Pleasure principle

Kathleen Hanna talks about dance steps, protests, and Le Tigre.


Feminist Sweepstakes (Mr. Lady Records) released on Oct. 16

IT'S A COMMON misconception propagated by feminism's foes that the movement's politics are about as pleasurable as a quick kick to the crotch. And while disproving such a stereotype wasn't the intent in their formation, Le Tigre nonetheless debunked such cultural mythmaking in a serious way on their 1999 self-titled debut. With 12 enthralling, electro-feminist anthems for wristband-clad aerobo-homos, women, and other activists who like a few dance steps in their protests (and vice versa), the album put to rest the long-held belief that politics and pleasure can't coincide, even insisting that they're most effective when they do.

A pop record can't single-handedly change the whole world, however, so no matter how brilliantly effective Le Tigre may be, there will always be clueless, misogynist Neanderthals insisting that feminists are nothing but a bunch of man-hating lesbos who wouldn't know a good time if it grew a mullet and challenged 'em to a game of pool.

Le Tigre doesn't care.

"Our response to all the negative stuff was, 'Let's just ignore it and write a gift for these other people,'" explains ex-Bikini Kill member Kathleen Hanna of the inspiration behind the New York trio's second full-length, Feminist Sweepstakes, out this week on Mr. Lady. "We decided we were gonna deal with all the bullshit by being really positive and hooking up with the scene that we imagined was out there of people who were really cool and didn't just wanna slag everything off and be bitter and cynical."

"We wanted to counter the idea of feminist music as always reactive and always engaged in this critique of society or even mainstream music," adds Johanna Fateman. "We wanted to make something beautiful and pleasurable for this feminist audience that we perceive to be out there."

"I consider what we do to really be a conversation," says Hanna, stressing the importance of community building and talking with other activists. "We're giving our part of the conversation, and sometimes somebody else's part of the conversation is making a fanzine or doing something else in their lives."

It's fitting, then, that the new album, at least more blatantly so than 1999's debut and last winter's From the Desk of . . . Mr. Lady EP, is more often a celebration of feminist queer culture than an indictment of sexism and homophobia. While it's important to expose and oppose injustices, the band—which includes Dykes Can Dance founder JD Samson—also knows it's crucial to encourage and inspire your friends ("TGIF," "Much Finer"), support their feminist art and activism ("Tres Bien," "Dyke March 2001"), and make sure they're alive and well ("Keep on Livin'").

"We realized [when we first toured] what kind of hunger was out there," Fateman continues. "People really did wanna hear radical politics. They wanted to dance. They wanted to feel a sense of community."

Those realizations were, in part, the impetuses behind the songs on Feminist Sweepstakes. And by exploring the politics of pleasure—both musically and lyrically—the album isn't exactly the didactic, dogmatic, exclusionary, and reactionary document of feminist fury that many expected of the band's second album. Instead, when Hanna implores "the ladies and the fags" to "dance some more," Le Tigre acknowledges that sometimes the most subversive and, yes, political action an oppressed individual can take is to find pleasure in the world.

"Don't let them fuck you around," Samson sing-speaks as the departing words on the album. "Because those are your arms, and that is your heart . . . This is your time, and this is your life."

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