Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Open Access


Degree Name

MA in Women's History

First Advisor

Rachelle Rumph

Second Advisor

Priscilla Murolo


How has the Riot Grrrl movement of the 1990s been remembered and redefined? Riot Grrrl is typically remembered as an organized movement based on universal girl love which made the personal political, when in reality it had multiple leaders, many manifestos, and several identities beyond just the college educated white women commonly associated with the creation of its girl power agenda. Memory formation is a process. This dominant narrative that emerged about Riot Grrrl was constructed overtime by a number of participants, but also contradicts the lived experiences of many grrrls. To make sense of this tension, this thesis relies on the idea of cultural memory to recount the history of Riot Grrrl. Cultural memory is an ongoing relationship between institutional narratives and the memories of individuals; applied to Riot Grrrl, this thesis unravels the dominant narrative by comparing “official” narratives found in books, archives, and scholarly work with the recollections of individuals, found mostly in zines and oral histories.

The author argues that Riot Grrrl never truly ended, but adapted to new technology. In particular, the Riot Grrrl movement has been redefined on the popular social media app TikTok, whose for-profit interests dictate the limits of its users’ self-made content. Exemplifying a trend in media viewing known as nichification, TikTok is built around an algorithm that curates content for each individual in a never-ending stream on a home page, called the For You Page. The algorithm learns what each user likes and dislikes based on their in-app interactions and data provided from third parties, should the user accept that arrangement. This makes it particularly useful for young people seeking to network with others with similar interests, no matter how “niche” they might seem.

Using TikTok posts and comments from the current Riot Grrrl community, the author showcases its similarities to the movement of the 1990s, such as the Do-It-Yourself ethos which remains prominent in the contemporary generation. The digital version of the subculture is also wildly different from the previous iteration, explicitly focused on a form of punk feminism that iii centers intersectionality and embraces multiplicity. Though these were goals of the 1990s movement, they remained unrealized after its supposed demise prior to the turn of the millennium. With new digital tools, the current generation of Riot Grrrl participants can network faster than ever before and embrace a plethora of new identities.

Riot Grrrl’s turn to social media is not without flaw. While there are many inspiring individuals using TikTok to educate others on the subculture, spread information on activist causes, or participate in everyday forms of activism in-app, the revived Riot Grrrl subculture is defined by contradiction. As dictated by the demands of consumer culture, TikTok is an ambivalent space enabling expression of all kinds. Rather than definitively assessing the usefulness of social media for online activism and networking, the author chooses to highlight this ambiguity in several topics related to contemporary Riot Grrrl. Touching upon performative activism, popular feminism, and digital racism, this thesis concludes that the modern Riot Grrrl remains influenced by multiplicity, perhaps even messiness. As a result, the author suggests that future analysts consider spectrums, rather than binaries, to accomplish more thorough, nuanced narratives of both Riot Grrrl and new media.

Submission Agreement


Under author imposed embargo.
Available for download on Wednesday, May 31, 2023