Kathleen Hanna On Borrowed Nostalgia For The Unremembered ’90s

I do a lot of interviews and stuff where they ask me about it and I feel like the nostalgia is this happy thing where it’s like, “oh, I wish I lived in the ’90s, it would be so awesome! There was this community and it would be so great. My experience of it was that it was not that great, and a lot of people don’t know about the violence at shows and how much shit bands with women in them — especially explicitly feminist bands — took. And so when people are nostalgic about it, I’m like, oh, you want to go back to a time when if you were onstage and you said, “there’s a pro-choice rally happening,” there could be a guy who’s yelling “shut up!” while you were talking, and possibly had a knife in his jacket. And nobody would do anything about it. You know, and a lot of times girls just weren’t safe at shows. And I don’t know if they are now, I definitely know that at some shows they’re not. The nostalgia erases a lot of the negative things that happened and when I talk about that in lectures people are very shocked.

––Fun fact: In the ’90s, girls at hardcore shows were often jokingly referred to as coat hangers, because they were often on the edge of the crowd, “holding their boyfriend’s coats.” Hahaha get it? Ugh. Kathleen Hanna, whose writing and time in Bikini Kill is heavily featured in the new Riot Grrrl Collection (released via the Feminist Press), touches upon the false dichotomy of the ’90s as some magical glitter pony time when women were really powerfully asserting themselves and men were supportive and responsive to the desires and demands of Riot Grrls for safe shows and safe dialogues. Not necessarily true.

The ’90s were also a time when the Riot Grrrl message of “Grrrl Power” was transmogrified into the non-threatening commercial pop message of Spice Girls “girl power.” When feminism became watered down and sugared up and sloganized into something safe and radio-friendly. When the backlash to Riot Grrl — both within the punk and hardcore scene, and in the context of mainstream media, threatened to overtake the movement itself.

All this is to say that sometimes borrowed nostalgia can paralyze us, can prevent us from truly living in our present reality. Feminism is really having a Riot Grrrl-centric moment right now, which is great — it was a powerful movement for a certain subgroup of women, myself included. But we can’t whitewash the past, un-complicate the movement and idealize it too much. And most of all, we can use it to justify our lack of activism and progress in the present. [Book Forum]