Double Dare Ya: An American Studies-Esque Examination

I do want to resume content coming at a more frequent pace, but I’m going to put up some work in the stead that I’m proud of from past school work. I feel it is solid enough to be worth reading, and Kathleen Hanna always has relevance in discussions of the third wave. I also will post the song above.

“We’re Bikini Kill and we want revolution girl style now!” opens the work of the Bikini Kill song “Double Dare Ya.” With this proclamation, the punk band led by Kathleen Hanna immediately sought to grab the attention of any person that listened through taking the punk process of provocation and filtering it through a new radical form of feminist politics, later referred to as third-wave feminism.

Hanna and crew did this by adopting a new punk rock ethos known as “riot grrrl.” Riot grrrl was more than about punk rock or the DIY methods made popular by DC punk bands like Minor Threat. It sought to be a full-on movement, with zine publishing seeking to appeal to young women with anything from personal stories to semi-ironic containments of what is referred to as “bedroom culture.” As described by Ryan Moore in his piece “Young, Gifted, and Slack,” “Riot grrrl brought a sense of urgency to zine publishing, as young women used zines to write about their own experiences and communicate with a network of others regarding the social and personal problems they faced.”

If this sounds familiar or like a natural evolution of past thought, then zine culture reads a lot like how Susan Douglas felt women related to the Shirelles and girl groups. Bikini Kill is even literally a “girl group” as all four of the band’s members are women. Yet feminism in that time went from Steinem’s highly public sentiments to an underground movement by the early 1990s. Feminism, like punk rock, was forcefully marginalized and needed to regroup for modern times.

With this in mind, the blunt immediacy of Hanna’s demands for “revolution girl style now” reigns through the run of “Double Dare Ya.” Hanna can either coo a line like “Hey girlfriend / I got an idea” or she can ferociously shout, like in the chorus where she demands the listener to join in, “I double dare ya, girl.” Like the use of the term “riot grrrl,” the ‘ir’ being replaced with a three-r bark, Hanna’s yelling about girls is a form of negation. She uses “girl” with a slight irony to comment on the marginalization of women but also as a term of affection.

This can be a takeoff of what Poly Styrene did with X-Ray Spex’s “Oh Bondage, Up Yours.” Hanna opens “Double Dare Ya” with cries of revolution like Styrene talks about the corporate tyranny of “little girls.” This is all a nebulous form of punk. Yet in taking from punk, Hanna’s group escalated their provocations in the world of 1990s alternative rock culture. As Moore notes, Hanna would perform with purposefully loaded terms strewn on her belly, such as “whore” or “slut.”

Hanna herself is full of contradictions, as Moore points out that the first few seconds of “Double Dare Ya” are ripe with uncomfortable feedback noises and Hanna sort of confusingly asking, “Is that supposed to do that?” And almost in a millisecond, Hanna’s tone changes from confused and awkward to complete brimming confidence. Moore says of Hanna that she “could shriek to the heavens, but she did it with a mall-rat accent.”

These contradictions and comments on Hanna’s potential irony can bleed into a discussion on a friend of Hanna’s in Nirvana vocalist Kurt Cobain and in the motives of alternative rock in general. “Double Dare Ya” shows snippets of Hanna’s behavior as a rock vocalist with a sort of schizophrenic change in behavior mid-song while Cobain’s work in the era’s defining track “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was a nascent mix of fiery nihilism and tender vulnerability. Cobain saw people his age had this tone and similarly Hanna felt that women had this same sort of feeling.

Yet unlike Cobain, Hanna is entirely willing to undoubtedly piss off the listener. The first ten seconds of the song, the aforementioned “is this supposed to do that” sequence, has a painful feedback loop. Presumably, it is unintentional since Hanna doesn’t know how to respond, but it is not only kept in the finished recording, but because “Double Dare Ya” is the first track on Bikini Kill’s first label release, it is the first noise the audience hears.

If Gloria Steinem wanted to piss people off and place second-wave feminist discussion points to the national forefront by proxy, Hanna takes this model and uses layers and layers of rudimentary punk rock sounds to prove her point. After all, if something pisses a person off, that person cannot help but discuss it. It is human nature. Hanna doesn’t mind using her stage presence as a provocation of a culture of privilege as well as commenting on a rock world that, while shifted, needs the work of a blasting female provocateur. “Double Dare Ya” sought and claimed this goal and Hanna confidently delivered her messages with the conviction only the riot grrrl movement could make.


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