Kathleen Hanna Quotes

kathleen hanna

Kathleen Hanna Quotes. Hanna (1968) is an American singer, feminist activist, and zine writer, best known for her involvement in the 1990s riot grrrl music scene.


You can read our profile of her sartorial style here.

Contrary to popular belief, Hanna did not "found" the riot grrrl scene; it was a collective effort by many people, some of them male. However, Hanna remains the most visible face of that movement, in part because of her later activities (while some have faded into obscurity), in part because of her natural good looks, in part because of her articulateness.

Since this is a website on sartorial and personal style, the quotes below reflect that and are selected to show her views on fashion, style and materialism. Hope you enjoy.


Art is a job. It's just not a sucky job.

Just because you're wearing a goofy hat doesn't make it performance art.


The Biore company used the Lilith Fair as a test market and they gave out free Biore strips at this one stop on the Lilith Fair. I think that's totally interesting. All these girls at the Lilith Fair had Biores on––they were group Biore bonding!...As women we're supposed to wear that makeup that makes us look like we're all one piece, like we don't have pores and make ourselves totally clean and have no dirt in our skin. That's all I think of when I think of the Lilith Fair.

I know when I first started, I said things like, "It's really great to be beautiful and powerful and sexy," and I take a little bit of that back now. What I was saying was that you don't have look a certain way or have a certain hairstyle to be a feminist; that just because a girl wears lipstick that doesn't mean she's not a feminist. But now I realize that I wasn't really challenging the standard of beauty. A friend said to me, "Why is it so subversive to be beautiful in the traditional sense? I think it's much more subversive to create your own form of beauty and to set your own standards." She's right.


It seems like whenever anything has a chance to become radical in pop culture, they just get the Monkees to do it. They'll have auditions and get girls that won't say anything beyond "Girl Power!"

It's not in terms of how many units anything sells, but when something I do affects other people to do their own thing.
––on cultural power

[The Spice Girls] can be cool is little girls are turning it into something that works for them or if people hear "girl power" and they want to know more about it, so they go to the library instead of going to the mall.

It can be really painful to have to face how fucked up shit is and how scared people are...of being alive. Scared of things that are amazing. Scared of things that aren't like television or aren't dead. A lot of people can't deal with three-dimensional human beings, they only know how to deal with other products -- they see themselves as other products. When the world only treats you like a dot on a marketing scheme, you can learn to treat yourself and other people like that.

Our second fanzine was called Girl Power and I was remember wondering: Did the Spice Girls get that from us or was that just i coincidence? On the first tour, I started seeing the same outfits I was wearing onstage turn up in clothing catalogues. I was thinking: Am I an egomaniac that I think this is happening? Have they been following us around, or was it just cultural osmosis? It does make you nuts. Anti-feminism sold as feminism is so super-creepy!

Being cool in our culture means being cold, stand-offish, uncaring (you're too cool to notice a lot of things) and self-absorbed. You are attractive in a normal white way but have a little dirt on your chin. You are mysterious and lacking in real friends cuz being cool means being vulnerable with no one. (this increases the value that others place on the rare memories of you sharing anything with them...cool)

I'm sure lots of kids [find out about punk through] Green Day. "Ooh, they have weird hair!" Then they maybe got a catalogue from Lookout and maybe checked out some of the other bands on Lookout...One thing leads to another and they actually are part of a scene that's more about generating our own information instead of feeding the capitalist system.

[In America], it's like you're supposed to feel guilty is you're an artist or writer. You're supposed to now want to make any money off of it and feel really bad if you do.


Why not fuck up the government instead of fucking up your body?


Kathleen Hanna

We were really lucky that we had friends who gained notoriety before we did, so we got to see what happened to them. Because we had access to that information, we were able to make decisions based on personal knowledge. I used to be involved in a women's corporation/gallery/event space (which is part of the reason I got involved in music at all). We exhibited feminist photography, painting, and comic shows. We never had enough money to pay the rent and Nirvana played a couple of benefits to help keep our gallery going. I really loved that band and it was wierd seeing them get huge. After I had seen them play to like thirty people and then seen them with four thousand people the whole thing had changed and it was almost as if they were like factory workers or something. They were playing but it seemed impossible for them to be "present" anymore. They were being forced to play every night. They had computerized set lists. I saw this happen and thought "I don't want that, that's not why I started playing music, that's not my goal."

In a lot of abuse situations the men are nice to absolutely everybody on the surface...They're totally invested in creating this identity that they're the nicest guy in the world because that's a way to ensure silence...The media operate with this same sort slight-of-hand. "Well, Kathleen, look at all these treats you're getting: all this notoriety." And a part of me thought "It's like an abusive dad who never pays any attention unless he's hurting me. But at least I'm getting some attention. Even though it's not positive attention, I'm getting something."

The internet moves so fast that we could be in every single article today and then tomorrow nobody remembers who we are.



Kathleen Hanna.

I went on the Internet one day and I looked at these Riot Girl message boards and there was all this shit about how "You can't be a real Riot Girl is you dress like that or your hair looks like this." It was so pathetic. Girls write me letters and say, "Riot Girl at my school is only about what kind of shirt you wear."

[Growing up,] I was really obsessed with clothes...one day I would be new wave and the next Goth. I'd just try on new styles all the time. I think it came from changing schools a lot. I knew how to change my hair and dress to fit in, and once I saw how ridiculous it all was it freed me up to experiment more

For me, some of the youth-oriented stuff [in Riot Grrrl], of dressing like a little girl, was also about women who had to numb out most of their childhood due to sexual abuse. Reclaiming that. And saying "I deserve a childhood and I didn't have it, and now I'm going to have it." It was also about being freaks, being punk rockers, being people who are oppositional to the whole American system, and not wanting to look like adults and our parents, who we saw as fucking up the world.

[I]n order to feel like I was a strong person, I kind of based myself in opposition to what I perceived as being Second Wave feminism, which was really ignorant, and based on all of the stereotypes. Like that they have hairy legs and they are anti-sex and so on. And I was like, "I'm a SEXY feminist, and I'm going to wear makeup and blah blah blah." Then, when I actually started delving into the history, I realized that I was playing into stereotypes.

All of a sudden at our shows, all the guys wear Spitboy shirts and you know they never listen to the band, but they wear their Spitboy or their Rock For Choice shirt, or their feminist t-shirt to our gig...to show that they're like...do you know what I mean? They're on their best behaviour around us and that's really annoying 'cause I'd rather people just [be] real.

Growing Up

I remember being nervous as a teen, numbed out and self hating, but it was also such a great time for experimentation and figuring out what my aesthetic was, what kind of music I REALLY liked versus what was cool.

A tall girl wearing stretch pants and a big tee shirt walked up to me after a lecture last week and said, "I wish I was a teenager in the 90s." I responded with, "No, really, you don’t." Part of my cringe reaction was because I would hate for a new generation of artists to get stuck in the "Martyr Artist vs. Fucker Businessman" binary like I did.

What I would really and honestly would say [to my teenage self] is "Have a good time, be kind to yourself, you're perfect just how you are."...Everyone is too busy worrying about themselves to care about your stupid zits. I also would tell myself to start a band right away. It would've been so fun to have been writing songs with my crazy friends instead of getting wasted all the time.


Kathleen Hanna smiles.

I always tell girls who say they want to start a band but don't have any talent, well, neither do I. I mean, I can carry a tune, but anyone who picks up a bass can figure it out. You don't have to have magic unicorn powers. You work at it, and you get better. It's like anything: You sit there and do it every day, and eventually you get good at it.

Let's say I write something because of it (as I have) in this very magazine or in a letter, then someone writes back to me saying "Thanks so much for what you wrote." I'm thinking "Someone else pumped me so full of ideas that I couldn't help myself!" They feel inspired. Hopefully they write or do something too then we've all been joined in some way––even if it's only temporarily.

You don't want to start setting up another rule book, like: "This is how you're a feminist. And this is the way you dress. And this is the way you act. And this is the way you protest." It's like, some people protest carrying signs. Some people protest by making activist radical music. Sometimes people try to just make it through a day and not kill themselves, and that's their activism for right then, because that's all they have...

I was writing [Keep on Livin'] originally about coming out as a sexual abuse survivor, but it can really be about any kind of emotional trauma, and you're like, "I'm totally over it" and then you get reactivated...You're like, "Jeez, I worked so hard. How am I back in the same place?" But each time you revisit it, it's a little better.

Weirdo geniuses sharing what they do with the world is not a bad thing and there really are a zillion ways to do that. There are a lot of complicated, interesting places between purity and disconnected capitalism and if we don’t explore these places, and report back what we find, these two poles will just keep reinforcing each other into oblivion.


There's this idea that if you think something's a conspiracy or that the government is involved in some way then you're crazy...it's not just us that it happens to when you suggest that something is in fact more complicated than it looks.

She wants to buy the look of my abuse
They want to use my blood
To color their perfume
––Bikini Kill, "Starfish"

Sometimes it's worth having someone misquote you slightly or whatever, to at least have people get to your music.

Other People

Don't sleep with anyone crazier than yourself.

Julie Ruin was actually a character I developed when I lived in Portland for two years, and she's a lot more confident than Kathleen in a lot of ways. She was able to distance herself from bullshit in a way that Kathleen has never been able to do, and she wanted a record. I wanted her to have a record.
––on her alter-ego/heteronym, Julie Ruin

I feel like I'm being gawked at live...I used to be an exotic dancer and...sometimes there's not really that much of a difference between playing in a punk bar and being a stripper except for I have my clothes on. A lot of men come with the same exact attitudes that guys do that come to a strip bar. They think, "Oh, it's a girl band, we'll go and watch their butts and their tits or something like that." They don't don't think of us as performers they just think of us sorta like seals that jump through hoops that have tits. Like the guys tonight saying "take your clothes off."

Poly [Styrene] lit the way for me as a female singer who wanted to sing about ideas. She taught me, by example, that fame was less the goal than something to back away from when it started to invade your core. Her lyrics influenced EVERYONE I KNOW WHO MAKES MUSIC.

"I Kissed a Girl" was just straight-up offensive. The whole [song] 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.

In my world, I was assaulted by a stranger and it was a super depressing experience. In the popular imagination there is no emotion attached to it, it is just a punchline to some weird joke about feminists in the 90′s.
––on being assaulted by Courtney Love

I thought [Madonna] was really cool, I wanted to be like her. You know, like in the Desperately Seeking Susan-era, she was just really hot, and who didn't want to be like her? But it's the same as looking in Seventeen magazine and trying to look like those girls.

We [Bikini Kill] heard this interview with The Slits, where instead of answering boring questions in a standard way––questions like, What's it like to be a woman in music?––they had a tape-recorder and they were playing back witch laughter noises. It was like, "Actually I don't have to speak back to total idiots in a rational manner, I can just use nonsense and make it entertaining for myself." So I started to think that using nonsense and non-linear thought is the way to deal with how messed up the world is.

The new James Blunt song is the worst thing that has ever been created on the face of the Earth.

[Hipsters are] the ones who take fashion risks and admit that they care. Everyone cares; its just that they're the only who admit they care.

I talked to this guy at this show in Birmingham, Alabama for fifteen minutes, and we were talking about tattoos––we were just having this normal conversation––and then he says, "Let me ask you something about your band––are you man-haters?"––I walked away from him! He didn't perceive how that was insulting. I had just talked to this guy for fifteen minutes, there's a male in my band, I travel with six guys on the road for a month, and then he's asking me if I'm a man-hater. It's so idiotic to me that it doesn't even deserve a response.

They're ok, I don't know...there's a lot of fucked up things about what they do––no comment.
––on the Beastie Boys. Hanna is now married to Adam Horovitz, aka Ad-Rock, a member of the Beastie Boys.


When I stop trying so fucking hard to please other people or write "the missing song" that's when the songs start writing themselves.

I usually write the melody first, then I hear something within my fake words that sounds like a real word and I use that as a nutcracker to pry open what the song is actually about.

When I was six I wrote a really horrible song about the Bible. I had this weird idea that the Bible told you that you couldn't wear make up, and the lyrics went something like "The Bible tells you make up is a fake up," and it had a refrain on the chorus, that went "nooo way, nooo way!" It was really bad. But I did perform it for my parents in the living room and they totally laughed at me. They were not a good audience!

I learned a lot from Tobi [Vail], in terms of songwriting, because I always thought she had the best Bikini Kill songs and she typically wrote, I believe, melody first. That’s how Michael Jackson did it too—you know the song is there and you just make up fake words to find your melody and fit the lyrics in later.

When I was in Bikini Kill I was pretty invested in screaming at the asshole dudes who were pissing me off. In Le Tigre there was a real shift. I started thinking "Shouldn't we be inviting more women and weirdos of all kinds to our shows instead of spending so much time yelling at men we don’t even care about?" I mean, If we really don’t care about them why don’t we just not invite them to our shows?

Related Reading:

Kathleen Hanna, Style Icon

Riot Grrrl Style, Fashion and Self-Expression

Riot Grrrl Manifesto

Why Models Never Smile

Lydia Lunch Autobiographies

Lydia Lunch Quotes

Teddy Girls

Much of this information, and some photographs, came from this Kathleen Hanna fansite.

Return to Enjoy Your Style's quotes section.

Return to Enjoy Your Style's home page.

Search Enjoy Your Style:

Enjoy this page? Please pay it forward. Here's how...

Would you prefer to share this page with others by linking to it?

  1. Click on the HTML link code below.
  2. Copy and paste it, adding a note of your own, into your blog, a Web page, forums, a blog comment, your Facebook account, or anywhere that someone would find this page valuable.

Search this site: