Rebel Grrrl: An Interview with the Legendary Bikini Kill Frontwoman Kathleen Hanna

Kathleen Hanna tells us about Tees4Togo, her relationship with cannabis, and her (possibly) unhealthy obsession with Internet solitaire.
Rebel Grrrl: An Interview with the Legendary Bikini Kill Frontwoman Kathleen Hanna
Jason Frank Rothenberg

Kathleen Hanna has been screaming “Girls to the front!” for the better part of three decades. As the founder of the punk-rock feminist band Bikini Kill, the riot-grrrl pioneer inspired a generation of young women to start kicking ass and taking names. In 2018, Hanna is still fighting the good fight. 

Most recently, Hanna teamed up with a nonprofit called Peace Sisters for the Tees4Togo line. For each $40 T-shirt sold, an African girl in Dapaong, Togo, is able to afford school for an entire year.

Hanna’s own educational experience led to her first taste of mentorship and taught her the value of a quality education.

“I was a straight-A student until I was 9 years old, and then things started going awry,” she explains. “I didn’t get very good grades, and I actually got in trouble at school and was suspended. I’m not gonna say why, but it was bad enough that I had to do community service.

“I chose to work at this place that helped kids who were in trouble or kids who needed tutoring or whatever,” she continues. “That was the first time I realized how lucky I was to have the education that I had in public school. It’s sad I was 15 before I really recognized that.”

Despite her academic challenges, Hanna enrolled at Washington’s Evergreen State College, where she was inspired to form her first band, Amy Carter.

“I started learning stuff and was like, ‘Oh, I wanna share this with other people,’” she says. “There’s so many people who are super-smart who just don’t get the book list because they’re not in college. I wanted to share these ideas. I’ve just become very passionate about sharing the education that I’ve gotten with other people.”

But Hanna’s journey hasn’t been paved in gold. She’s been fighting practically her entire life. Growing up with an abusive father, Hanna and her mother had to hide their strong feminist ideals until her parents finally divorced. Her reputation for being an outspoken, politically minded radical feminist was essentially ingrained from her upbringing.

In 2014, Hanna was sidelined with what was eventually diagnosed as Lyme disease. She’d been living with the ailment for six years. The once-explosive woman was suddenly barely able to walk, and she had to retreat from music altogether. Marijuana was the only thing to help with the pain.

“I was actually given these marijuana pills that my doctor called Marinol, and they changed my life,” she says. “They made my life bearable for a certain amount of time, so I’m definitely pro-legalization, especially if there are people who have chronic pain and chronic illnesses. I just don’t want the government to come in and wreck everything [laughs].”

Even recreational marijuana once had its place in Hanna’s life. 

“I used to have a thing when I got angry, I would smoke a little pot and my anger would go away, and I would write in my journal about it,” she says. “Like, ‘Why am I angry?’ and I would learn from my anger instead of putting it in the wrong direction, and it was something that kind of helped me emotionally as well.

“But it’s like with anything,” she adds. “You can get addicted to the Internet, you know what I mean? It’s like, I play a lot of solitaire on the Internet when I get stressed out. I should probably be smoking pot [laughs]. But right now, it’s just a lot of solitaire.”

Sidebar: Riot Grrrl & Beastie Boy:

Kathleen Hanna has been involved with Beastie Boy Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz since 1997. They were married in 2006, and she thinks he’s “still pretty cute.” The two appear together in the 2013 doc The Punk Singer.

This article was originally published in the February 2019 issue. Click here to get a subscription!

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