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Good Company Episode #9: Kathleen Hanna on Finding Your Voice (And Knowing When To Listen)

by Grace Bonney

When I was younger, I spent my summers at an all girls sleep-away camp in West Virginia. Camp was where I discovered so many important things, but the most important thing I discovered at camp was Riot Grrrl. Though the movement was far from perfect, it was my first exposure to young women who weren’t afraid to raise their voices about things that mattered to them — or against things they saw as oppression or injustice. Mix tapes were their own form of communication at camp and during that first year a friend made me a mix tape with songs by Bikini Kill. That was my first exposure to singer, artist and activist Kathleen Hanna and my life was forever changed.

Kathleen started Bikini Kill shows by calling all “girls to the front” and she made it crystal clear that she was in charge of that stage and no one could mess with her (or other women in the room). That energy and attitude informed not just my sense of self and self-worth, but it informed and inspired generations of young people (of all gender identities) to speak up and speak out about what matters most to them.

Kathleen has contributed so much to the creative community (you might know her work from Le Tigre, The Julie Ruin or the documentary about her life, The Punk Singer) and continues to do so. And as she’s evolved as a person, she’s learned to embrace the grey areas in life and creativity, listen as much as she speaks up, and to keep finding ways to combine art, activism and supporting people in need. We met at her home in California to talk about her love of interior design (she’s only a few credits shy of an official interior design degree and would love to make over the DMV), intersectional feminism and her evolving understanding of power and platforms and the responsibility that comes with having both. Thank you so much to Kathleen for taking the time to talk with me, it was truly an honor. And be sure to check out Kathleen’s new project: Tees 4 Togo , a sweatshop-free T-shirt collection that raises money for the non-profit organization Peace Sisters, which helps send young girls to school in Togo. xo, Grace

*Click here to download a transcript of the show


“There’s a real similarity between music and design. As a musician I’m always trying to change a room that I’m in. Interior design is really similar — it surrounds you.” (07:01 )

“When I’m up there making music, it’s all about me. Because I have to be enjoying myself in order to be doing a good job. But the show is about everybody. What happens on the floor is just as important as what happens on the stage.” (12:24)

“What goes on in a space is really the center of everything, and design is there to support that.” (15:24)

“The thrill of seeing someone taking something you made and making it their own, or living inside of it, is the best payment I could ever receive.” (20:00)

“I don’t want people to think I am 100% great because of this, that, and the other. I want people to challenge me. I want people to question me. I want people to call me on my shit. Or I don’t grow.” (24:32)

“With Lyme disease, the huge education I got was, I’m not afraid to fly anymore, because I just don’t care. Because when you’re staring death in the face all the time, and you’re, “Please, God, take me. I can’t take it anymore,” it’s like, getting on a plane is no big deal for me. Petty things are not big deals. Assuming the best of people is second nature now, because that’s something that I needed.” (31:15)

“In the 90s, DIY, do-it-yourself, became DIFE, do-it-for-everyone-else, you know? And I think it can sometimes be hard to say, “I’m worth this, and this is what I need to be making.” (45:34)

“The most important thing we need when we’re putting things into the world is time. Just spending a week anyway can be more productive than waking up and working on it. It’s great. I mean, I’m glad that I’m almost 50, and I finally figured that out.” (53:31)

“I appreciate not being asked what it’s like to be a woman in rock. Like seriously? That’s your question? “What’s it like to be a woman in rock?” I don’t know. What’s it like to be a foot in a shoe?” (54:59)


Tshirts available at Tees4Togo

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