Kathleen Hanna is pretty much Teflon to me. Ever since someone first told me my high school band sounded like a shitty Bikini Kill (sending me scrambling to Napster to see what they were referring to), I’ve been completely enamored with her music, her ideas, and her unapologetic feminism. You can only imagine my delight, then, when CNN posted a huge interview with her as part of the promo for her new documentary “Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour.”
She’s generally her sharp, funny, awesome self in this interview, but there’s one paragraph that gives me pause:
CNN: What do you make of singers like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Ke$ha who are seemingly touching on themes of gay empowerment in their music, but for some reason it doesn’t quite resonate?
Hanna: I mean, is it really that different when it’s a skinny white woman in a bathing suit singing these things? None of these women ever wear pants, first of all. Second of all, just because you’re wearing a goofy hat doesn’t make it performance art. I mean, that’s just my feeling about it. A lot of the music just sounds like bad Euro disco, though that first Ke$ha song “TiK ToK” was good. But (Katy Perry’s) “I Kissed a Girl” was just straight-up offensive. The whole thing is like, I kissed a girl so my boyfriend could masturbate about it later. It’s disgusting. It’s exactly every male fantasy of fake lesbian porn. It’s pathetic. And she’s not a good singer. I don’t want to trash other women. I mean, I think Jason Mraz is horrible. It’s not just like I hate other women performers. Jason Mraz, and the new James Blunt song is the worst thing that has ever been created on the face of the Earth.
This statement is problematic to me for a number of reasons.
1.) Just because you’re “a skinny white woman in a bathing suit” doesn’t mean you can’t speak up for the rights of minorities, women and LGBT folk. I mean, ahem:
There are many things one can accuse Lady Gaga of (self-importance, excessive pantslessness), but she does seem to genuinely care about her fans. There’s no real way of knowing if it’s sincere or if she’s only speaking out about LGBT issues as part of some evil corporate plot to sell records, but the fact is, she’s out there telling people it’s okay to be themselves, and that can only be a good thing for the millions of young kids listening.
2.) She seems to be conflating aesthetics with content. You think this stuff sounds like bad Euro disco? Fine. But don’t hold that up as a damning character flaw. “Bad at music” does not necessarily translate to “bad at feminism.” I mean, Gloria Steinem can’t carry a tune to save her gosh darn life,* but nobody’s accusing her of being a bad feminist.
3.) Bad Euro disco is a staple of many gay clubs. Why are you trying to take that away from them, Kathleen Hanna?
4.) Katy Perry is the hardest person on this list to defend, because my gut reaction to “I Kissed A Girl” was somewhat similar to Kathleen’s. But you know what? “I Kissed A Girl” is a song about sexytimes, pure and simple. Some women gain genuine pleasure from making out with other women but are not that into the idea of having sex with them. Are we going to call the feminist police on them and tell them they can’t experiment the way they want to because it’s somehow Bad For Women? Are we going to deny them their own pop song?? The idea of judging another person’s sexual urges as being “feminist” or “un-feminist” strikes me as utterly ridiculous. If we want all women to be sexually liberated, we have to accept all different kinds of sexual expression, whether or not they subjectively creep us out. The loins want what they want. I’m not into being tied up and whipped, but I will forever defend other women’s right to consent to that if they wish to, because they are adults and can make their own decisions. What you like in bed has absolutely nothing to do with your politics or your worth as a person. Ugh!
I realize Kathleen Hanna comes from a slightly earlier generation, but the judgmental sentiments in her statement to CNN are striking. I’m never going to tell another woman I know what’s best for her or judge her based on her clothing, musical tastes, or sexual desires. (Well, not her character. I will probably judge her taste.) And that open-armed, touchy-feely inclusiveness is a huge part of what feminism means to me.
*I have never actually heard Gloria Steinem sing.