This article originally appeared in the September 1998 issue of OUT
What happens when riot grrrls grow up? They accessorize. With Bikini Kill behind her, Kathleen Hanna has tossed that early '90s dyke drag of jog bras and revolutionary slogans on the stomach and constructed a persona more befitting of her late 20s—the coiffed and confident Julie Ruin—still railing against misogynistic pricks but in a blouse and upswept hair. “Julie Ruin is like my confident persona. [She has] what it takes to be a radical artist.” It’s a far cry from those early days in D.C. playing Bikini Kill gigs, then running up the street to her job at a strip club.
With Julie Ruin, Hanna is invading another house of patriarchy. “I want to be the woman in the Chanel suit, the power bitch in the office, but not be an asshole about it.” Yet don’t think that Hanna has gone the wimpy way of Sinead O’Connor—she had only channeled her anger into a hotter beam. On her new album out this month, Julie Ruin (Kill Rock Stars), she delivers excoriating rants against cops, rape, lack of health care, heterosexism, and corporate straight guys: “It’ll be a hot, hot summer in hell, businessman!” she screams on “Aerobicide,” the first song off the album to have a video, which is directed by Sadie Benning.
With her voice and a sampler, Hanna has created a group of songs with a fuzzy fury, bathroom acoustic quality, and SCUM Manifesto rawness. The fact that she had no clue how to use a sampler when she started recording only laced the infectious, crackling songs with a punk sensibility. “That’s what punk was about—you see people learning their instruments onstage.”
Fame, thank God, passed through Hanna like a virus. She has had her share of media scuffles—most notoriously, with the Washington Post, which erroneously reported that Hanna had been raped by her father. “They never even called me to check before it was printed.” Wiser for the wear, Julie Ruin seems like a stronger artistic persona—and a P.R. rep, agent, and art director all in one. “Remember when Marie Osmond came back on Donny & Marie one season with a haircut and different boots? I’m like the short-hair Marie.”