On Miley Cyrus, Kathleen Hanna, and Music

First, let me say that I was inspired to write this because of something a friend said on Facebook, but, Chris, if you’re reading this, this is totally not a personal response to you. We clearly had completely normal discussion about it, and also, I owe you one for that time I said The Locusts weren’t real music, which I still feel terrible about.

For all the other dudes: you need to SFTU about this topic. If there was ever one thing that male-identified people needed to step the f back for, it’s this. Kathleen Hanna’s whole career has been expressly about supporting women, promoting feminism, and tearing down the patriarchy, so any male-ID’d person trying to talk about this automatically negates whatever they might say, simply because there is absolutely no space for you in any conversation about Kathleen Hanna & women.

Kathleen Hanna in he 90s.

KH in her BK Days.

Following that thread, I want to say that no member of riot grrrl, and especially not Kathleen Hanna, ever made a rule about what kind of women could be part of it. All women were and continue to be welcome, and all women who don’t like riot grrrl aren’t automatically ostracized or put down because what it’s always been about is letting women take up space. Sure, it played out as an underground thing, and b in the d, not gonna lie, that was kind of the appeal for me. I was an outcast, and I felt like I didn’t belong, so only music that wasn’t on the radio was going to really get to me. But that didn’t make it some elite thing that only those who “passed” could be a part of (or like something precious that needs protecting; I mean, riot grrrl was commercialized a looonnnnggg time ago).

So when I think of the first time I heard songs like “I wanna be yr joey ramone” or “Suck My Left One”, I don’t think that she’s pretending, or she’s just following trends. I think she’ a kindred to all of us that found Bikini Kill and Kathleen Hanna, and were all of a sudden tapped into a world where we weren’t second class citizens. We were leaders of a revolution.

I don’t know what it’s like to be Miley Cyrus. I mean, I bet it’s pretty cool, since she’s a bajillionaire, but I also know that sexism and inequality don’t look at your bank account before they f*ck you. I can’t imagine Miley Cyrus listening to Kathleen Hanna and NOT immediately feeling empowered and no longer alone. That’s what KH is all about, and that’s why she’s pretty much an American shero.

Miley Cyrus performing.

MC recently.

I also have to say that I am a little perplexed by the backlash because it feels like a lot of people are shaming Miley for being openly feminist. And not just everyday “women aren’t second class citizens” way; in an aggressive, in-your-face, unapologetic way. What does it say about us that a huge pop star connects with a feminist icon, and we all immediately say she’s faking it?

It says we have rules about which women get to be awesome badasses, and which don’t. It says we think feminism is ok, but only if you deserve it.

And it says that we think Miley Cyrus can’t be smart enough to be feminist. Like “Rebel Girl” or “My My Metrocard” are dense, TS Eliot-level epic poems that you need at least 2 degrees to figure out. Nor is the reality that women are not treated equally in the world.

Anyone who loves Kathleen Hanna loves her because they get her, full stop.

Also- and this is probably the one place where people will be like, “wait, hold up”- Miley Cyrus has been putting forward a lot of Kathleen Hanna energy in her career as of late. Think about it: people wanted her to be a Disney Princess, wearing chaste clothes and singing predictable pop songs. And she was like, NOPE!, flaunted her sexuality publicly, and did her own damn thing. She got a lot of people talking about feminism and woman’s bodies and women’s lives. Sounds pretty familiar to me, frankly.

Lastly, I want to say that I also think it’s telling how we police each other’s musical choices (among other things). Music is about feeling, emotion. Songs have the power to make you physically happy. Or sad. So why do we treat people’s musical choices like they have moral weight? Listening to Miley Cyrus doesn’t make you a bad person, and if you’re not into it, that doesn’t make you a bad person, either. And if Bikini Kill floats your boat, then that’s awesome, too. In fact, the more eclectic your music tastes, the more options you have to feel connected to some greater whole, so why do we look down on that? Why don’t we let people enjoy whatever music they like?

And should Miley Cyrus stumble across this post, girl, just remember these awesome BK lyrics the next time someone’s talkin’ sh*t:

Don’t need you to tell us we’re good
Don’t need you to say we suck

We don’t need you, we don’t need you
Us girls don’t need you


Bonus thing to mention: I did not get all intersection-y here, but I do feel very strongly that Miley Cyrus is pretty racially insensitive, to say the least. I also find the riot grrrl revival happening now to be pretty f*ing whitewashed, and have hindsight to see that its first time around was, too. I chose to just focus on the one road in this convo, which is a positive look at both of these things, versus a deep takedown.

Oh, and the featured image is from here.

Leave a Reply