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Kathleen Hanna, the Linda Lindas and a 30-year riot


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

Hari Sreenivasan: Like all musical styles, punk rock has its history and its traditions, and, inevitably, the torch is passed as artists emerge.

For a new generation, punk veteran Kathleen Hanna, who co-founded the band Bikini Kill, continues to be an inspiration -- especially for young women moving into this male-dominated genre.

NewsHour Weekend's Christopher Booker has the story.

Christopher Booker: As part of their Teentastic Tuesdays program last May, the Los Angeles Public library hosted a young band called the Linda Lindas.

Linda Lindas : A little while before went into lockdown a boy came up to me and said his dad told him to stay away from Chinese people. So this is about him and all the other racist, sexits boys in the world!"

Christopher Booker: Rather unexpectedly, this performance was about to go viral.

Linda Lindas: Racist,sexist, boy, you are a…

Christopher Booker: The clip of their song "Racist, Sexist, boy" was viewed millions of times online…and landed the young band on late night television.

Jimmy Kimmel: The Linda Lindas!

Christopher Booker: For those invested in punk rock, the Linda Lindas brief bombardment of social media feeds - provided proof positive that the future was in good hands.

But there was something else, the t-shirts - a not-so-subtle nod to one of punk's most seminal bands Bikinni Kill and its singer, Kathleen Hanna.

In the early 1990's Bikini Kill, led by Kathleen Hanna, was arguably one of the most influential groups in music - an integral part of a do-it-yourself art, music and political movement called Riot Grrrl, which gained prominence as alternative music came to dominate the airwaves and pop-culture. The Riot Grrrl scene however, existed in small clubs and college campuses - well outside of the commercial mainstream.

Kathleen Hanna: That girl thinks she's the queen of the neighborhood"

Kathleen Hanna: We booked our own tours. We had no management and we did everything ourselves, including fixing van most of the time. Any woman or girl at our show. I would get their address and I would write them a postcard and say, Here, we're going to be here this day, put a heart or a star in your hand. if you see another girl with that, you'll know she's interested in feminism and you guys could start a conversation and it started working.

Christopher Booker: Taking a hammer to the male dominated underground music world Hanna become a punk rock feminist icon - and a target , as Bikinni Kill's promincence grew --

Kathleen Hanna: If you're if you're challenging the status quo, a bunch of jerks are going to come out of the woodwork like termites and try and attack you. Some big magazine would write something about how we were just a bunch of sexual abuse survivors who hated men. And we were ruining the punk scene and our shows weren't really musical. They were speak outs. I mean, I could tell you a million stories. But to have to endure that and then go on stage and be like, Hey!

Kathleen Hanna: All girls to the front, all girls to the front. Boys, be cool for once in your lives, go back, go back.

Kathleen Hanna: If I got into this to be liked, this is like the wrong business to get into it. LIke we've all got to end oppression against all people. It's not about being a white woman who climbs the corporate ladder or who makes it on to a major labelor I get to play a big festival and everything's solved. It's about everyone coming together and feminism to me really is that.

Christopher Booker: In the late 90's, Bikini Kill slowed down. Hanna would release a solo record and also formed a trio called Le Tigre. Now a seasoned music veteran, she had made her mark. Bikinni Kills advocacy of what has been called Girl Power had become an integral part of culture and their song rebel girl an unofficial anthem, appearing in movies, television and even Miley Cyrus' 2021 Super Bowl Performance.

Miley Cyrus: That girls thinks she's the queen of the neighborhood.

Kathleen Hanna: The weirder part of the way that things I've been involved with have seeped into popular culture is walking into Target and seeing a girl power shirt, all the crap that we went through. You know, back in the day, it makes it worth it

Christopher Booker: But culture is not a static affair and recent years have not been quiet. Bikinni Kill decided to reunite shortly after the 2016 election, because, Hanna says, she still felt the same way she did in the 90s.

Kathleen Hanna: I feel the same exact amount of anger.I mean It's not like sexism stopped existing. You know, when we were, actually were we were going we were checking out different booking agents that we wanted to work with. And one of them, a male, was like, Well, you better strike while the iron is hot, you know, with this like Kavanaugh stuff. And you know, and it's like, don't worry, I think sexism still going on, you going to exist like next year. I don't think we need to really rush this. It's around for a long time.

Christopher Booker: Do you find yourself checking what you say because of what we now call, call out or cancel culture.

Kathleen Hanna: I've always been put in a position where if I say something in a sort of weird way or I have an off interview or something like that, or even if I have a great interview, someone's going to take issue with it and I don't care. I mean, I can't live my life that way.

Christopher Booker: While the pandemic postponed Bikini Kill's 2020 tour until the spring of '22 - Hanna has been busy - spending her time working on her organization Tees-for Togo

Kathlen Hanna: So what is Tees for Togo?

Christopher Booker: Founded in 2018 and working in collaboration with an organization called the Peace Sisters - Tees-for-Togo sells designer t-shirts for $40.00 a piece - each helping to pay for a girl to go to school in Togo, West Africa for one year.

Turns out the t-shirts worn by the Linda Lindas in their viral video clip werent just band shirts, but Tees-for-Togo shirts.

Kathleen Hanna: Just to show how amazing the internet is. So they go viral and these shirts, the Linda Lindas, like, bought on their own, wore them in the video. And then I sold like thirteen thousand dollars worth of shirts the next day.

Christopher Booker: Hanna says this year Tees-for-Togo has donated over $40,000 to the Peace Sisters, allowing the organization to hire a grant writer, whille tripling the number of girls the organization is sending to school since its founding.

Christopher Booker: When you think of a band like the Linda Lindas against your experience, what kind of advice would you give them for the world they're entering as people, as young people that have something to say and have and a want to say something in a cynical world?

Kathleen Hanna: I always think of it like this,,a kid threw spitballs at you in your class and you think, 'Oh this kid is hating on me' that kid just wants to get your attention and it is the same way if you are somebody that speaks out in the public eye. There is going to be people who want to have some kind of relationship with you and if they can't have a positive relationship with you, they will have a negative relationship with you and I would tell them that the spitballs mean people are paying attention and that all of the negative stuff means it's working and if you're not getting those negative comments like, are you really a punk?

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