MY HERSTORY by Kathleen Hanna

I 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 personality.

In 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.

This 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.

In 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.

Since 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.

 photo by Tammy Rae Carland

Besides 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 Is Forever.

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.

I 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?".

Kathleen Hanna

Jo's herstory / JD's herstory