Kathleen Hanna delivered a lecture last Wednesday evening at the Neptune Theatre on the topic "Riot Grrrl Then and Now." The lecture was more like an oral memoir from her time in the Riot Grrrl movement (when I interviewed her a few weeks ago, she said she actually planned to talk more about herself and her experiences). And that's what made it work. The tone was very real—she was charming and effervescent and so funny—like having a conversation with a smart, enthusiastic girlfriend who is quick to tease, but also quick to self-deprecate.
As she spoke, slides of zines and old photos were projected behind her on a screen. I'll never see that iconic photo of Hanna with "SLUT" written on her stomach in lipstick and not feel something. It's still powerful stuff, but she was quick to diffuse the urge some of us might have to idolize/idealize her and Riot Grrl with humor (of the aforementioned photo, she said something along the lines of, "That was at a time when people were wearing crop tops—Chris Cornell knows what I'm talking about") and frequent reference to the movement's shortcomings. She was careful to narrate the "story of Riot Grrrl" by reiterating that it was her own experience, and not something she expects women (or anyone) to identify with wholly or at all.
She spoke on the serious issues of violence, rape, and street harassment that spurred her ideas, but also did an Ian MacKaye impression, sang a few lines to the song "Olympia" by Hole (duuude), and generally disarmed the audience (which seemed a little shy, or maybe just nervous, to interact with this person)—even coming out into the crowd to “meet everyone” and hand out zine pages.
I'm going to say something now that some may feel goes against the ethos of the evening, but with all due respect: Kathleen Hanna looked fucking great. She had one these huge flatform shoes on and a boxy shirt dress I immediately wanted to borrow. Actually, no apologies—it's okay to be feminist and also into fashion. I know what I'm doing and where it's coming from.
The lecture ended with Hanna singing Le Tigre's “Hot Topic” as photo and word collages flashed on the screen; everyone around me was crying. Afterward she held a thoughtful Q & A that mainly encouraged the audience to help answer each others' questions (one person was struggling with issues surrounding booking shows that get out of hand; Hanna responding by asking other people to chime in since she didn't have the current experience to address that struggle in the present tense).
No, Riot Grrrl was not perfect. Far from. And Hanna herself is an imperfect feminist, like everyone. But I think her faults, and her eagerness to address the "Then" with the "Now" make for really important conversations. It's true, as a feminist icon of sorts (whether she wants the title or not), she commands attention and it would be rad to hear her take more outspoken stands on the current state of things (for instance, the fact that our country is festering with so much institutionalized racism that we're basically running backwards into the dark ages...). But for education sake, Riot Grrrl's impact, flaws and all, is an important idea to keep alive. An important foundation to build on. And important movement to argue about.