AUSTIN — “I’m definitely not writing ‘slut’ on my stomach any time soon,” Kathleen Hanna says.
It’s the day after the premiere of “The Punk Singer,” the documentary that centers on Hanna’s music legacy from the origins of Bikini Kill to now, as the 43-year-old artist prepares a new album under the band name The Julie Ruin. Hanna had just seen herself on the big screen at SXSW, first as a kid, a teenaged feminist, up through Riot Grrrl, the media circuses, a solidfying Third Wave, marriage, (solo act) Julie Ruin, Le Tigre and the sad steps away from the stage due to crippling illness.
That history, of course, contains the times where Hanna literally markered the word “SLUT” across her bare midriff, which was part of a “character I was playing. I was a feminist performance artist first. So it was a seven year performance piece,” she says, smiling, referring to her shocking and inspired stint fronting Bikini Kill. Conclusion: “It’s really weird to see a younger version of yourself.”
On this day, Hanna’s sitting with “The Punk Singer” director Sini Anderson and producer (and longtime friend) Tamra Davis talking about archival footage and, y’know, crying. As you do. As a powerful and confident woman on film and in life, it had been enlightening for me to see Kathleen Hanna cry in “The Punk Singer”; after so many disheartening and epic details of her life unfolded, it was during a home-video shoot of her talking about her battle with Lyme disease that tears started to fall.
Hanna refers back to her “dork manifesto,” “Burn Down The Walls That Say You Can’t,” that commands: “Cry in public.” When voices in reality TV to the election trail continue to condemn crying as a failure on the part of the cryer — most frequently women — Hanna and her cohorts counter that it’s assurance that it’s fine to “feel.”
“There’s a stigma of if you’re a woman and working at a job you can’t cry because they’ll see you as weak… as an animal, you’ll be torn apart,” Hanna says.
“We’re criers, as women. My goal was to make you [the audience] cry,” Davis said. “As women, we have to show our control of our emotions, that we’re not always acting from that zone.”
“There’s something really different about a really really strong person to emote and not be a victim, and be in their power and say ‘this is what I feel like,” Anderson says. “[Hanna] was sick, pushing through and showing up. Showing that being strong enough to emote then recover, that can only inspire other people. I think that’s punk rock.”
Hanna is a big fan of another performer who one wouldn’t necessarily designate as “punk rock”: Beyonce. “I love seeing her legs. I enjoy her outfits and costumes, and I wore outfits and costumes…”
But there’s the elements of female superstardom that just don’t add up, Hanna warns. She talks about a time when she saw Pink performing at the MTV Music Video Awards, “hanging from a trapeze, dumping water on her herself, boobs lit on fire,” you get the picture. That’s Pink, y’know? But then there were “guys coming out in jeans and a jacket. I was like, what do we have to do next? Knifing ourselves?”
Pop stars have to keep “ratcheting it up” in order to garner respect from the performance world. “Why do we have to prove we can multi-task?”
Then there’s a flip side, and that’s when we talk about “Spring Breakers,” which premiered at the same time as “The Punk Singer.” “Rob purity of a Disney Queen… and then it’s like ‘yay!’,” Davis says, shrugging and shaking her head.
Check out what else Hanna has to say about body image, “Girls” creator Lena Dunham and about the personnel of The Julie Ruin, which will be releasing their new album “around” June 15 through their own record label.