Jennifer Mathieu, author of Moxie
It’s no secret that the Riot Grrrl movement in the 90’s sparked a revolution in the way women empowered each other and took ownership of themselves. From shows, to zines, to the collective understanding on what being a riot grrrl meant, its legacy has continued to inspire generations well beyond its years. The movement might look a little different, the riot grrrls might look different, but the message is all the same: lift each other up and use your voice to fight for what’s right. In 2015, Jennifer Mathieu wrote a book about Vivian Carter, a girl who was tired of the sexism and misogyny that plagued her small, Texas high school. Infatuated and inspired by her mother’s memorabilia consisting of riot grrrl legends such as Bikini Kill, she creates Moxie, a zine that inspires the girls of her high school to speak out on the harassment they’ve endured throughout. Fast forward to 2021, Moxie has turned into a hit movie and is inspiring a new generation of girls to speak out just like Vivian did. We were fortunate to connect with Jennifer Mathieu, author of Moxie, to talk about the inspiration behind the story, her riot grrrl past, intersectional feminism, and how living your life as your true self is the best way to be a “moxie girl.”
The inspiration for Moxie came to Mathieu one late, Texas night. As a fan of the movement, having a story that involved riot grrrl elements was something she had always wanted to write. “I was sitting on the couch thinking about what I could write next, and I was wishing I could write a riot grrrl novel, but I didn’t want to write a novel set in the 90’s. I was struck with the image of a teenage girl combing through her mom’s riot grrrl memorabilia, and the idea for Moxie came to me in a wave.” With that, Moxie was born. The story connects to past riot grrrls ideals and influences, such as Bikini Kill, which is mentioned several times and is played in the Netflix movie, and it’s the perfect introduction for girls who haven’t heard of such movement.
The riot grrrl movement centers around feminism and female empowerment, which were things Mathieu identified with early on in life and are prevalent themes in Moxie. Having grown up in a conservative environment, it wasn’t until late high school that she realized she was a feminist. “I had feminist views prior to that and just didn’t know to call myself a feminist. In high school in the early 90’s I read an article in Seventeen Magazine about riot grrrl, and I was so intrigued because I went to a very conservative religious school and felt so suffocated by the whole world there.” The movement was a way for Mathieu to feel connected to who she truly was. With that being said, it wasn’t until she got to college she was able to immerse herself completely into the world of feminist punk rock. “I found friends who introduced me to feminist punk, and I became a huge fan of Bikini Kill, Sleater-Kinney, and that entire world. I even started making my own zine just for fun. So, zines, feminism, riot grrrl, all of that were a big part of my developing years and had a huge influence on my worldview.”
Those influences are at the forefront of Moxie. The story centers around a girl, Vivian Carter, who goes to high school where things such as sexism and misogyny run rampant. Things like dress codes, snide comments, and harassment are directed at the girls but not the guys. After having gone through her mother’s box of mementos from her days as a riot grrrl, Vivian gets the idea to create a zine, Moxie, to call out the behavior. This sparks a revolution amongst the girls and creates change. It’s a prime example of how one action, one voice, can create a ripple effect that leads to something great. Vivian isn’t the most outspoken person, however she shows you don’t need to be the loudest in the room. You just need to have the desire for radical change. “There are all sorts of ways to speak up and fight back. Vivian doesn’t think of herself as a leader or particularly vocal in an obvious activist way, but by quietly creating this zine, she triggers a revolution and girls from all sorts of backgrounds start to make Moxie their own.”
Girls from various backgrounds are certainly displayed in the book and the movie. Different races, ethnicities, even genders, are touched on throughout the narrative, which is something riot grrrl has been criticized for in the past. The movement faced backlash for not being as inclusive enough. “Many riot grrrls, including Kathleen Hanna, have spoken out about the missteps riot grrrl made in the 90s, particularly with regards to race and ethnicity. Riot grrrl was amazing in many ways, but it was not intersectional enough. It’s important to be honest about that.” That intersectionality that Mathieu mentions is a concept she’s always been conscious of in her work. Including those of varietal backgrounds makes for a place where everyone can feel welcome. “I sponsor the feminist club at my high school where I teach, and we have girls from all backgrounds attend our meetings. That really fueled my writing as I crafted the characters and the conversations they have.”
While Kathleen Hanna says, “Girls to the front,” Vivian Carter says, “Moxie girls fight back.” It’s a rallying cry for empowerment and standing up for what’s right, and it’s something Mathieu wants people to take away from the story. Be yourself, embrace intersectional feminism, and find your voice. “What I hope people take away from Moxie is that living your life as a feminist means living your life of joy and liberation. You are embracing the idea that you can be your full and complete self, no matter what society says.” Mathieu ended the interview with some encouraging words for anyone who wants to be a “moxie girl.” “There are all sorts of big and small ways to be moxie in real life, from speaking up when a teacher says something racist or sexist to participating in a protest. Be your full self without apologies and standing up for others. It’s not always easy, and I still struggle with the pressures to fit in and conform to certain set expectations, but I know the longer I live, the better it feels to use my voice and speak my mind.”