With Instagram, the Grand Mac and Donald Trump, there’s really not much left in this world that’s sacred. That is, of course, except Tank Girl. The 1995 movie, based on the best—and only—comic book I’ve ever read, pretty much defined the ’90s with amazing style and an even better soundtrack (Courtney Love was the music coordinator). Released 22 years ago today, the film is a post-apocalyptic Riot Grrrl comedy that basically predicted Trump, invented steampunk and made the case for bad bitches years before Trina and Lil’ Kim. But aside from being the film equivalent of a grunge appreciation Tumblr, Tank Girl was the voice of a generation. Or wait, was that Lena Dunham?
Played by Lori Petty, Tank Girl is a feminist antihero who fights capitalism and corruption in a dystopian future Australia. She’s got a sidekick, Jet Girl (played by a dorky and super unfamous Naomi Watts), and a kangaroo-cum-boyfriend, Booga. In the film, she takes down Malcolm McDowell, who runs an evil corporation that’s taken control of Australia’s water supply. Ice-T even makes an appearance. If that isn’t enough to get you hooked, then I probably hate you. But Tank Girl also goes much deeper.
Unlike almost every superheroine in movies and graphic novels, Tank Girl doesn’t exist solely for male attention. Sure, she’s hot, but she also spits, smokes, drinks and swears, defying any sort of demure feminine stereotype, and she’s surely no damsel in distress. She may not be very smart, but she’s clever, and she’s the one saving the world as Booga chases after her, looking kind of like a dipshit. She’s also seriously oversexed, but only for herself, not for the pleasure of the viewer, and in 1995, even though Hole was on the radio, feminism was not mainstream. That made Tank Girl and her open sexuality, unrivaled strength and willingness to speak her mind, revolutionary. It also made her really cool. At least everyone I knew who was worth anything wanted either to be her, or have her as an older sister.
The movie itself, might be campy—part of the reason it’s so amazing—but the character is radical. I don’t know what kind of house you grew up in, but I can say for certain, Tank Girl was the first and last movie I ever saw that had a main character like her. Hollywood is only just now starting to give any sort of shit about the Bechdel Test and female experience. To have a sci-fi movie, made over two decades ago, about the damn acpocalypse be the most realistic depiction of womanhood in the cinematic canon, is actually fucking crazy. But if you do take away all of the film’s ridiculous backstory, Tank Girl is, at its core, a movie about a girl, who doesn’t need help from a boy, and isn’t fawning after one either—it actually doesn’t have anything to do with boys at all. I can’t think of one other film, especially from that time, that meets the same criteria. Maybe Spice World? Or Air Bud? But that’s about a dog, so it doesn’t count. And even then, the other main character is a dude.
Looking back, I can 100% guarantee my parents never would’ve let me watch Tank Girl had they known what it was, and not because the violence or sexual content. I had young, hip parents, but the real reason she would’ve been banned is because Tank Girl is dangerous. She’s loud and opinionated, and in charge of her own life and body. She doesn’t need a man, and she’s the exact opposite of everything little girls are supposed to be. She can’t be controlled by anyone, and as a girl who would eventually become a woman, that’s what made her so important to me then, and even more so now.
As an angsty teenager, it’s never hard to go against the grain—to be steadfast in your beliefs and comfortable being different. At almost 27, it’s harder to explain drunken tattoos (one of which is a Band-Aid, after Tank Girl). When I was a kid, it was easy to tell myself the kind of woman I’d never be, but now that I’m here, it’s harder to keep heading in my own direction. It’s much simpler to conform, to shave your legs, and only speak when spoken to. That’s why rebels like Tank Girl never cease being so critical. They’re the outsiders, the dissidents, the outcasts who teach us never to stay quiet. In a world where our rights are being threatened and the impulse is to cower, we have to riot. And if that fails, we have to punch ’em so hard, their children will be born bruised.