Kathleen Hanna On Music, John Mayer & Blogs


Kathleen Hanna, feminist role model, former Bikini Kill frontwoman and current member of Le Tigre, went on GRITtv to talk about the future of feminism, riot grrrl and, because this is now a requirement for every public figure, John Mayer.

The interview covers a lot of ground we’ve covered before – from the difficulties of being a woman in the 90s punk scene to the recent acquisition of Hanna’s papers by the NYU library – but there are some interesting soundbites. Take, for example, her opinion on John Mayer and Miley Cyrus:

I just think that that stuff is crap. I just don’t care about it. There is so much good art and literature and music to choose from that it is great if that stuff hasn’t been invaded by creepy people and ruined. I just want to read great books and go to great shows… I actually have not been listening to that much music. I’ve been on a break.

She is a little less dismissive of the blogosphere, which interviewer Laura Flanders suggests can be read as the logical evolution of zines and zine-culture. Hanna rightly argues that zines paved the way with their ephemeral, DIY-nature. There is also a sense of immediacy to zines, which applies to blogs. Hanna describes the creation of zines as “frantic, very much in keeping with the punk rock sensibility, and in a way, the arrogance of youth.” However,

The thing that’s different between blogging and zines is that zines were supposed to be historical… They existed in this one specific time period. And the thing I sometimes don’t like about blogs is that they are can seem really ahistorical… And I like the objectness.

Although blogs haven’t entirely replaced zines, there is a continued movement away from messy, tangible object-ness of pen and paper and toward the borrowed-polish of blogs. While zines are, by nature, sort of unprofessional in appearance – unless you make an active effort to avoid it, they show all the staples and glue smears of production – the websites that host blogs automatically lend a standardized neatness to the work that runs counter to the Riot Grrrrl aesthetic. But I personally feel that the long-reaching arm of the internet makes it all worth it, especially since it provides a platform from which multiple feminist leaders can emerge.

And on the topic of feminism: Hanna obviously hasn’t stopped growing, both as a feminist and as a musician, and she is unafraid to reflect on this shift. In a moment of self-reflection, she discusses the pitfalls of her earlier brand of politics:

I think when I was in my 20s I got really caught up in some horizontal oppression stuff, some petty intrigues, at the expense of real productive dialogue… I mean, a lot of arguments that were based in semantics more than action, and people’s insecurities being played off as though they were political dialogues when really they were just personal things that were recast in a political light as a way to gain power for themselves.

Hanna’s criticism is just vague enough that it still appears relevant. There is still a tendency to become bogged down in personal wars and enter into skirmishes about the “real” meaning of feminism, and whether or not one is allowed to refer to themselves as a feminist (I am, of course, partially referring to the whole Linda Hirshman brouhaha). Another criticism Hanna levels modern feminism has to do with the lack of leadership. When asked about ” Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, all the talk about post-feminism,” Hanna replies:

I’m so sick of the post-feminism thing. It’s ridiculous. I want more interesting leaders. I think it is really hard for feminist women who are also interested in challenging all kinds of oppression is that we’re freaked out about leadership, so there’s not more interesting leaders. A lot of times we kill off our leaders, I mean not just because we’re women, but we’re in a culture where we create products and we destroy those products. The same way that we lift people up – it’s the kill your idols syndrome… We get all picky about everything. I wish there were more feminist leaders to choose from, more variety.

Leaving aside the comments on consumer culture, this is where I stopped following Hanna. The idea that the feminist movement is lacking interesting leaders and faces feels wrong. Maybe this is a sentiment born in part from her disinterest in blogs, but there are plenty of great feminist leaders out there, from Hillary Clinton to Nancy Keenan, Barbara Boxer and even Barack Obama, and we’re not even going to begin listing all the great feminist writers (but don’t forget our favorite cartoon feminist hero, Lisa Simpson!). We also recently saw the launch of fbomb, a blog for the younger feminists, and XY, a site for pro-feminist men. Perhaps most annoying is the idea that part of the reason we destroy our own idols has to do with the fact that, as women, we’re too picky. The squabbles of feminist writers may occasionally tend toward self-promotion rather than activism, but it seems that for the most part we want to support our leaders. And annoying as it may be, the battles between feminists are the result (at least partially) of a multiplicity of ideas and contrasting viewpoints. Maybe the problem has less to do with tearing down idols, but the very fact that we build them in the first place. But at least Hanna seems to have a pretty good grasp on what it means to be a real life, effective role model: “my whole joke was that I’d rather be a Rollerblade model… If I am a role model, I want to be a really three dimensional model.”

Kathleen Hanna: Three-Dimensional Role Model [GRITtv]

Related: What’s In A Zine: New Book Explores DIY Feminist Roots

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