In this week’s NME, we talk to Kathleen Hanna about her brilliant new band, The Julie Ruin, feeling like “a feminist waitress” and hear how a serious illness transformed her world view. Here, Hanna writes for NME about a recent furore that sprung up around Default Genders’ (aka James Brooks, Grimes’ boyfriend) song ‘On Fraternity’, which appeared to imagine the threat of rape on the street from a woman’s perspective…
In terms of men being feminist allies, it’s just important to speak from your own place. I’d love to hear men singing about masculinity and the damage it does to them. I think men having conversations with each other and through songs about the way traditional gender roles cut them off from having the full range of emotions, that it puts them in a place where they’re supposed to be the breadwinner when maybe that’s not what they want or can do, and that it teaches them that the only way to bond with each other is through sexism or racism or homophobia.
Maybe it’s because I’m older, but I feel so happy when people try. I’ve talked about ‘Suggestion’ by Fugazi in terms of this issue a lot, and how I had mixed feelings about that song shortly after I first heard it. One day I would be pissed like, “Why is he singing in the first person, like he’s a woman himself?”. And then another day I would be in love with it. In the end, it was the first time I heard men in the punk scene say, “I give a shit about sexism.” And it meant a lot to me and made me feel very supported. It made me feel like I was wanted in their audience.
When men sing about sexism I’m typically pretty thrilled, but I think it’s important for them to not take over the conversation. My band Le Tigre had a song called ‘Bang Bang’ that was about a racist incident in NYC where a man named Amadou Diallo was murdered by cops. He was shot 41 times and all he had was a wallet in his hand. We were really upset about it, and so we wrote about it, and I’m glad we did. I wrote the lyrics from the position of an angry New York bystander, which is what I was.
But I also totally get that some people didn’t like that song because maybe it seemed racist for me to sing about something I would never experience first hand. Or like I was trying to set myself off as “Hey look everybody I’m not racist!” Of course I thought long and hard about how different lyrics played out in that song, and how people of color might feel listening to it . But also? I don’t know how people of color might feel, since everyone is different — it’s not just this unified experience where everyone is the same. That’s just another stereotype. In the end someone might say, “Oh, I was so psyched that you did that,” and someone else might say, “Oh, that was completely fucked up.” But if the conversation never gets started, nothing’s going to change.
It’s definitely on me to get the education behind the scenes to have some sort of framework to discuss racism though. I don’t need to be asking people of colour to explain the history of racism to me. That doesn’t constitute “trying” in my book. And while everyone’s experience of oppression is different and complicated and often overlapping, I really believe that if you have privilege, you need to learn as much as you can about the world beyond yourself.
The thing that really bugs me isn’t men writing songs about sexism — it’s when they come up to me after shows or lectures and say, “What is feminism?” And I’m like “Why don’t you go on fuckin’ Google and type ‘feminism’ into the search engine?” Or when dudes send me email interviews for their college newspapers with 500 questions like “What are the different waves of feminism called and why?” and I’m supposed to give them an online Feminism 101 class. GO TAKE A CLASS AT YOUR OWN FUCKING COLLEGE. It’s not my job. Read books! That’s why they’re there! I especially don’t want men coming up to me and asking IF SEXISM STILL EXISTS. It’s like, I’m seriously gonna barf a McDonald’s salad on the next person to do that.