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 Group Arms photo by Shervin LainezPhoto by Shervin Lainez

On Thursday, November 10th, two days after the election, I went to see former Bikini Kill frontwoman Kathleen Hanna’s newest band, The Julie Ruin, play at Irving Plaza in New York City. I had bought the tickets months in advance and planned to go with two friends who had both grown up listening to riot grrrl; I expected it to be fun and nostalgic. When I realized the show would be happening two days after the election, I thought it would be a sweetly celebratory experience to ring in the election of our first female president, imperfect as she would have been, with a performance by an iconic feminist musician whose songs I grew up on, and who indeed shaped my own emerging feminist consciousness. Three weeks out from the show, Hanna’s former band Le Tigre released a pro-Hillary anthem called “I’m With Her” — their first song in years. I found the song kind of disappointing — given Clinton’s previous racist “superpredator” comments, and the failures of her campaign to promote a truly intersectional feminist agenda — but ultimately I understood and supported the band’s decision to publicly endorse the first viable female presidential candidate, especially considering the opposition. I thought about how The Julie Ruin would surely play “I’m With Her” at the show. I imagined the whole crowd getting super into it, and that my friends and I would probably dance to it with a sense of ironic distance, but ultimately we would be celebrating too.

I took for granted that Hillary would win — that my friends and I lived in a country where we could comfortably celebrate and also critique our first woman president while dancing to the feminist music we grew up on. In college, Bikini Kill and Le Tigre were the soundtrack to reading for my first women’s studies classes, writing my first feminist poems, forging feminist friendships and communities. Hanna’s music shaped my understanding of feminism, of my place in the world, and of art as feminist vision and protest — that vision gave me a sense of purpose and hope. I took for granted that seeing The Julie Ruin two days after the election would be a time for me to reflect on progress — to think about the meaning of a first female president as a milestone, and to hope for a more feminist future.

Instead, I felt devastated. The day after the election, it felt exhausting to even think about going to the show the next night. I texted my friend, “The Julie Ruin show is tomorrow! Everything feels horrible to me right now, even that.” My friend canceled. My other friend canceled. I was able to find a third friend to go with me, who told me she thought the show would be healing. I hoped she was right.

When Kathleen Hanna came onstage, wearing a black-and-white leotard lined with sequins that made her look like a cookie purchased in Grand Central Station, she reassured the audience that it was going to be okay, that there were still fights left to be won. “The good will always win,” she promised, “It just takes a long fucking time.” She said that yesterday the band couldn’t have imagined playing a show tonight, but that they needed us — their audience — as much as we needed them. When an audience member shouted, “I love you Kathleen!” she responded, “I love you too. Usually, I have to be, like, I need to get to know you a little more.” There was a real feeling of intimacy and vulnerability in the room, of us all really needing each other.

The Julie Ruin didn’t have the uplifting answers to all the horrible new fears opened up by the election, as I hoped they might. They even offered the opposite, in a sense — the very real admission from Hanna, and from keyboardist Kenny Mellman, that they didn’t think it could get any worse than it had in the Bush years, that they longed to finally be able to stop fighting. They encouraged younger people to keep working and fighting, because they’re getting older and are tired.

Many of the songs on The Julie Ruin’s new album Hit Reset reject the messages young women get from society, and impart a kind of bold refusal to accept powerlessness and abuse. The title song’s chorus goes: “I don’t think you’re sorry at all. / That’s a concept. / I don’t think you’re sorry at all. / Hit reset.” And the crux of the song “Roses More Than Water” are the powerful lines, “Maybe I'm more hell-bent on living / than I am on just surviving.” The band’s powerful message of audacious self-love was reinforced by personal anecdotes from Hanna throughout the night. She talked about getting rid of friends who make you feel bad about yourself. She talked about fearing being just like her abuser, and realizing that she’s not — ”If your abuser eats peanut butter and you do too, it doesn’t mean you’ll be just like them.” She shared the story of deciding not to visit her abusive father in the hospital, telling her sister who pressured her to do so, “Dad is not our friend.” She told us that she sometimes performs a song on her knees for dramatic effect, but that she’s never going to do that again, that on this particular night, she was experiencing too much PTSD.

Watching The Julie Ruin perform, I thought of the matching “Stop Bush” outfits that the members of Le Tigre had worn the last time I saw them live, in 2004 —fashion as protest, music as protest, art as protest. I thought about how I felt the first time I heard Hanna’s Julie Ruin solo album, how the weird teen-girl-making-music-in-her-room-alone aesthetic of it gave me a new, expansive understanding that art could weave together references to feminism and resisting police abuse with lyrics about crocheting and talking animals. 

julie ruin

I remembered how I felt when I first heard Le Tigre’s “Deceptacon,” its wild and badass repurposing of lines from The Platters into an extremely danceable feminist diss track, how I felt in college looking at a photo of Kathleen Hanna standing in the library, her hair in a high ponytail, reading a book called Radical Feminism — it gave me real hope for my future.

khanna

During the past two weeks since the election, I, like many of us, have felt an incredible sense of hopelessness and sadness that I haven’t felt since I was very young, since before I found a way out of, or through, that pain by creating feminist art. As an artist right now, I can’t see a way out. I can’t see a way in. I don’t know what to do; where to begin.

My favorite song on Le Tigre’s first album is called “Eau D’Bedroom Dancing.” The lyrics go, “There's no fear when I'm in my room. / It's so clear and I know just what I want to do.” Maybe the first step out of this dark, hopeless feeling could be something as small as dancing alone in your bedroom. Capturing that feeling in a perfume bottle. Hitting record, writing it down. Right now, I cannot see any space for art. I can’t see any light. All I could do that Thursday night was look at the reflection of the sequins on Kathleen Hanna’s leotard, and try to imagine it.

Marisa Crawford is the author of the poetry collections Reversible (forthcoming 2017) and The Haunted House from Switchback Books, and the chapbooks 8th Grade Hippie Chic (Immaculate Disciples) and Big Brown Bag (Gazing Grain). Her writing has appeared in Hyperallergic, Bitch, The Hairpin, and other publications. Marisa is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of the feminist literary/pop culture website Weird Sister. Visit marisacrawford.net for more of her work. 

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