Grrrl Power: Talking With Inadvertent 90s Authority Marisa Meltzer

Illustration for article titled Grrrl Power: Talking With Inadvertent 90s Authority Marisa Meltzer

One of the books we're most excited about is Jezebel fave Marisa Meltzer's Girl Power, an exploration of the 90s Riot Grrrl revolution. Join us as Marisa talks Grrrls, the world's coolest mom, and "selling out."

Sadie: I'm sure you revisited this genre's entire music catalog in the course of writing the book. How well does this music age for you personally? Do you still listen to this same, formative soundtrack or is it too painfully evocative of another time?


Marisa: It's borderline shameful how much time I spend listening to music of that era. There is something about those songs that felt particularly urgent to me in high school-Bikini Kill's «Carnival» or Excuse 17's «This Is Not Your Wedding Song,» just for example—that hasn't faded; my heart still races a little when I hear them. I swear I do listen to other music but girly-'90s music is destined to be my comfort zone.

S:The confluence of politics, culture, even fashion and music was particularly powerful during this era; do you think it's "dated" in a way other music isn't (not in the pejorative sense)?

M: It is dated. In a sad way, I think. I was doing a reading a few weeks ago with Allison Wolfe of the riot grrrl band Bratmobile and she said that one thing that really disappointed her was the lack of politics in so much music now. She said that if anything should have inspired politically-charged music, it should have been eight years of the last Bush Administration. I agree with her. Plus, political music was actually music you wanted to listen to because it was really good. I for one totally miss Thurston Moore singing about Anita Hill.

S: You grew up in a progressive home; did your mother, whom you've described as a feminist, relate to the messages of Riot Grrrl music, or was it wholly alien - in other words, a classic rebellion?


M: Everyone has to find a way to rebel. I'm sure my mom was thankful that my rebellion came in the form of feminist punk and not joining a sorority or the prom committee-those would have been hard for her to wrap her head around. But there were still some comic moments of generational differences. In high school, I remember her giving me this very classic liberal parent speech about how it's okay for me to love anyone I want and she would support me and I had to interrupt her and be like, "Mom, I'm not a lesbian, I'm a riot grrrl, God." You know, with sullen teenager voice. Even just a few weeks ago, I was at her house on my book tour and came downstairs dressed for my reading in San Francisco. I was wearing a dress with this cutout front that shows a few glimpses of bra underneath. My mom asked, «Honey, don't you think that dress is a little racy for your reading?» And here I thought I was being subtle for not wearing it with a leopard print bra! I should also note that my mom showed up to my reading in Santa Cruz with SLUT written across her stomach, under her shirt, so she's definitely on board.

S: Clearly your title was something of an act of reclamation; does everyone get that, or does it come across as irony-tinged? Was that intentional?


M:What is more 90s than irony, right? Yes, I think it's both an optimistic reclamation of the phrase and also comes with a bit of an ironic smirk. Girl power is a totally cheesy phrase; it's something I talk about on the first page of the book. But I also hope that once people are done reading the book, they feel a love (even if it's a little begrudging) for the title. The problem I have with Spice Girls-style girl power isn't the "girl" but the "power," as if the word "girl" doesn't evoke enough of it on its own.

S: Is "selling out" dead? For good or ill?

M: Selling out is not a debate I personally pay a lot of attention to in 2010. Is it a debate that's dead? No, not at all. It seems to particularly plague Generation X. Seeing some aspect of culture sell out and let you down seems like an important part of coming age. I think it's good to learn not to rely too much on your idols. Or I look at something like the upcoming Le Tigre/Christina Aguilera collaboration. They're supposedly producing a song for her next album. That's my mainstream feminist dream come true! I would call that exhibiting a certain flexibility and willingness to work with that mainstream; others might call it selling out.


S: In general, the book is such a testament to the power and influence of pop culture - a case you also argued compellingly in How Sassy Changed My Life. Do you still feel it has that power? On another note, did you plan to be THE go-to for 90's grrrl-sass, and are you thinking of a 180 - or is there more you have to say? Movies and YA lit still need to be taken on with your humor and insight!


M: Pop culture will always have power over us. Perhaps some of us (okay, me) more than others. The kind of culture will probably change. I'm not sure anyone who's a teenager now will ever write a paean to a print magazine, the way Kara Jesella and I did with the Sassy book, but perhaps there will be a loving tribute to a blog or YouTube star who forever shaped their worldview?

I never planned on being the go-to person for the '90s, and I certainly don't want anyone to think that my experience should define the decade, but it's a subject I have seemingly endless interest in talking about. I wrote the Sassy book and Girl Power back-to-back, so by the time I was done with Girl Power, I told myself I was reading to turn away from the '90s. I thought I would write something about the 19th century or France. But now that I've had a little break and am talking about the decade again, I'm like, Who am I kidding? I would write eighteen more books about the '90s. It would be a pleasure and privilege.

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Slay Belle

You know, Sadie, I have it on good authority that I am the world's coolest mom, at least for another 6 months or so until my daughter hits teenagerdom and I become embarrassing. I would appreciate a redaction.