A year ago, Gloria Steinem and Rachel Maddow received their Employee of the Month Awards, so it’s thrilling to honor another funny, smart, talented, visionary. Also, Kathleen Hanna will be honored. Seriously, I can’t articulate the instrumental role The Punk Singer has had in shaping music, culture, and community activism. (Despite her influence, please do not hold her responsible for the above puns.)
On its surface, Kathleen Hanna’s career trajectory follows psychologist Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow spoke about how the individual needs a solid foundation before you can obtain self-actualization. The difference with Hanna is that while she was building a solid foundation for herself, she was simultaneously inventing ways for others to do the same in their own lives.
Hanna became a rock star the old fashioned way, touring, recording albums, dealing with media, building a fan base, and ignoring the rancid smell permeating club’s bathrooms, no small feat. Hanna also implicitly understood that her own welfare was intertwined with that of others.
On stage and off, she tackled sexism and sexual violence. She volunteered at shelters, but also address the machismo in the ska and punk scenes, where assault and even deaths in mosh pits happened all too frequently. Death from dancing? Yup. Her band Bikini Kill sung and spoke out about sexism and sexual violence and fostered the Riot Grrrl community, which helped fuel Third Wave Feminism. As she eloquently describes in the documentary The Punk Singer, Hanna then felt freed up to experiment musically, both on her own accord with her first solo project, Julie Ruin, and new band Le Tigre. Today, she tours with another band The Julie Ruin. All the while, she has delved into interior design, photography, and comedy and continued to call sexism by its proper name- asshole.