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Kathleen Hanna Talks Bad Art, Bloody Leotards, & Moving On From Riot Grrrl

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Kathleen Hanna is somewhere in VFILES’ white-walled Soho store, but she’s hard to spot among the vintage Chanel backpacks, X-Girl ringer tees, and crowd of DJs-slash-somethings sipping teeny bottles of Chandon in impeccable ’90s club-kid gear (there’s a lot of undercuts and shiny anoraks in the house). We’re here because Hanna, former Bikini Kill and Le Tigre front woman, has been busy lately. Last week, she released a capsule collection with VFILES (featuring a repro of her infamous “KILL ME” dress and a Bikini Kill Chapstick), and The Feminist Press released The Riot Grrrl Collection, an extraordinary book featuring Hanna’s own zines, flyers, and other rescued riot grrrl ephemera. In September, she’ll release her first record with her new band, The Julie Ruin.

But really, we’re here for Hanna herself. She’s our goddess, the one who howled our anger at sexist boys and a violent, silencing culture for us. She made us louder, braver, better dancers, and proud feminists — so it’s probably not an overstatement to say she saved our lives. We love her. We just can’t find her.

Finally, the crowd parts, and there she is — wearing four-inch flatforms, a tote that reads, “You are nothing without feminist art,” and a truly impressive bouffant. She’s petite and smiling, giving interviews and signing autographs for fangirls and boys alike. Former Bikini Kill bassist Kathi Wilcox is here, too — tall and lanky as ever, with her bleach-blonde crop and Scritti Politti T-shirt. For a Bikini Kill obsessive, seeing them together is like seeing Mick and Keith palling around. Even Leigh Lezark is starstruck.

So, this is Kathleen Hanna meeting the press — and it’s a lot less prickly than you’d expect from the woman who self-imposed a media blackout to combat condescending media coverage in the riot grrrl days. Of course, it helps that we’re not Newsweek. We’re the generation Hanna helped create. If we didn’t have blogs, we’d be pressing our Xeroxed zines into her hand at a punk show.

We talked with Hanna and Wilcox about remembering/moving on from riot grrrl, the importance of bad college art, and why more people should write songs about UTIs, and they were as honest, hilarious, and inspiring as we’d always hoped.

The Riot Grrrl Collection is incredible — how did it come about?
Kathleen Hanna: “We just had tons of stuff! Our parents used to send us our press clippings, and I kept everything. I don’t know if I’m a natural archivist, or I thought I was so awesome that someday I would donate my papers, but that filing cabinet [on the cover of the book] was so important to me because everything I ever made was in it — even the really embarrassing stuff.”

So, when you donated your papers to The Fales Library at NYU, you didn’t give the whole cabinet?
KH: “No, because a lot of it was other people’s work — like my photographer friends’ prints — and there were personal letters, stuff about my family. But I did leave in a lot of embarrassing stuff.”

Such as?
KH: “Pictures of me when I was a photo student doing self-portraits where I’m naked, like Jesus on a cross and I’m covered in menstrual blood.”

Kathi Wilcox: “What about the ones where I’m naked and covered in blood?”

KH: “No, you’re just covered in blood; you’re not naked!”

KW: “Oh yeah, I was wearing a nude bodysuit!”

Photo: Courtesy of VFILES/Alan Yuch.

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