When we talk about nonconformity, anger, discontent, oppression and social injustice we need to talk about punk, and there is no other group in history who deserves to be angry and demands to be heard more than women do.
Globally and historically women have been oppressed since the creation of gender roles, which goes back as far as hunters and gatherers. Women have been seen as inferior to men, an idea which is supported by almost every religion and modern social norm. The basis of feminism simply dictate that there should be equal treatment between genders, an idea which has been warped and demonized enough until it becomes a negative word, but beyond a word it is a struggle that has been happening for a very long time now…but what does that have to do with music? This is a music fanzine man, we don’t wanna know about politics… Well, music and feminism come together when we talk about the 90’s movement Riot Grrrl, and when we talk about Riot Grrrl we have to talk about Kathleen Hanna.
Kathleen Hanna was born November of 1968 in Portland, Oregon. She became interested in feminism at the early age of nine when her mother took her to see Gloria Steinem speak at a rally in Washington. During her college years at the Evergreen State College in Olympia Washington, Kathleen studied photography and started creating radical feminist art inspired by the work of Barbara Kruger and Jenny Holzer. Her work was often rejected by the college which led Kathleen and a couple of her friends to open their own feminist art gallery named Reko Muse in a garage.
During this time Kathleen begun to write and perform spoken word poetry with themes that addressed sexism. Her poems spoke about rape, misogyny, violence and abuse. Eventually Kathleen left spoken word to start writing music when one of her idols, Kathy Acker, told her “no one goes to spoken word shows! You should get in a band“ This was the beginning of one of the most important bands of the Riot Grrrl movement: Bikini Kill.
Bikini Kill was made up of Kathleen Hanna as the singer and songwriter, guitarist Billy Karren, bassist Kathi Wilcox and drummer Tobi Vail who was the creator of a relatively famous punk fanzine called Jigsaw. Like any good punk band, Bikini Kill’s music was abrasive and unapologetic, following the great punk tradition of unexperienced musicians since Billy was really the only member with musical experience. With radical feminist lyrics and explosive performances inspired by the hardcore movement they took the pacific west scene by storm. Together with their fiery shows, the band would pass out a politically-charged zine of the same name to their fans. Kathleen says back then they didn’t care about being famous or even making money, it was all about communicating their message.
If you’ve been to a punk show you know the mosh pit is where is at, but you also know most lads tend to get savage when pushing comes to shoving and it is definitely not a physical safe space for girls… well everything was different at a Bikini Kill show, finally a band was giving women a space, an opportunity to express themselves with safety. At the start of every gig Kathleen would ask for all the girls to come to the front and for the boys to “be cool for once in their lives and move back” She said if anyone was giving you shit you could come and sit on the stage. “Girls have a right to be hostile, and I’m not gonna be peace and love with somebody’s fucking boot on my neck.” And if you don’t like it, you can fuck off and get out of this show. Kathleen was the embodiment of girl empowerment as the leader of Bikini Kill, she was breaking every concept of how girls are supposed to act and in the summer of 1991, Kathleen, Allison Wolfe, Molly Neuman and Ken Smith created the zine Riot Grrrl which was a call to action for increased feminist activity as well as female involvement in the punk rock scene. A meeting was called inviting any girl who wanted to take part. During the meeting a manifesto was written which talked about what made a Riot Grrrl, and how any woman could take that name to create anything she wanted. Soon the name was being used all over the country, a movement had started: Riot Grrrl, an underground movement that combines feminist consciousness with punk values and politics. This is often considered the starting point of the third wave of feminism. Soon Kathleen became a target for the press, often misinterpreting and not even checking their facts, articles were written defaming Kathleen and discrediting the entire Riot Grrrl movement. Surprisingly enough one of the few musicians to come forth and defend Kathleen was Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain.
In 1997 Bikini Kill broke up. Kathleen Hanna went on to participate in several other music projects like Julie Ruin and Le Tigre, both with a higher level of musical sophistication than Bikini Kill, but Kathleen never lost her values, her themes of feminism and equality are always present in her work, her contribution to feminism is inherent in her lyrics.
During a time when the punk scene was male-driven, a girl dared to stand up to an oppressive society and yell from the top of her lungs that she had had enough. She gave girls a space to express their discontent, she turned the anger of an entire generation of girls meant to be softspoken and sit like ladies into a social movement. I think we need more Kathleen Hannas, with the current political situation in such dire state we need that punk rebellion now more than ever, we need Riot Grrrls and Nasty Women to get angry and make bands with their friends, and we lads have to “be cool for once in our lives and move to the back”.