Sini Anderson - The Punk Singer: A film about Kathleen Hanna (Cover Artwork)

Sini Anderson

The Punk Singer: A film about Kathleen Hanna (2013)

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Kathleen Hanna has long been a polarizing figure in the punk scene, a fact that is highlighted throughout the 2013 documentary, The Punk Singer. The film probably doesn't reveal much that fans of Bikini Kill or Le Tigre don't already know, aside from the fact that in recent years, Hanna has suffered from a disease that is as misunderstood and controversial as Hanna herself.

The Punk Singer gives a good overview of Kathleen's various bands and side projects, and details the impact the bands played in promoting feminism in the punk rock community. The riot grrrl movement spawned by Bikini Kill and other like–minded bands influenced a generation of women (and men), and paved the way for modern feminists like Pussy Riot and Laura Jane Grace. Interviews with the likes of Kim Gordon, Joan Jett and Corin Tucker detail the impact Kathleen's vision had on shaping what would become a large–scale movement to promote a feminist agenda.

The film also attempts to address the reasons why some consider Hanna to be a hypocrite. She's a vegan, but once worked at McDonalds. She is a feminist, but used to be a stripper. She's critical of misogynists, yet is married to someone who sang the lyrics, "Girls, to do the dishes/Girls, to clean up my room/Girls, to do the laundry". While it's difficult to explain away these sort of contradictions, it is easy to see why Pinhead Gunpowder wrote a song which fantasizes about marrying her ("Kathleen"), while NOFX wrote a song condemning her divisive viewpoints ("Kill the Rock Stars").

Ultimately, there's no easy way to explain why Kathleen Hanna can be simultaneously captivating and incendiary. The best word to describe her is "provocative", because she can be irritating and infuriating, or sexy and alluring; Kathleen clearly fits both definitions of the word. However, it is interesting to wonder why it was so necessary to flaunt her innate sexiness in order to reach a larger audience. Did she subvert the "sex sells" mentality of our culture by using it to promote her views or did she merely play into it– Do the contradictions in her life detract from the validity of her views– The Punk Singer only scratches the surface of these sort of questions, perhaps because there is no clear answer. But while the film plays as a love letter to a feminist icon, a more unbiased approach could have examined these questions more closely.