Kathleen Hanna is an inspiration and an icon to women and men worldwide. As one of the most known faces of third-wave feminism, Hanna puts the lie to the idea that feminists have to give up sartorial self-expression or creative unorthodoxy.
As the lead singer of Bikini Kill and an original member of the riot grrrl movement, Hanna influenced the look and feel of modern feminism. Her outfits were fun, even sexy. Hanna used and uses clothing to make a statement and to draw attention to issues like rape, incest, other feminist artists and objectification of women in media.
Hanna's style has changed over the years, but her influence is as keenly felt as ever. Devoted fans may not follow her every sartorial whim, but they do look up to her for inspiration. Her influence also shows up in surpring places; the Spice Girls come to mind. For these reasons alone, Hanna is a style icon.
There's one thing about Kathleen Hanna which everybody knows but is afraid to say: she's good looking. She and Liv Tyler look like fraternal twins. I don't say this maliciously, or to devalue her achievements. But I would be remiss not to state the obvious. Beauty matters, whether we like it or not, so let's deal with it maturely, instead of pretending that everyone is equally pretty or that attractiveness is a meaningless, fascist tool of oppression.
Onstage Style: Bikini Kill
Bikini Kill started as a zine created by Hanna, Kathi Wilcox and Tobi Vail, then college students in upstate Washington. Their shows and zines were female-centric; they encouraged women to come up to the front of the audience and participate in the show. However, the band members––especially Hanna––had to deal with drunk and rude young men, who wanted to take pictures of their legs, spit on them or harass them in other ways.
These incidents, which were legion, only increased Hanna's resolve. She began writing words like "slut" and "incest" on her chest and stomach to make viewers confront their own bigotry. In her own words:
I felt that if I wrote "slut" or "whore" or "incest victim" on my stomach, then I wouldn't just be silent...a lot of guys might be thinking this anyway when they look at my picture, so this would be like holding up a mirror to what they were thinking. ("Kathleen Hanna: Bikini Kill," 100)
There was also an element of forcing men to confront their own fantasies in public, where they might be potentially embarrassing or shameful. It also forces men, and women, to realize the real-world consequences of fantasy and symbolic violence against women.
Onstage, Hanna often wore outfits which contrasted sexuality and power. One outfit was a plaid miniskirt with a shirt of a man's bare chest. The effect was deliberately jarring, and meant to put the viewer on edge, instead of offering a sexual fantasy.
Bikini Kill's songs covered a wide range of social issues, from rape to death to materialism to media objectification. Their album packaging resisted the common practice of selling the band as an image, using stock photos (or xeroxes from magazines) and grainy, black-and-white pictures of the band members.
Hanna often wore her hair in a bun, or a high ponytail, with sideswept bangs. Based on her complexion and early photographs, I'm going to guess her hair is naturally brown; however, in her mid-twenties she either started dying it black, or it darkened to this color by itself. Other photos show her with shoulder-length hair, left down but still with bangs.
Julie Ruin was a one-album side project by Kathleen Hanna, written by her while Bikini Kill was on hiatus. Press photos for the album show Hanna with done-up hair, in a button-up white shirt and a pencil, knee-length skirt, in a library. The album cover shows her with her hair down and held behind a white headband.
Le Tigre is an electro-pop band, currently on hiatus. In concert and for press photos, they almost always wear matching outfits, with the same pattern or color scheme. It's true! Look at these photographs:
If you meet any member of Le Tigre, ask them why they do this, because I don't know why and I'd like to!