Words by:

Original release date: 26 October, 1993
Label: Kill Rock Stars

Every front person directs their words to someone. Kathleen Hanna says she always sang to “an elusive asshole male” in Bikini Kill, but the painful truths were for friends and fans to hear and feel vindicated. At the start of the 90s Bikini Kill double-dared women to do whatever we wanted – women had been called to the front of shows, and there the microphone was passed around to allow them to speak about their experiences. Through meetings, zine fairs and collectives focused on supporting and organising women in music, Hanna co-founded one of the most crucial and insurgent feminist punk movements of all time: riot grrrl.

As excellent as Hanna was at being a leader, it was already testing her by 1993. The press were using ‘riot grrrl’ as a buzzword, and demonised her before Bikini Kill had even released their debut album, Pussy Whipped. The album, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this month, was the legitimate full-release critics and hostile oppositionists had been waiting to tear into after the band’s year-long media blackout. The record succinctly captured the specific riot grrrl sound: purposefully amateur and primitive DIY punk, with dirty grunge undertones that carry the same weight as the confrontational lyrics. Guttural, “girly” vocals screamed, growled, delivered from the pit of the stomach.

Pussy Whipped is defiantly messy, lo-fi and imperfect. Songs are immediate and blurry, lyrics more abstract and surreal with Hanna’s political and personal life experience.

In Alien She, Hanna wants to destroy the traditional socialised female part of herself (“I want to kill her/ But I’m afraid she might kill me”) that feels contradictory to the third wave feminism she’s driving forward. Hamster Baby and Star Fish jab at the music and press industries they’d collided with. Hanna in particular was attacked by journalists who framed her as a ridiculous girl prancing around in her underwear or misprinting what she’d say, taking quotes deliberately out of context. Star Bellied Boy articulates the sexual dysfunction, pain and dissatisfaction after abuse: “I can’t/ I can’t/ I can’t/ I can’t cum”, Hanna shrieks, while Sugar rejects the pornographic sexual narrative men have fed women, asking “Why can’t I ever get my sugar?” and proposing that, in a new female-led fantasy, she can almost reach orgasm “now now now”.

Of course, it features an early version of Rebel Girl. The iconic anthem for female solidary and it opens with a narrator riffing off a gossiping female stereotype (“That girl thinks she’s the queen of the neighbourhood”) only to subvert it by triumphantly praising her. A play on words, not only is the feminist and queer revolution on its way, but it’s building in the sexual revolution of rebel girl’s winding hips, until Hanna’s climactic scream: “I taste the revolution!” Despite the darkness of everything riot grrrls were combating, Pussy Whipped highlights the tenacious beauty of friendship between feminists.

The language and ideas of Pussy Whipped are so commonplace to us now that, every single day, feminism and zine culture are co-opted by big brands on Instagram or billboards. The lineage is clear in collective Western movements like Slutwalk or #freethenipple or activist groups like Pussy Riot (there’s literally an old photo of Hanna with ‘Pussy’ and ‘Riot’ written on her arms in Sharpie).

Bikini Kill championed control over the means of production to spread a feminist message. Subsequently, feminism is far more inclusive than when Bikini Kill were active – a fact Hanna acknowledges, rightly condemning lyrics that were reductive and lacking in intersectionality. A quarter of a century on and Pussy Whipped feels urgent, especially sifting through the debris of 2017’s #MeToo movement. It’s in the lyrics, the violence, the repetition and fragments of messages that both fight and question at once. Still, we hear the revolution coming.