In Tamara Davis’ 1994 short film No Alternative Girls, a survey of women in bands, Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna appears only briefly to talk about dressing less femme—short hair and baggy clothes—and how that shit doesn’t actually work as a deterrent for male attention. However: “If I wear pajamas and carry a handbag, everyone leaves me alone,” she says, while wearing a bright-red, full-face ski mask and looking down on the camera from a fire escape. “But that’s pretty sad.” It’s confrontational. It’s threatening. It’s part of the anti-media position her band Bikini Kill had taken after never once being given the benefit of good faith in the press. It’s also pretty fucking funny.
“I mean, even in Bikini Kill, I felt like we were hilarious. But yeah, not that many people did.” Hanna has always been funny, and in conversation is even funnier. (Just watch her 2020 Dan Rather interview, one of the pandemic’s stranger artifacts.) She’s always made work that is really incisive, funny, and sad, and rarely, if ever, has been given credit for it. Every story she tells is full of punchlines, her face is expressive, her stage presence is physical; she’s always dancing. Traditionally she’s been either a third-wave feminist Che Guevera or a straw-man argument or an “icon,” more an avatar of righteous female rage than a person.
“I feel like humor is such an important part of life for people who are marginalized or oppressed in any way. Because how are you going to get through the fucking day? We want to speak back to the people who fuck with us and make us feel like shit, but you can’t always do that. And so you end up making jokes at home with your friends about it. I just feel like I would rather laugh than cry sometimes. So humor has been really valuable to my mental health.”