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Bikini Kill interview
from Grand Royal #2

When we finally spoke with Kathleen Hanna of the band Binkini Kill about Grand Royal #1, she made it quite clear to me that she was not willing to contribute to the magazine unti l certain things about it were dealt with. But instead of asking her to voice these complaints in a standard letter to the editor, I thought it might be better to enter into one of those open-ended dialogues that you sometimes see in the fancy magazines. So when Kathleen and her bandmate Kathi Wilcox were in town one time, a serious sit-down in the world famous Club D Rumpus Room was convened. We ordered Bob Mack out, a six pack in, and rolled the tape. In doing so we were hoping to first of all let the girls bring us to task on some things about us and our magaazine that make ourselves and others more aware of both the subtle and blatant sexist biases that continue to invade our language, thoughts and everyday lives. Not that we want to come off as overly apologetic or, even worse, act like just cos we talked about sexism with two girls now weíre off the hook. But we do want to be held responsible for what weíre putting out there in the world. So here it goes. -- Mike D

KATHLEEN: Okay, okay, okay. So the reason why this interview came about is because the Bob Mack guy asked if Iíd do something for Grand Royal, but I didnít feel comfortable doing anything and instead I wanted to talk to you about some stuff that really pissed me off about the first issue...

MIKE: Well, in the beginning, we really got carried away doing the magazine. Originally it was supposed to be only us, and then we reached out to more people... and I get into a bit of a hard position, cos thereís always more people who say things that I donít agree with, but Iím still responsible for putting them out, and that freaks me out to a certain extent. I donít really know to what extent I should censor those ideas or control what those ideas are, or if I should put them out and just comment on them.

KATHLEEN: Or like have me comment on them?

MIKE: Yeah, exactly.

KATHLEEN: Well, part of the thing is, like, whatís the difference between censorship and social responsibility? I sometimes find that the whole censorship argument is used as a way for people to avoid the fact that theyíre like...

MIKE: Doing shit thatís totallly fucked all the time.

KATHLEEN: Fucked! Yeah, totally!... [digging into the magazine] Hold on, thereís this other thing I want to bring up that was in the last issue, itís from the Pharcyde interview... fuck man, where is it... okay , okay, okay... this isnít Mike who asks the question but [reading from the interview], "Out of all the females in the entire world, who would you most want to bone?" Okay? And then it goes on to say, "Oh Janet, Janet, no not Janet Jackson... blah... blah... blah."

MIKE: Actually they were really perplexed by that particular question and they kept coming back to it, recurrently, you now what I mean? Weíd just go on to other stuff, and then theyíd come back to the question because it stayed in their minds for a while. Iíd also like to say that I donít mind being taken to task for asking that question, but I want to stand up for the Pharcyde because one of the most appealing things about them is that a lot of their lyrics deal with the shit that happens to them. "Passing Me By" and "Otha Fish" are more about getting dissed by girls than about pursuing them like objects.

KATHLEEN: Well, let me tell you how I felt about it, if anyone cares. I read that question and I just had this total fear run through my body. Not a fear of like, "Oh someoneís gonna bang down my door and hurt me." I was just really scared about how they were gonna answer the question. Like how many individual women were they gonna hurt by answering it? I mean, Iíve had problems where itís really hard to even play a show because the sound guy wonít plug in my monitor unless I tell him if Iím married, single, or have a boyfriend. And you know, this is the kind of shit I have to deal with every day, and itís like... itís more than just insensitive to ask questions like that, I mean it totally sucks to talk about female musicians in terms of their asses or whatever and not their music. I just thought it was disrespectful to women in general, and especially to the individual women who were mentioned. I donít know.. Iím not saying censor it. Thatís not what Iím saying. What Iím saying is, like, what women is gonna want to write for this magazine?

MIKE: Yeah, but one of the things I want to do with the next issue, even though I donít want to lose our voice or lose whatever weíre trying to do, is make the magazine a little less male-centric.

[The conversation goes on, covering topics like the lack of female record company presidents, the B-Boys being embarrassed by their past and the typically slutty ads placed by companies like Diesel in magazines like SPIN. Beers are opened and Mike wonders about asking bell hooks to read/speak at Lollapalooza.]

MIKE: We can say to bell hooks, "Well, do you want to speak in front of these kids who are going to be completely ignorant of what youíre about, maybe under one percent of which are going to even know who you are? Itís going to be fucked and people might be completely disrespectful of who you are, but you do actually stand a chance of, like, going out there and maybe changing a couple people."

KATHLEEN: But see, my idea on the whole thing is, hey, itís not the responsibility of marginalized, oppressed people to educate everyone. I personally wouldnít put myself in that position and go out there and do my schtick in front of the Red Hot Chili Peppers fan guys... because, you know...

MIKE: Yeah, but I have to go out in front of those guys every night.

KATHLEEN: You donít have to do anything.

MIKE: But our idea is to do something different with that audience, which is why I think our audience is different than the "those guys" crowd.

KATHLEEN: But, um, about the whole thing you brought up about asking bell hooks to do Lollapalooza... I think what youíre saying is essentially that guilt is debilitating and you donít wanna just sit around whining and moaning. You wanna actually use your privileges to make potentially cool things happen, and...

MIKE: Well, in terms of being, like an intermediary, on that level, itís easy...

KATHLEEN: Let me finish! Let me fucking finish!

MIKE: Like when Public Enemyís first album came out they went on tour with us, and it was our favorite record. And itís not like white kids immediately caught on to Public Enemy. Their first album wasnít really that big a success. It wasnít until It Takes a Nation of Millions that they got big. You put Public Enemy after their first album, that was like the best album we had heard. Period.

KATHLEEN: Let me fucking finish! Okay, so you donít wanna sit around and moan, so youíre trying to use your privileges t ohelp people gain access to the stuff that you have access to, and I think thatís really cool. The thing Iím saying is that itís not enough. We had a similar problem in Riot Grrrl DC. Two years ago, at the convention, we were talking about how there were a lot of white girls involved, and it was like, what are we going to do about this? And then someone brought up that it was really racist for the white girls to assume that non-white girls/girls of color would want to be involved in what was basically a white girl thing, a thing that had pretty much been based on the needs of white women and girls. You know? Like, does bell hooks really want to go to Lollapalooza?

MIKE: Welll, she very well may not. It may not be the right thing for her to do.

KATHLEEN: Right. What Iím saying is that maybe itís not about getting people to work with us on our agendas, but more about redefining our whole thing. Sure you can go out and say, "I wanna get some women of color and some white women to work on this magazine," but if you donít create a magazine that anyone but white guys are willing to deal with then really all thatís happened is youíve created a situation where you can feel good about yourself for "trying," but nothingís really gonna change. You know what I mean?

MIKE: I was going to ask you guys about one thing thatís interesting to me, but I donít want to use the RG words.

KATHLEEN: Go ahead.

MIKE: Well, if you look at Riot Grrrl as a movement, to me itís like Malcolm Xís whole theory of when white people said, "How can we be involved in forwarding what youíre doing?" He said, "You canít really," you know? That has to come from within the community. That has to come from within our own people. We have to strengthen ourselves. We have to become affirmed in our own identity. But what you can do is educate all your fellow people who are the oppressors, you know? Let them know what their background of oppressing people is...

KATHLEEN: Exactly.

MIKE: In the same way, itís like you donít want to have to deal guys at Riot Grrrl meetings, but at the same time, guys can have their role in terms of educating other guys about their own oppressive behaviors.

KATHLEEN: Right. I think one thing thatís reallly important in the boy community or whatever, or the boy thing, is like, to realize that oppression is a two-way street. You know what I mean? That itís like, white men are really missing out -- I donít wanna say white men are oppressed, but...

MIKE: I donít think oppression is a two-way street.

KATHLEEN: No, no, no. You misunderstand me. What Iím saying is that I think that the way that masculinity has been constructed in our society is fucking boys up. Because, even if you just look at it on a personal level, itís like, I canít hang out with boys who havenít educated themselves or been educated in some meaningful way about sexism. And so itís like, the guys who wanna be friends with me are just gonna miss out , you know? And I happen to think I am a pretty cool friend to have, you know what I mean? The way I look at it, itís a lot more complex than saying white equals evil (although itís a perfectly fine thing to say sometimes).

KATHI: Weíre all losing out.

KATHLEEN: Right. All of us. what Iím saying is that inequal Power distributions and hierarchies, in general, dehumanize everyone involved... and you know I donít think itís in anyoneís best interest to just playing top/bottom games forever. I mean, things could be really complex and interesting, but theyíre not gonna get that way unless people with privilege seriously start challenging ourselves in terms of how we oppress and/or abuse "others." You know? And we have to check each otherís shit or else weíre all gonna miss out on things being cool. You guys are seriously missing out unless you all start listening to girls.

MIKE: Unfortunately, thatís probably the last thing thatís gonna change. You know what I mean? In terms of how males should be more open to talknig to each other and open to learning something new, theyíd probably have to be coming from a more secure place, which is hard.

KATHLEEN: Which is also where homophobia is gonna enter the discussion.

MIKE: Yeah, and all that stuff. To me, people have to be aware that to be gay or queer or whatever in this world right now means that youíre basically being given shit all the time. You know, constantly. And in a different way thatn if youíre black. Youíre dealing with a certain non-stop discrimination that really dictates their behavior. Like, I know plenty of gay women who wonít kiss in public. You know what I mean? Well, I wanted to ask you about how Riot Grrrl deals with the male, white person. Like how you want t see males ge t involved in terms of forwarding what you want to do and actually bettering the situation overall.

KATHI: Yeah!

MIKE: You know what I mean? I guess itís kind of broad, but...

KATHLEEN: No, I know what thatís about.

KATHI: [to Kathleen] You can, like, try to clarify the whole thing with us and Riot Grrrl if you want to.

KATHLEEN: Oh yeah. First of all, Bikini Kill is not Riot Grrrl and Riot Grrrl is not Bikini Kill. Theyíre totally separate entities, and thereís four people in Bikini Kill with very distinct ideas, and anything that comes out of my mouth, obviously people should know itís from my mouth, and not out of like, a hundred womenís mouths, or Kathiís mough, or Billís. I need to say this cos every time I say anything itís like...

KATHI: "Riot Grrrl means..." Which usually translates into "Bikini Kill says..."

KATHLEEN: Whatís really sad about this is that Bikini Kill, as a band, has been termed into these extremely rigid, static ideas by people other than ourselves. I mean, just to brag about the band Iím in, I think that we always had a really good sense of humor. You know?

KATHI: We like to make fun of ourselves.

MIKE: Like in Grand Royal, you know, Thurstonís doing "Top Ten Free Jazz Albums." And thatís really going to be a cool list, but then itís like, to me, the goal is to have a balance of stuff thatís like, I donít want to say "consciously humorous," but stuff that we do where weíre goofing, where it is like us and itís funny. Thatís in there and balancing that with a more serious side.

KATHLEEN: Well, that could be very powerful. And thereís this similar thing that I am dealing with in my own life, where I am wanting to be around people who I identify with. I think thatís really important for me because Iíve never really felt like I was allowed to choose who I spent time with. So for me to hang out with tough girls, you know, who are like reading the same books I do and are into the same bands and stuff, is really really powerful. And I think that goes with the idea that having fun and feeling included, for certain people, are really political, and that to say "politics arenít separate from humor" is really important, because usually the whole idea is that...

KATHI: You can either have the one or the other, but not both.

KATHLEEN: And this kind of duality is a totally essential part of hierarchy or hierarchical thinking. Like separating things out. You know -- this is good, this is bad, this is male, this is female.

KATHI: This is one thing or this is the other. You canít be both things at once, and if you are, then youíre contradictory.

KATHLEEN and KATHI: Contradicting yourself.

KATHI: And youíre invalid, completely. Either way, youíre fucked. They perceive you as contradicting yourself, instead of seeing that of course youíre multi-dimensional...

MIKE: A lot of times people can be very amiss. You either have to be one way or another. Real complexities of lives or personalities are hard for people to deal with.

KATHLEEN: Complex.

KATHI: Thatís reality.

KATHLEEN: Especially for people who are "Otherd" in whatever way, made to feel marginal or suppressed or oppressed or whatever. Not all forms of oppression are the same, theyíre not... but I am talking more about how people who are working towards whatever kind of change tend to be perceived. You get put in the position where you are supposed to always be working for the betterment of whatever group you feel a part of, and youíre not allowed to ever fuck up anything, lest your inconsistencies be blown out of proportion and used against you to discredit you. And so like you get scared to have fun and kick back and have a beer cos maybe itíll be seen as some sort of contradiction of the fact that youíre supposed to be Miss Really Intense, or Miss Super Political, or whatever.

KATHI: Or you canít be calling boys to task at the same time as youíre making out with them. Give me a break. Or something like, "But I thought you hated all men? Like if you donít hate all men, then what are you talking about?"

KATHLEEN: Oh yeah, we should get back to the original question, of like what what can the boys do to help or something? Well, personally I think itís crucial that boys talk to each other about their own sexisms, their own experiences as oppressors, and get used to recognizing how their behavior/action may be affecting women. And thereís all sorts of ways they can get information about what all different kinds of women/ladies and girls think. Like aside from just vampiring the females that they might know. Like there are lots of books and records and fanzines that they can seek out. Plus guys have to realize that their very presence may be censoring and demanding the women, so there are gonna be times when they just shouldnít be around, you know? And bitching about this just adds to the whole problem anyways, cos itís not about exclusion. Itís about safety.

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