As Bikini Kill get ready for their re-release of their debut cassette tape, Revolution Girl Style Now, band members Kathleen Hanna and Kathi Wilcox, both Riot Grrrl pioneers, spoke to Rolling Stone‘s Amy Plitt about their music and legacy.
One snippet from the conversation, in which the artists enthuse about feminism’s mainstream acceptance via pop music, particularly that of Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, has been making the rounds. Hanna declared that net result of the pop feminism trend would be a broader movement, rather than a diluted one. So, of course, “Riot Grrrl queen knights Taylor Swift” has become the chief takeaway. But what Hanna said was subtler than that, and more interesting:
I remember back in the Nineties being like, “We’re being commodified,” so I understand people being like, “We don’t want feminism to become this fashion that has nothing behind it.” But I’m not really worried about that. When somebody that’s a huge megastar that has so many young fans, like Taylor Swift or Miley Cyrus or Beyoncé, comes out and says, “I’m a feminist,” I mean, that’s the sound of hundreds of thousands of girls typing the word into the Internet.
Taylor Swift’s feminism is rudimentary, to be generous. One surmises that it might be tempting for someone of Hanna’s depth and stature among feminists to hand-wring about what a given starlet’s fans are learning from her behavior. I can easily imagine Hanna saying something like, “Kids these days, they don’t know how good they have it!” (Plenty of second-wave feminists said it about her generation.)
“I’m not a political organizer,” Hanna said in a SPIN interview in 2013. “I’m really proud that we were a catalyst for it, but I can’t be the leader. I need to pull back so that other people can step into this leadership role.” In that interview (and others), she apologized for insensitive lyrics and talked about the whiteness of Riot Grrrl, as well as some awful behavior she’s seen at feminist gatherings. “We put ourselves out to be criticized, and I hope that people criticized things that I said, because it’s all about the exchange,” she continued. “Again, it’s not about being perfect, it’s about opening the conversation.”