Kathleen Hanna and her first, big band, Bikini Kill is commonly credited with creating Riot Grrrl, a punk rock, feminist movement in the 1990’s. Although Kathleen Hanna did play a huge role in Riot Grrrl’s impetuous, she is the first to say that Riot Grrrl was a collective movement, shared with the women who were a part of it. Bikini Kill dealt with sexism and violence against women at shows, at home, on dates and in the streets, they sang about domestic violence, the double-standards that exist for men and women, incest, and rape as well. They weren’t just saying how they felt, they were horribly angry that these things happened to women at such alarming rates, and that once it happened, the survivors were commonly doubted and blamed for it.
Kathleen Hanna created a low-fi, solo album after Riot Grrrl disbanded under the name Julie Ruin. Incidentally, Julie Ruin recorded another album a couple of years ago and are currently touring in support of it.
In between the two incarnations of Julie Ruin, Kathleen Hanna was in a band called Le Tigre, and that might be one of the best bands ever. The common theme in all of these musical outings is activism, gratitude for the work of others, and shinning a light on various areas of inequality for women and LGBTQ communities.
So when it comes to saying what Kathleen Hanna has meant to me, I struggle with that, because, I have never really gotten too into punk rock, so my appreciation for Bikini Kill’s music only goes so deep. When I actually began listening to the lyrics, all those decades ago, I was so taken back; when I began reading interviews with Kathleen Hanna, I felt that proverbial lightbulb go off over my head. I didn’t need to be into punk rock to identify with feeling less than in small, independent music scenes because I was a girl. Let me pause here, however, and give credence to fact that Kathleen Hanna might not be everyone’s cup of tea; but its better that way, it proves her point. Some people, regardless of gender, are uncomfortable with loud-mouthed women; some people have a lot at stake when a curtain that once covered up abuse is lifted and the survivor can speak out. Kathleen Hanna has always been a polarizing figure, and it seemed to take her a couple of decades to figure out what to be, how to best handle her being catapulted into the spotlight as an activist and a voice for survivors. I can see the conflict, and I respect it. So, her famous quote ‘you’re still going to get criticized, so you may as well say whatever the f*** you want’ is so true. She helped ignite a fire in me to DO SOMETHING. For me, that meant getting a degree in Women’s Studies, which lead me to anti-domestic violence and anti-sexual assault, abuse and rape work. This work has helped me gain a perspective impossible to explain and breakdown…it’s my career and my passion and I am so grateful to have sat with each person who told me their story. I don’t know how much it helped them, but in a selfish way, it’s helped me tremendously.
So, when people get a little snarky about Kathleen Hanna, it feels like they are coming up against family. Kathleen Hanna is strangely a best friend I’ve never sat down and talked with, a mentor who never directly advised me, a family member I’ve never spent a holiday with. I have love and gratitude for Kathleen Hanna, and I can honestly say that I don’t know ‘what I would be doing with my life’ if she hadn’t blared onto the scene and helped me start questioning, finding, and doing.
So, thank you, Kathleen Hanna.
LINKS on the awesomeness that is Kathleen Hanna:
– Jill, Executive Director