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The Battle Between the Inner Tomboy and the Girly Girl: Kathleen Hanna, Bikini Kill and the "Alien She"

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In my late teens, I listened with devotion to the song "Alien She" by the punk band, Bikini Kill, which was released on their 1993 album Pussy Whipped.

In the song, Bikini Kill's lead singer Kathleen Hanna sings about the part of herself, which she calls the "alien she," that wants to be a girly girl and fit into the media-driven stereotypes of beauty and femininity.

While the song speaks of Hanna's hatred for this "alien she" inside of her who calls Hanna names ("feminist, dyke, whore)," wants her to "go to the mall," and "put the pretty, pretty lipstick on," Hanna also recognizes that this "alien she" is an integral part of herself. In fact, she says that she is her siamese twin, and that killing off the "alien she" would perhaps kill Hanna as well.

She is me/I am her/Siamese twins connected at the c*nt/ heartbrainheartbrainheartbrainlunggut/I want to kill her/ But I'm afraid it might kill me/feminist dyke whore/I'm so pretty/alien

I played the song "Alien She" over and over, as it spoke to me about the internal conflict I suffered between my everyday tough girl tomboy side and the part of me that longed to be pretty and fashionable; a conflict exacerbated by the way young women are objectified in our society.

Though I wanted to be seen as attractive as much as the next girl, I found this sort of unwanted attention tiresome. Often enough, it made me feel a certain seething something in my chest. An unspoken rage at being objectified by strangers.

Sure, at times I enjoyed the attention. By age fifteen I was heading down to the Black Cat Lounge on 6th Street, mostly to enjoy the local music and the company of my best friend Melissa, but flirtations with boys were part of the fun. What wasn't part of the fun was dealing with creepy drunk men staggering towards us with their "Hey babies, where you going?" as we walked back to our car. Sometimes we were followed by some weirdo and ended up scurrying together to lock ourselves in the safety of Melissa's big old diesel Mercedes.

Long summer afternoons lifeguarding or hanging out at Barton Springs Pool held the same mixed bag. Hot sun, cold water, cute boys -- and often, leering men. It's a story most women could tell.

Co-existing with my desire to be girly and pretty was my wish to shed the restrictions of being a woman at all. I wanted to run -- unworried -- through night streets, walk to clubs from my car without fear, pump and pay for gas without being subjected to a once-over from scary or just plain lame men.

For me, catering to the "alien she" and dressing "like a girl" resulted in a dramatic increase in this male attention that was sometimes pleasing, but more frequently unwanted. Stares and comments from lecherous men who spanned the range from annoying to potentially dangerous were bothersome enough that my anger towards them spilled over into my internal response towards probably well-meaning dudes just trying to check out some eye candy. The attention that came with wearing heels, a dress and a little makeup engendered in me an anger (what the f*ck are you looking at?) that I never expressed.

Bikini Kill and the other bands in the Riot Grrrl movement expressed what I was feeling, speaking out against sexism in punk rock, and in American society in general. I listened with devotion to their music -- loud, fast, angry, fun. Kathleen Hanna screamed the things I felt but would never say for fear of being thought angry or aggressive or out of control. But I was thrilled Bikini Kill and other Riot Grrrl bands didn't share my inhibitions and I listened over and over to songs like "Rebel Girl," "Suck My Left One" and "Jigsaw Youth."

Unintentionally, I learned that the path to escaping unwanted attention from men lay in letting the grubby tomboy half of my internal Siamese twin have her way with my appearance.

I first wore the cloak of invisibility -- a combination of man clothes and filth -- when I was a forest firefighter. Wearing gloves, fire boots and a hard hat, my face covered in ash, doing the hard work of men who came to know me as one of them, I slipped -- temporarily -- from the bondage of moving through the world as a woman.

And when I did walk through a fire camp of hundreds of firefighters, the stares I received were not ones in which my beauty was assessed so much as my toughness. Those looks I welcomed. I could return the men's gaze with my own look that said, "Yes, I can do the job just fine."

When I started working construction in Durango, Colorado, the level of invisibility became more profound. Fighting fire, I always had a long blonde braid hanging down my back, which identified me as a woman. But working construction I found that sawdust sucks the moisture out of hair, frying it faster than cheap bleach. So my hair disappeared under knit caps to protect it from the grit that covered me as soon as I started sanding or ripping boards on the table saw. The rest of me disappeared under Carharts and a tool belt.

When I returned to Austin, though I no longer did manual labor, I still wore baggy clothes, little makeup and a messy head of hair. It wasn't that I didn't like to scrub up at times -- I always loved a little sundress at a barbecue -- but it definitely wasn't my usual attire.

And as the years passed and I mellowed out a bit, I didn't think often of my tomboy clothes in terms of invisibility or anger -- I told myself I'd rather put my time and energy into things other than smoke and mirrors. I'd prefer to spend the early morning before work writing a novel or going for a run than blowing my hair dry or putting on makeup. And evenings or weekends, I'd rather do just about anything but shop for clothes.

But neglecting my "alien she" for years didn't mean she went away. I still found myself watching my friends' makeup, hair, clothes and heels, and listening in when they discussed mysterious new items purchased to enhance their beauty. (One of my friends once returned from a quick trip to Sephora with a new "leg shine," a small deodorant-like apparatus that you rub on your legs to make them, yes, shiny. I was fascinated.)

These days, I've begun to make friends with my "alien she." Like Kathleen Hanna, I realize she's an integral part of myself. And if she hasn't died from neglect by now, she's not going anywhere. Sure I still do lots of pushups, wear skate shoes with dresses and sometimes fail to brush my hair for days at a time. But recently, I've been wearing skirts more often, painting the old fingernails and putting "the pretty, pretty lipstick on."

I've been having fun doing these things; it's a kick to cultivate the girly side a little bit. The looks from men that come with dressing up I either appreciate or ignore, depending on how I feel. And it feels good to to know I can take the "alien she" for a walk on a more regular basis without falling slave to her or to the makeup and fashion industries.

And when I fold a little bit to the "alien she's" whims and desires, I find she's more apt to accept the messy, tough grrrl side of me without criticisms or slurs. And then my internal Siamese twins are finally practically at peace.

Alien She Lyrics

She is me
I am her
She is me
I am her
Siamese twins connected at the c*nt
Heartbrainheartbrainheartbrainlunggut
I want to kill her
But I'm afraid it might kill me
"feminist"
"dyke" "whore"
I'm so pretty
Alien
She wants me to got to the mall
She wants me
To put the pretty, pretty lipstick on
She wants me to be like her
She wants me to be like her
I want to kill her
But I'm afraid it might kill me
"feminist"
"dyke" "whore"
Pretty, pretty
Alien
And all I really wanted to know
Who was me and who is she
I guess I'll never know