For T Magazine, Kathleen Hanna of Le Tigre fame sits down with Emily Spivack to talk about her most prized possession: a natural “feminist art” piece she found on eBay. Hanna has some interesting things to say about the essentializing feminisms of yesteryear–namely, that we shouldn’t throw out all of our predecessors’ achievements, even if some of what they say is problematic. Check out the excerpt below, the full piece here.
For over 10 years, I’ve been typing “feminist” into eBay to see what comes up. Typically it’s Rosie the Riveter buttons or something so anti-feminist that people think it’s kitschy-feminist, like the 1960s board game, “Who Will I Marry?” or the book “How to Deprogram Your Valley Girl.” I try to find the weirdest thing at the cheapest price. Usually, I don’t find much — but in 2004, this came up when I searched. The title said “feminist art” and it was described as a natural wood sculpture. It’s not carved or sculpted except where someone cut off the top and bottom. To me, it looks like a super hairy vagina that has pants on — hairy vagina pants! And the legs are in this slouchy but confident posture, a little bit like wearing Gap boot-cut jeans. None of it — I have to repeat, none of it — is sculpted.
This piece feels like it’s giving a nod to 1970s feminist artists who had wonderful ideas, but also really essentialist ideas that people have rightly criticized them for. I’m obsessed with the women who get called essentialists and get thrown in the garbage, and then none of their ideas get talked about. It’s like, “Well, that person did central core imagery work and believed in this binary system of male and female and therefore all their ideas and art are stupid.” But then you look at something like Judy Chicago’s “Dinner Party.” It’s one of the most important pieces of feminist art. It changed the art landscape forever, but it was in her garage being ruined, in the essentialist trash can, until it wound up at the Brooklyn Museum. We’re not going to keep moving forward if we don’t look at people’s ideas from the generation before and say, “This part is totally interesting, and this part totally pisses me off.” We should be critiquing, but we don’t need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I saw this sculpture as something that would be in that essentialist trashcan and I was like, “I have to save it!” I had to save it because I also saw it as a feminist historical object. And since someone was getting rid of it for cheap, it fits with my obsession with the erasure of feminist artists.
*Image caption: From left: one of Kathleen Hanna’s most prized possessions, which she found on eBay; the musician and activist in a leotard she also found on eBay (she searched for “blouse leotard” and bought every one she could find in her size, to wear as show outfits that year). “This is my Rosie the Riveter meets ‘Flashdance’ ’tard,” she says. Credit Portrait: Chloe Aftel