Girls to the Front: The Bikini Kill Reunion and Women’s Rage
I was 12 years old when my body became weaponized against me. That’s a bit of an exaggeration because any woman will tell you that their bodies become weaponized once they show a hint of the adult body that’s yet to come (for me, that was about 10 years old.) That’s a liminal period where you can shrink back into your child’s body and go unnoticed by men who think that the vessel that keeps you alive is partly theirs—by some God-given (let’s be honest, violently taken) right. However, by 12 years old, I was no longer able to shrink back in, and my breasts, height, hips, and adult(ish) face were here to stay permanently.
Rage is a currency for white, straight men. It’s by and large how they communicate against us, and they’re incredibly protective of its potency. That’s why, for anyone who doesn’t meet those three criteria, rage is mocked, ridiculed, and systematically taken from you. But that rage never really goes away; it gets pushed further and further down until it’s a constant undercurrent in you that you may not even realize is there. It bubbles up when you least expect it—and because it’s instilled in you that it’s not yours to have, rather than embrace the rage and question the systems that it comes out against, you push it down again, or throw it into somewhere misplaced.
This all means that I was a f*cking angry 12-year old, and I didn’t really understand why. When grown men followed me around stores (that I was finally allowed to go into by myself, because, you know, my mom was afraid of me getting into trouble with a stranger) I didn’t question why they did it. I was even oddly flattered by the attention. It’s easier to give in than to rage—being flattered is what men want, getting angry scares them—they don’t know how to process rage within the context of a woman. That’s why they belittle it. How many times have you let the rage slip out at a man in your life, and been flippantly asked: “Are you on your period or something?”
It would take almost 20 years for me to understand that I’m allowed to question the entire structure, and not just my place within it—but at 12 years old, I didn’t have the emotional vocabulary or the autonomy to question anything. I just knew I hated the world I lived in. The world that thought it was OK to reduce me to parts, instead of a sum whole, for whatever whim strangers thought they deserved from my body and attention.
I wish I could recount a beautiful story about Sassy magazine and deciding I wanted to smash the patriarchy, but I can’t. I can tell you that at the time I discovered the concept and decided that feminism would be a defining trait of my personality, it was the summer of 1997. I was 12.
I first learned of Bikini Kill through a (now out of print) book called Grrrls: Viva Rock Divas, written entirely about women in rock. Each chapter was devoted to a different female musician—and I tracked down music from each one. This book was also my gateway into the concept of the “Riot Grrrl” flavor of feminism—and I was hooked.
For those of you who don’t know, Riot Grrl is a punk ethos of DIY, of tapping into female rage, and rebelling against the system. The entire Riot Grrl manifesto can be found here.
Since this was Anchorage, Alaska, in the mid-’90s, Bikini Kill songs were not easy to come by. After months of imagining what they would sound like, when I finally got an album, the reality of Bikini Kill was nothing like I pictured in my mind. Much less polished than I pictured, they tapped into the primal rage I felt—by the last song on the album, when the chorus “we’re the girls with the bad reputation/ we’re the girls who are gonna make you pay/ we’re the girls with the bad reputation/ we’re the girls who are gonna have their say,” I finally felt seen. Those ladies knew everything was bullsh*t, and rather than sit and allow themselves to grow smaller by the weight of the attention, they rose up, middle fingers raised, and dared men to take their rage away. To try to make them smaller.
I felt a compulsion to listen to it nonstop. It was my teenage rage personified, validated, and not dismissed—it was mine to own, feel, and revel in. For the first time, someone was demonstrating to me that my anger was real, valid, and not something to ignore.
Their concerts were the stuff of legends, and again, since this was the ’90s there was no way for me to experience that through video clips, and god knows they would never tour to Alaska. When they broke up in 1998, I wrote off Bikini Kill as one of those bands I’d never get to see live because it was my lot in life to grow up in the middle of nowhere.
The Bikini Kill reunion popped up out of basically nowhere, only if you haven’t been paying attention to what’s been going on. A friend of mine, who I met through a shared love of Riot Grrrl, texted me last week to let me know that not only was the classic line up of Bikini Kill reforming but that they were going to play shows in New York and Los Angeles. It was a huge deal for us—and I promised myself I’d get tickets.
Yeah, that didn’t happen. Scalpers and bots nabbed up a disproportionate amount of the tickets within seconds of becoming available, and the show was sold out within a minute. So, a second show was announced, and tickets would go on sale in a few hours, and yeah, those sold out too. If these were fans grabbing them up, it would have been much easier to accept, but as soon as the show sold out, tickets were being uploaded to resale sites for 500 percent markup. I’m not saying it was all men who did it, but all the accounts on Twitter bragging about it were. So boys infiltrated our club and found a way to keep us out. Typical, right?
It’s hard not to get upset at the idea of a band whose rallying cry at concerts is “Girls to the front!” being thwarted by people looking to make a quick buck at the expense of said “girls.” We want to celebrate music that made a massive impact in our lives and validated the rage we felt but suppressed, for so long. This felt especially important after the sh*tshow of the 2016 elections, the Kavanaugh hearings, and the waking nightmare that is the Trump administration.
Most concerts aren’t particularly welcoming in my experience. Attending a concert as a woman is an insidious process. Even if you find a nice nook off to the corner, to dance and sing along with your friends, someone will still find a way to invade your space and let you know it’s not entirely your own. It’s easier to stay off to the side because after countless times of having my lower back forcefully guided by a man so he can move past me, or my breast getting felt from the side because it’s “too crowded” and his “hand just landed there, ok?!” I gave up trying to get to the front. Even for bands that I loved because it’s just not worth it.
The Bikini Kill concert was supposed to be different—it was supposed to be “Girls to the front!” But ask anyone who isn’t a straight, white male and they’ll tell you a universal truth: straight white men feel entitled (and comfortable) in spaces that they didn’t build and that aren’t for them. They feel that every space is theirs—after all, tickets are open to the public, so why shouldn’t they buy them? They like Bikini Kill, too! Plus, this concert had a lot of hype, so why not join in on the fun? When you’re the apex predator and you want something—you take it. Whether that’s control over a woman’s body, rage, or even a concert—why not? No one is there to take it back from you—they can’t. You control the system, you make the rules, and above all, you protect your position in society.
Bikini Kill announced a third set of shows that I was luckily able to get tickets for. I’m finally going to get the chance to see such an important band in my life—but the entire process was fraught. In order to make sure fans got a chance to get tix, they sent out a presale code to anyone on their mailing list, pleading that no one share codes on social media so that the bots and scalpers wouldn’t get them.
Guess who was sharing them all over Twitter after being asked not to? Guess who was asking for presale codes the most?
I’ll give you a hint: It wasn’t the girls who are supposed to be in the front.
I’m sad that many women lost out on the opportunity to get affordable tickets to see a band that undoubtedly means as much to them as they do to me. Ultimately though, I’m angry that once again straight, white men have found a way to take something that’s not theirs and infiltrate a space that’s not for them, especially for a band that is fundamentally against it. I’m angry that they don’t intrinsically understand, the way everyone else does, that they’re not welcome everywhere. They’re not welcome because they’re what makes us feel unwelcome in many places we’re forced to occupy in society. They’re not welcome because when they come to a space where they don’t belong, they’re not gracious guests—they make the space their own, and by doing that, they once again attempt to make us less than.
I am hopeful, though. Women are finally finding the vocabulary to express what we’ve been forced to suppress for so long. We’re in the process of codifying and understanding our rage—indexing it rather than smothering it. So, I’m looking forward to embracing our rage and validating it with other like-minded people at the Bikini Kill concert in May. I have no doubt that we’ll find a way to ensure it’s “Girls to the front!” and I hope that any men reading this listen for a change, and respect the right to exist in a space independent from them and what they want.
That’s what Bikini Kill is about—because we all should aspire to be the girls with the bad reputation, the ones who are gonna have their say, finally.
Header Image Source: Bikini Kill Records
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