The Original Riot Grrrl, Kathleen Hanna
Since receiving the letter, I went on a road trip with my daughter to Columbia, South Carolina. We went to see a documentary about Kathleen. The film, The Punk Singer, discusses her music and feminist work. My daughter was blown away by the movie. She said she admires Kathleen’s coolness and strength. My daughter is young, but she is already aware of the issues concerning equality and the treatment of women. After seeing the film, she said she is even more inspired and calls Kathleen a hero. We discuss the film while driving home. The topic centers around Kathleen standing up for her beliefs against both violent threats and verbal negativity. While talking about strength and determination, I said, “she has balls.” My daughter nodded her head and then paused. “No. She has tits!”. My daughter gets it. Anyway, I thought I would introduce you to her.
Who is Kathleen Hanna?
Kathleen is an American musician, feminist activist, and punk zine writer, artist and public speaker who in the early- to mid-nineties fronts the punk band Bikini Kill. They’re the pioneers of the riot grrrl movement and notorious for their radical feminist lyrics and fiery live performance.
Not stopping there, in 1997, during a break from Bikini Kill, Kathleen releases a solo album under the name Julie Ruin. She stays true to her fight for feminism. The lyrics also touch on crocheting, aerobics, and social issues like abuse by police.
Wanting to create a live band for Julie Ruin, she works with Johanna Fateman and Sadie Freeman. The trio eventually evolves into her next band, Le Tigre. In 2001, Sadie left the band and former band roadie and gay rights activist JD Sampson replaces her. The new trio continues to perform songs of a sociopolitical nature concerning feminism and LGBT community issues.
In 2010, Kathleen joined her former Bikini Kill band mate, Kathi Wilcox. They begin her next project, the band the Julie Ruin, finally using her moniker from the original solo project. They release their debut album Run Fast in 2013.
Kathleen is the subject of a recent documentary The Punk Singer, A film about Kathleen Hanna. The film is the work of Sini Anderson. In 2011, another documentary “Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour“, about her band Le Tigre’s farewell tour, came out on DVD. It is currently available on Netflix.
Did you Know?
- She married Adam Horovitz (aka King Ad-Rock) of the Beastie Boys in 2006.
- Hanna used the release of the film The Punk Singer to announce her years-long battle with Lyme disease.
- She appeared in the music video for Sonic Youth’s “Bull in the Heather“.
- Unintentionally, Kathleen was the source of the name for the 1991 Nirvana monster single, “Smells Like Teen Spirit“. Reportedly, she wrote “Kurt Smells Like Teen Spirit” on Kurt Cobain‘s wall. Although Kurt did not realize Kathleen was referring to a deodorant for young women, he thought the phrase was perfect for the song’s theme.
- She pressed assault charges against Courtney Love for punching her in the face. Courtney later pleaded guilty to the charge.
- She wrote a chapter in Robin Morgan’s book “Sisterhood is forever, the woman’s anthology for a new millennium” about her experiences as a young feminist.