the daughters of women who burned their bras and fought for equal pay, so they had always expected more than what they felt they were being given. This was the era of the Supermodel and “heroin chic.” Riot Grrrls rejected the idea that you had to fit some magazine ideal to be worthy of respect.
It was a philosophy that spoke to many and isolated some. Riot Grrrl was often criticized for its lack of inclusivity, particularly with regard to race and gender. It was seen as a movement for cisgender, white girls from a middle-class socioeconomic background. In comparison to other feminist movements, it was meteoric and short-lived. It was also made up of high school- and college-aged women—a group that is often derided and chastised for speaking out.
I wanted to write a novel that would reflect all of these aspects of Riot Grrrl. I don’t sugarcoat it. But I also don’t erase that it was a defining moment for so many of us. It mattered. Just because it happened over 25 years ago, doesn’t mean it’s not relevant now. The same issues that inspired girls in the 1990s are still important today. I see Riot Grrrl values reflected everyday through social media. Discussions of rape culture and body image have improved the media we consume. Activism is on the rise again, and now the next generation of Riot Grrrls has taken the reins. I hope they make the best of it.
by Carrie Pack
The year is 1994 and alternative is in. But not for alternative girl Tabitha Denton; she hates her life. She is uninterested in boys, lonely, and sidelined by former friends at her suburban high school. When she picks up a zine at a punk concert, she finds an escape—an advertisement for a Riot Grrrl meet-up.
At the meeting, Tabitha finds girls who are more like her and a place to belong. But just as Tabitha is settling in with her new friends and beginning to think she understands herself, eighteen-year-old Jackie Hardwick walks into a meeting and changes her world forever. The out-and-proud Jackie is unlike anyone Tabitha has ever known. As her feelings for Jackie grow, Tabitha begins to learn more about herself and the racial injustices of the punk scene, but to be with Jackie, she must also come to grips with her own privilege and stand up for what’s right.
About the Author
Never one for following the “rules,” Carrie Pack is a published author of books in multiple genres, including Designs on You, In the Present Tense and the forthcoming Grrrls on the Side (2017). Her novels focus on characters finding themselves in their own time—something she experienced for herself when she came out as bisexual recently. She’s passionate about positive representation in her writing and has been a feminist before she knew what the word meant, thanks to a progressive and civic-minded grandmother. Coincidentally that’s also where she got her love of red lipstick and desserts. Carrie lives in Florida, or as she likes to call it, “America’s Wang.”
Grand Prize $25 IP Gift Card + Multi-format eBook of Hold // Five winners receive Grrrls on the Side eBook
Just because we’re girls doesn’t mean we can’t change things.
Cherie does her usual spiel calling the girls down to the front, and the crush of bodies closes in on us. It’s hot and sweaty, but I don’t care. Jackie squeezes my hand, and we share a smile just as Shut Up rips into their first song.
My friends are cool. They’re in a band and they are legitimately, undeniably cool. And not in an abstract, I-like-this-music kind of way. But in an own-the-stage, make-you-want-to-start-your-own-band kind of way.
Dancing comes easier this time. I raise my hands over my head and thrash with the crowd, not caring what I look like or who’s watching. This is my territory… and theirs. In this moment, girls own this place and that’s powerful. For the first time in my life, I’m part of something bigger than myself. It may not solve world hunger, but it matters. Just like Kate’s obsessive need to protest, and Marty’s passion for Riot Grrrl, and Cherie’s unapologetic femininity, everything has its place. Even “Flabby Tabby” dancing at a concert is part of it.
I look around to take it all in. Jackie and I are once again front and center, but this time we are surrounded by dozens of girls who came to see Shut Up play. I recognize a few of them, but most are just here because they heard about a punk girl band and want to be a part of the moment. I can’t believe it. I’m part of something, and it’s not dorky or cheesy. It’s real. I’m real.
The club is dirty and small, and I have to stand on my tiptoes to see the stage, but I don’t care because these are my people: the hardscrabble freaks and losers who are angry at the world for their lot in life. Dramatic? Sure. But no one here looks at me like I’m some sort of zoo animal. An elephant with too much hair. A rhinoceros missing her horn. Here I am just a girl with cool boots, who maybe looks like she could kick your ass.
Mike seems in his element, too, and taller somehow, protective almost. When a guy with a safety pin through his left eyebrow bumps into me during the opening act, Mike shoves him back. At first I think we’ve won, but Eyebrow Piercing continues to thrash. I step to the side and let him go crazy. Who cares? This band is shit anyway. Mike lifts his brow as if to say, “Want me to kick his ass?” But I shake my head. No point in getting kicked out before the good bands start. We make our way to the other side of the venue where I can see the stage a little better.
We stand there for a while, taking in the scene. The opening band continues to suck. I’m not even sure the bass player’s amp is on. Their sound is top-heavy, like a car stereo with the speakers blown out. Mike nods in the direction of the merch tables. Looks like all the bands are selling CDs and a couple of girls are handing out flyers. We sidestep the thrashing masses to get a better look. I pass up the CDs; I don’t get my allowance until Monday, and I already blew my savings on the boots. A girl about my age catches my eye and smiles. Her brown hair is barely past shoulder length and much shinier than mine. Bright pink barrettes frame her pale face near her forehead. It should make her look childish, but instead she looks cool. I smile back.
“Hey, you interested in doing some shit?” she asks. Her pale green eyes sparkle with determination.
“About all the bullshit in the world that girls have to put up with.”
Thinking she’s joking, I laugh. “That’s ambitious.”
“Just because we’re girls doesn’t mean we can’t change things. Here.” She hands me the flyer I’d noticed her passing out. “We meet on Tuesdays.”
Kate props herself on her elbow and looks at me. “Are you questioning your sexuality, Tabitha?” It sounds very after-school special to me, but Kate is dead serious.
“I uh… Well…”
“It’s okay,” she says. Her smile has turned into a smirk. “I have an idea. You don’t have to answer. Just close your eyes.”
My heart is about to beat right out of my chest, but I comply. I don’t have a choice. My body is acting on its own. I no longer have free will. I’m only doing what I’m told. I can feel Kate coming closer, but I don’t move, not a muscle, not an eyelash. I am frozen in time, waiting. For what I’m not sure.
Then her lips brush mine. Softly at first and then more firmly. My whole body is feverish as she cups my face in her hand. I don’t know what else to do so I try to kiss back, but she’s gone. When I open my eyes, she’s still hovering over me; her hand covers her mouth. She’s blushing, too.
Neither of us says anything, and Kate stands up and takes the tape out of the stereo. “I should probably get this back to Cherie.” She looks at me lying on the floor. “I gotta pee. I’ll meet you outside.”
She climbs the stairs, and I lie there like a dumbstruck statue. I bring my hand to my lips, but they feel unchanged. And yet something is completely, irrevocably, unavoidably different. Something so life-changing, I don’t know what to do with the information.
Plain and simple: I have a crush on Kate.