Kathleen Hanna: Riot Grrrl Then and Now Lecture
Neptune Theatre, Seattle, WA

Then and now, like a terribly titled middle-school history paper… Kathleen Hanna jokes about just making that shit up when she needed a name. And, while the name is a bit stale, it’s important to note that it does imply change over time. Is it possible to dissect an ongoing movement, or to definitively say that hopes and needs and wants have really come to fruition? Not really, but Hanna is more than happy to share with you her side of the story… And, oh yeah, it’s no big deal that Kathleen Hanna stopped by…

Nicole Brodeur of the Seattle Times gave a warm, albeit unnecessary, introduction for Hanna. If you bought a ticket, you already knew the score. Hanna, all shirt and chunk heels, came out like a surreal, smiling whirlwind. Humorous, friendly, and down-to-earth, she gave a quick summation for what lay ahead: “I’m gonna talk about Riot Grrrl, but mostly I’m gonna talk about me, me, me.” Hanna made one thing clear, citing more than once that this budding movement “was just a loose-knit group of people – while I was in it, I wasn’t the movement.” Void of any resentment for being the poster child of ’90s feminism and Riot Grrrl, she was thankful for the vehicle of change that all of this has brought her, both politically and personally. Nobody, ever, was more perfect to front Bikini Kill and set off the domino effect…

Hanna spoke in-depth of her time with Safe House, a non-profit which she continues to support and petition for. Combined with the tragedy of her roomie being raped and nearly killed had brought Hanna to this all-important conclusion: “[Am I] gonna’ be the person on the stairs who fights back? What’s really important to me?”

“I wanna’ stop violence against women.” And thus it was written.

Of course it wasn’t all rainbows and sunshine along the way. The punk scene of yore, and really anywhere for that matter, was hardly a place for women to find equality and respect. Daily crossings to school and everywhere in-between was bombarded with sexism and harassment. While in Viva Knievel, Hanna realized that conversing between songs was really important: “Guys would just call it therapy… Inevitably, all 3 women at the show would come up and talk to me.” And later, describing Bikini Kill: “We were decidedly messy. And pissed off at the idea that we have to take a million guitar lessons and be the best… Being popular is not as cool as you think.” And, as if this night needed anything else to make it better, Hanna, with arched back and mic up, gave the classic howl for s’s and g’s: “We’re Bikini Kill, and we want REVOLUTION! GRRRL STYLE NOOOW!” Did anybody else’s heart just skip a beat?

Like a steady Northwest rain, feminism was gaining speed and covering ground. Riot Grrrl chapters popped up all across the country, and Hanna’s favorite style of communication – the zine – was becoming almost commonplace. Anyone could do it, had access to it – and thus had a voice.

The great experiment of girls to the front had begun…

And Hanna herself passed out a small flyer, dated 1992 and written by her, to the audience. Circling around and handing them out “old school style,” the audience, momentarily, was in a dreamlike state. And as for the future? “We need to focus on the failures if this is gonna’ move forward.”

Regarding Le Tigre and her worsening health, Hanna stated, “I got my dream team together, and I didn’t have to go it alone. I had to ask people to help me. It was so hard. It was such a huge lesson to learn: people want to help… I wanted to write a fun record just to cheer myself the fuck up… [this song] is about not giving up.” And then, as the painted gods of the Neptune windows smiled on us, Hanna busted out “Hot Topic” in all its rhythmic, upbeat, catchy glory. Solo. My notes at this point of the lecture say, “I can die now.”

From closing Q&A, we’ll leave you with this tidbit from Kathleen Hanna – a queen of real purpose, and devoid of any pedestal: “I try to remember the positives. It was really important for me to learn the difference between real criticism and bullshit.”

Review by T. Monte
Photos by Sunny Martini

Kathleen Hanna