HERSTORY by Kathleen Hanna
arrived on this planet on the same day as Tonya Harding. We could've even
been born at the same hospital since we're both from Portland, Oregon.
I also share my birthday (November 12th) with Charles Manson and Mahatma
Gandhi. Maybe this explains my freakishly dualistic, hot-headed, Scorpio
1971 my family moved from Portland, Oregon to Calverton, Maryland so my
Dad could commute to DC for his new job. We moved around a lot back then,
about every three years, living in Laurel, then Bethesda and then for
high school we moved back to Portland and my parents got divorced. During
high school I was pretty much obsessed with three things: 1) going to
shows (punk and reggae); 2) smoking weed; and 3) drinking alcohol. Yes,
it's true I was a teenage lush/burn-out, constantly on suspension or being
put into special "get off drugs" classes at school.
By some crazy luck I made it into college (on probationary terms!) and
moved up to Olympia, WA where I studied photography at the Evergreen State
College. While I loved school it was often frustrating. There were hardly
any women's studies courses at the time, and some of the male photography
professors were openly sexist. (Luckily there were also great teachers
like Steve Davis who totally encouraged me above and beyond the call the
duty). I had a work-study job in the darkroom and eventuallyI put on my
own little photo show with this artist named Aaron Baush-Greene. His work
was about AIDS and mine was about sexism, but almost nobody saw it. The
school administrators took it down in the middle of the night after it
was up for only a few days.
blatant censorship prompted my first forray into activism and soon a bunch
of my girlfriends and I started our own art gallery downtown, partially
in response the schools lack of suitable art space. It was called Reko
Muse and I think it lasted about three years total. Because Olympia
had such great bands (the Go Team , Some Velvet Sidewak, Nirvana, and
Fitz of Depression), it seemed natural that we would put on rock shows
between art exhibitions. Two other gallery founders, Heidi Arbogast and
Tammy Rae Carland, and I started a band called Amy Carter
to open at the shows.
After Amy Carter I started a new band called Viva Knievel
and proceeded to go on the craziest two month North American tour ever.
When I returned I hooked up with the coolest girl in town, Tobi Vail (I
was in love with her fanzine Jigsaw) and we recruited friends Kathi and
Bill to be in our new band Bikini Kill.
Bikini Kill lasted somewhere between 7-9 years during which time we were
lucky enough to go to Australia, Europe and Japan besides playing a lot
of shows in the U.S. We also put out a bunch of records on our friend
Slim's label, Kill Rock Stars.
It was hard being in a feminist band in the early 90's, I'm not gonna
lie. People could be really mean and unforgiving towards us. I still have
people, mostly guys, coming up to me repeating the same backhanded compliment
I've heard for over ten years, "Wow you are such a nice person, I
heard you were such a bitch". I mean it's hard enough to be a girl
in a band doing sound-checks in all-male settings, but having the "bitch"
label proceed me to nearly every club got really tiring. It was draining
trying to be nice all the time to prove people's preconceptions wrong.
And half the time I was being called a bitch just cuz I asked the promoter
for some water! It was also super schizo to play shows where guys threw
stuff at us, called us cunts and yelled "take it off" during
our set, and then the next night perform for throngs of amazing girls
singing along to every lyric and cheering after every song.
1992, Bikini Kill moved to DC and I started thinking that I might wanna
start a feminist magazine. From meeting with women who might be interested
in such a project (like writer/musician/historian Sharon Cheslow) it became
apparent that an informal group of like-minded female punks was more in
the stars than a magazine. Allison Wolfe (from Bratmobile) and I took
a clipboard to a Verbal Assault show and took down the numbers of girls/women
who might be interested in hanging out and talking feminism. Positive
Force loaned us their house for a few hours and we called our first
meeting. Allison and her bandmate Molly were already putting out a zine
called 'Riot Grrrl' and as the group grew it eventually
took the name for itself.
I was in and out of town on tour and eventually ended up moving back to
Olympia with my band, I became less and less involved with Riot Grrrl,
but I am still proud to be associated with it. The only reason I ever
distanced myself from it is cuz it seemed wrong to be so heavily associated
with something I had grown away from. Also I was uncomfortable being its
spokesperson when it was the labor of so many that made Riot Grrrl popular.
At some point Bikini Kill went on hiatus and I moved back to Portland
where I started a side project band called The Troublemakers
with my friend Johanna Fateman and a really talented guitar player named
Molly-16. We wanted to play out really bad but were frustrated by the
sexism we experienced at most clubs, so we called up some women and worked
together to build a stage in our basement. We lived in a women's house
at the time called "the Curse", with our roommate Peyton (who
later started 3rd Sex which Le Tigre's sound engineer Killer played drums
with). And our other roommate was metal guitar virtuioso Radio Sloan (later
of The Need and currently in The
CircuitSide). We had a bunch of notorious all-woman shows at that
house. Some of my favorites were the ones that Jo and Radio's band Mandy
Sturgill's Anti Sex BMX Space War played. They did a cover of "She
Bop" by Cyndi Lauper that just made people go crazy! Mandy
Sturgill was the singer (hence the name) and she put on a great show besides
having one of those amazing power voices that only comes around once in
a blue moon. I only lived at that house for a year or so but I still run
into women who were at those parties and remember all the energy that
was flying around back then. After that I moved back to Olympia and realized
a dream I'd had for a long time: I bought a sampler and an analog 8-track
recorder. This meant I could write and record songs on my own for the
first time. I ended up writing an album and recording it in my Olympia
apartment with the help of Paul Schuster, just as Bikini KIll was winding
down. I also put on an art show called 3-D Freak Volcano
featuring work by my friends Tammy Rae Carland, Steve Dore, Sadie Benning,
Johanna Fateman, Amy America and many others, at a space I rented downtown.
Later that year, I think it was 1998, Bikini Kill finally broke up and
I took my broken heart to Durham NC. My best friend Tammy and her girlfriend,
had started a record label down there called Mr.
Lady and they were nice enough to let me move in to their attic. It
was from there that I talked Kill Rock Stars into releasing the record
I'd made in my apartment and decided to call it Julie Ruin.
Within a year, I left Durham and found myself hanging out in New York
with my old Portland buddy Johanna Fateman. She had just finished art
school and was getting into electronic music just like I was. It was really
her love, patience and friendship that convinced me that making music
was not just "something in my past". We ended up forming a new
band called Le Tigre and that's still what I am most
consumed with today.
by Tammy Rae Carland
being in Le Tigre, I am working on the theme song for Lori Singer and
Laura Cottingham's all lesbian remake of the Genet classic "Querelle"
and just had an essay published in Robin Morgan's third anthology Sisterhood
I also put on an art show of Tammy Rae Carland's photography here in New
York called Beds And Letters that was a lot of fun and looked
gorgeous- if you don't mind me bragging! I am hoping to collabarate with
LAVA (feminist dance-acrobatics) soon and to make some music with spoken
word artist Sini Anderson. I currently live in Manhattan and love to take
my dog Freddie on long walks.
know I am leaving out a bunch of stuff, and not being so specific when
it comes to dates . . . but whatever, maybe I'll update this at some point
and write different stuff. It's weird to list things I've been a part
of, but it's been a fun trip down memory lane and now I can tell people
to read this when they ask me "So where are you from?".
herstory / JD's herstory