By Ally Bailey
I’m in love with Kathleen Hanna.
Or, I should say, I’m in love with the Kathleen Hanna of the mid-90s, obsessed with her dresses that say ‘Kill Me’ and the fact that she supported female strippers, partially because she used to be one. I’m in love with the fact that she wrote “Kurt smells like teen spirit” on Kurt Cobain’s bedroom wall, and hence how it was she that was the mastermind behind the lyrical Nirvana revolution. I love the catch of Hanna’s voice, her relentless tirade against the infection of misogyny, and how she was never “about” fame, but attention. Attention for the very real issues that women of the last decade of the 20th century were facing. Issues that I look back on now and see are not just unresolved for women of this century, but seemingly forgotten. But, mostly, I love Kathleen Hanna because it was by learning about her that I began my own journey with feminism, and how I understand women in modern culture. Rebel Girl screamed at me to stop being complacent, and, suddenly, I no longer was.
Right now, in the year 2013, feminism is a barred subject in polite conversation. It is almost impossible to have an informed discussion about womens’ rights because as soon as you even mention the word you are overwhelmed by someone saying “feminism has achieved everything it set out to do, the fight is over.” This is, of course, absurd, and makes me simultaneously nauseous and pained for society. Why does this happen? Why, suddenly, are we so intolerant of womens’ issues? It has taken me a very long time to come up with an answer, and its prickly branches stick the thumbs of many other current social trends.
If you are a female, think about the rights that you consciously possess as an American living in 2013. You can vote. You can go to any college or university you choose based on performance, and not gender. You can get any job a man can, you can have both a family, career, and a golden retriever. You are emboldened, emblazoned, a pioneer of the modern social scene that equivocated you with your male counterpart.
And here I am to tell you that you are wrong. I am telling you that all the rights you think you have do not equivocate you to a male in modern society. We think that we have, finally, after so many years, started with a clean slate: that women have wrested back the same “rights” as males. When in fact we are victims of the same game that has been played since the beginning of Western civilization, but it’s transformed itself, becoming wilier and harder to strategize for. Instead of issues like jobs and voting, we are dealing with the underground effects of inequality. Misogyny today is an almost unconscious attitude, a way of subscribing to assumptions of the place of the female that as a result intrinsically places her beneath the male.
Dubious? Look at the examples. When was the last time you watched womens’ professional sports? How many names of female politicians are there in American government, and how many can you identify, as opposed to male? How many stay at home fathers do you know compared to stay at home mothers? Why is it that sexual assault of women is still so rampant, and so little has been done about it? How many times have you heard a woman called nasty, horrible names for having the same sexual appetite as a man? And, my biggest irritation: why do those names only have female cases? Why is there no word in the English language for a male slut or whore?!
Whether or not you realize it, both women and men have strict gender roles that they adhere to, based on tradition, habit, and exposure. And they are robbing us all, men and women alike, of the true meaning of social freedom.
I often hear that the work of feminism is over. That the work of our sisters from the Sixties has achieved everything we need. But that is the biggest tragedy of all in terms of gender equality: that we have truly convinced ourselves that we have won the battle, and that anyone else that can see past that is whining.
I’m not trying to deny the great strides that have been made. Amazing, unheard of progress has happened, including increased access to the morning after pill, abortion, and stricter sexual aggression laws. But what I do not think people see are the social inequalities that bleed through, the latent and then manifest understanding of the female as inferior, separate, and weak. I do not blame people for having trouble seeing this- it took astonishingly long time for me to see it and I was bred in an exceptionally liberal atmosphere. I grew up in the heart a city who votes Democrat with a 90% majority without fail. Both my parents are products of second and third wave feminism, champions of tolerance and civil rights for all. I went to the most hippy-ish high school that could possibly exist outside of the sixties. So why did it take me so long?
Riot Grrrl exploded in the 90s, a solid decade before September 11, 2001. It is this monumental tragedy that I would like to argue sidetracked all civil liberty movements all over the country, and is the chief reason for their only very recent awakening. George Bush had just been elected, the Republican victor of an extremely questionable presidential race. The greatest terrorist act in history had just been launched on the two biggest, astronomically important cities, causing the globe to stop dead in its tracks. America was floundering, headed by its irretrievably incompetent leader. We know what happens next: Iraq, Afghanistan, the recession, the eight year long slumber of liberal America. In the process, we lose the voices of social change. We dealt with Guantanamo Bay, with the search for non-existant Weapons of Mass Destruction, and North Korea. We forget how much internal work there is to be done. Instead, we go trundling into the Middle East like Rambo without a jockstrap. We forget, (and this is not solely our fault) that the way to larger change is through internal examination and reform.
But now, now is the time. It is the time to achieve all the things that have been neglected, one of them being a re-examination of gender and feminism. Once we truly see women and men on an even playing field, instead of as “separate but equal”, it’s amazing the other things that seem to fall into place. We cannot let people (mostly males) say “look what you have in comparison to women of, say, the middle east, be grateful” because that is blatantly from the mouth of one who deems themselves superior. It is time for American women to stand up and be aware of the game that is being played and won against them, oblivious of the reality of their use as alternates instead of active competitors.
The 90s were a blessed era, in the sense that it was given the tools to truly carve a place for itself in the realm of social change. The economy soared, Riot Grrls went topless, and no planes flew into the Twin Towers. The first decade of the 21st century was not so lucky. But the lost decade is behind us- it is the future, and the way it judges our choices going forward, that taunts us. The Kathleen Hanna of the 90s would weep to see us now: we need to really make that Girl the Queen of the Neighborhood, and we need to do it soon.