Madeline's Reviews > Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution

Girls to the Front by Sara Marcus
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Jul 29, 11

bookshelves: library-books, non-fiction, 2011, women, music, class, race, queer, we-used-to-be-friends, history
Recommended to Madeline by: Sound Opinions
Read from July 26 to 29, 2011, read count: 1

1. Girls to the Front has a lot of issues. That's fine. Or it could be fine. I mean, in theory. But Girls to the Front also has a lot of problems, and ends up being totally disappointing and weirdly tone deaf. (Oh God, is that even acceptable in a discussion about a music book? Ugh. Probably not. Sorry, everyone.) OKAY, to be fair: maybe it is less "GttF has a lot of problems" and more "I have a lot of problems with GttF."

2. Whenever there's a, like, a feminism contest - you know what I mean, "these people are good feminists, these people are bad feminists" - it gets fucked up pretty quickly. So I wasn't surprised about that. I read feminist blogs, I am familiar with girl on girl crime of the "you are holding your sisters back, you stupid slutty tool of the patriarchy" variety. And that stuff has been endemic in feminism since the beginning, right (Victoria Woodhull, The Sealed Letter, the Sarah Grand or Mary Jeune, and on and on); and that's only when we're talking about a bunch of straight cis white women with fairly similar class backgrounds. When you try to encompass the experiences of women of color and women from different class backgrounds and with different sexualities (not that heterosexuality isn't itself on a spectrum, buuuut) then the comparatively-privileged start to feel threatened and it turns into "look at how un-racist I am" or "why can't you be quiet and appreciate how hard I am working for you??!!" Like "they cannot represent themselves; they must be spoken for" is even slightly acceptable any more. (Especially when "they" are right there). Anti-oppression turns into a game of one-up-personship pretty quickly, which is why it is difficult and discouraging and why you need to approach it thoughtfully and with open ears, among other things. As a chronicle of that tragedy/thing that happens, I guess GttF is all right. But, perhaps because Marcus wants a broad audience, she doesn't give a really thorough investigation of ideas. You know, phenomenology is a vital part of feminist awakening and consciousness, but so is a good understanding of the reasons behind your experiences - and I don't mean, like "Timothy, my exboyfriend" or something. I mean the structural and abstract components. (To be fair, at the end, Marcus talks about how RG lacked administrators.) The final chapter - "The Cruel Revolution" - is particularly problematic and sort of enraging.

3. Well, okay, and also I don't really listen to any of the Riot Grrrl music. I mean, I have a free anniversary sampler from Kill Rock Stars, but I got it for the Thao Nguyen songs. I do like the two Le Tigre songs I've heard (1, 2) but I haven't tried to hear others. So I lack the very personal connection Marcus stresses as so important to the movement. In fact, she opens with her own passionate, tentative involvement - and that's, sadly, the best part of the book. It's the most authentic and the most sincere and the most vivid section. Despite this passionate connection, the movement itself doesn't emerge as particularly vivid or, even, specific. The characters - which, in this kind of non-fiction, you need (Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found) - weren't established clearly enough for me, so there was very little sense of knowing who these women were, or why I should care about them, or keep track of them. There are a couple of women who were just easier to keep track of because you hear their names more often, but the teenage girls, who are obviously such an important part of how Marcus conceives of the RG movement don't come through very strongly, in most cases.

4. There are a lot of tortured metaphors. And these passages . . . I don't know, was she trying to do In Cold Blood, but intermittently? They were So Awkward. I don't get second-hand embarrassment that often reading books. But it's not just in those weird interludes - I don't know what else to call them! - but sprinkled throughout, particularly in the introductory descriptions. You know, those three adjective descriptions that introduce people to you.

5. I assume she's talking about Chris Brown when she says in the epilogue "A pop star beat up his girlfriend and his career barely missed a step" because of the timing (2009). But that's obviously ridiculous, I mean, have you heard any Chris Brown songs lately? Anyone? Anyone? No. (Although he was in that one movie, right?) Rihanna's doing pretty well, though! Her songs get played - her new ones, I mean. She shows up places and people care. She sings hooks on Kanye songs. She has an annoying perfume commercial I see in movie theaters. (Why are movie theater commercials the most annoying commercials? Never mind, I know why. Yet another way the state of modern advertising would disappoint Don Draper. I mean, damn, Roger Sterling would be disappointed. And you know how far you've fallen when Roger's disappointed, okay? You've fallen really, really far.) I know this is tangential, and a stupid thing to get hung up on. Yet I cannot stop myself. There were plenty of stupid, tangential things I got hung up on while reading this - when there are that many it has stopped being a problem with me.

6. Okay, but the episode of Sound Opinions where Sara Marcus is interviewed is actually really interesting and engaging. It was what made me check out the book!

7. Seriously, is this a non-fiction/history book for young adults? Not that this means I'd give it a pass, but then I could at least excuse it as a (misguided) attempt to connect with a younger generation without many of the reference points for the period? (As I am between the current YA-reader crop and the RG crop, I also lack a lot of first-hand context and history classes stop at detente. Musically, I came of age with boy bands and the Spice Girls.)

8. And I so wanted this to be a fun, cool, enlightening book. Instead it like . . . I don't even know. Somehow it hit me as too-earnest (hallmark of the 90s!) and disingenuous. Yeah, you figure that one out. I am throwing this review up not because I think negative reviews are particularly useful to potential readers, but because I think other people might finish the book and have some problems with it too, and they might need another dissenting voice. Judging by the reviews already on here, GttF resonated with a bunch of people, which is totally fine and good and I'm glad - that's what books are supposed to do. I'm sorry that didn't happen with me. If it didn't happen with you either, step right up.
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Reading Progress

07/27/2011 page 75
25.0% "I wish Sara Marcus wrote like a different person. :/"
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