Girls to the front: Why ‘feminism’ and ‘punk’ aren’t dirty words

Kathleen Hanna

There aren’t many people in the world like Kathleen Hanna. If there are, they definitely haven’t been given the media coverage or the adequate public platforms. For those of you that don’t know Hanna, she was the frontwoman of the groundbreaking 90’s feminist punk band Bikini Kill, later moving onto Le Tigre and The Julie Ruin. She was the soundtrack to many people’s teenage years (both men and women), constructing the foundations of many people’s worldview on gender and its boundaries (or lack of). Sure, there were thousands, if not millions, of people who thought what Hanna was thinking. But the main difference was she just wouldn’t be stifled – a character trait that has earned her admiration and contempt in equal measures.

Sadly, I was largely unaware of Hanna until my early twenties, due to a combination of bad music taste and refusing to widen these outside of the narrow parameters I had boxed myself into. This is now a something I deeply regret, as Bikini Kill’s lyrics, guerrilla tactics and general ‘get up and let’s flippin do something about sexism’ would have steered me well clear of a teenage path lined with angst, the desire to meticulously conform to the mainstream media’s depiction of what a girl should be and (as mentioned above) a whole heap of bad music.

 

Since discovering Hanna, I have been led to and enlightened by Gloria Steinem, Tavi Gevinson and a host of other forward-thinking activists, public speakers and musicians, who have gradually opened my eyes to the fact sexism can be challenged, rather than just accepted. In fact, she was one of three reasons I named this site ‘Hanna’.

‘The Punk Singer’ – the 2013 documentary about the frontwoman – is a film I would recommend to anyone, whatever their musical persuasion or stance on feminism – male or female. Musical proficiency really wasn’t the point of Bikini Kill; Hanna herself admits that none of the band could really play their instruments. Punk music was merely the most visible way of conveying her message; she initially began her activism as a spoken word artist, but was soon told that this was a fruitless medium that no one really listened to.

I won’t give any more of the film’s content away, as that would negate the point of this recommendation, but will suffice to end with the statement: This may change your life.

Words: Wendy Davies

Image: Anna Robinson

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