In “Hot Topic,” a song by the band Le Tigre, recorded in 1999, the singer Kathleen Hanna name-checked, over an extremely danceable beat, dozens of feminist musicians, artists, and thinkers—fifty-seven, in fact. “Tammy Rae Carland and Sleater-Kinney / Vivienne Dick and Lorraine O’Grady / Gayatri Spivak and Angela Davis,” she sang. “Don’t you stop / Please don’t stop / We won’t stop!” The goal was to unify a sometimes unruly tradition, claim it, and fling it into the future. That’s what the music in “Hot Topic” did: its sixties-style girl-group backing vocals were layered over seventies-style free-jazz horns, an eighties-style drum machine, and the compressed, distorted electric guitar that had come to define rock in the nineties. It could all fit together, Hanna seemed to be saying, to make one extremely cool song. “You’re getting old, that’s what they say,” she sang, “but I don’t care, I’m listening anyway.”
Feminism is an old and diverse movement, which is why, thirteen years ago, the feeling of inter-generational community conjured by “Hot Topic” was so appealing. Since August, the arrest, trial, sentencing, and recent near release of Pussy Riot has created a similar feeling. It’s not just that people around the world have been following the story; it’s also that Pussy Riot have tapped into the musical tradition of bands like Le Tigre, Bikini Kill (Hanna’s previous band), L7, Sleater-Kinney, and Bratmobile. Those bands—often grouped together as part of the “Riot Grrrl” movement—galvanized a generation of feminists in the nineties, and were vocal about the way that they, in turn, had been influenced by acts from the seventies and eighties, like The Slits, The Raincoats, and Patti Smith. Pussy Riot, who have identified the riot-grrrl movement as an inspiration, have done something similar. It’s not just that they’ve unified feminists around the world; they’ve done it across generations, too.