by Anne Summers
Photograph by Crystal Howard
It has the potential to become as potent an international symbol of protest and resistance as the iconic 1960 Alberto Korda photograph of Che Guevara that has for decades adorned millions of T-shirts, or the early emblem of the women’s liberation movement: the clenched fist inside the symbol for women.
I’m talking about the pink pussy hats that first appeared at the women’s marches in the United States, and around the world, the day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump.
Two LA-based women started a grassroots project which has seen thousands of pink knitted ‘pussyhats’ being distributed to Women’s Marches across the US and the world.
They were a brightly coloured, cheeky, instant visual rejoinder to the brag about women, caught on tape, by the man who would become the 45th President of the United States, that he could “grab ’em by the pussy”.
Before this episode, the word pussy was not used in polite company and certainly not in print – unless in inverted commas to indicate it was slightly scandalous.
So how was it that thousands of women, of all ages, were now not just proudly showing off their pussy hats but reclaiming the word, turning a pejorative into a badge of pride, much as a century ago the suffragettes did when a British newspaper coined that word to denigrate the campaign for votes for women?
Amazingly, it turns out, this was not the work of political activists or any of the organisations involved in the march.
Instead it started with 29-year-old Krista Suh, a screenwriter from Los Angeles who was worried she’d be cold during the DC march and saw a way to both warm herself and make a political statement. She conferred with her friend Jayna Zweiman, an architect who was also devastated at Hillary Clinton’s defeat. They went to their local yarn store, the Little Knittery in Glendale where the owner, Kat Coyle, not only created a pattern for the hat but started to spread the word among the knitting community.
Who knew there was such a thing as “craftivism”!
It turns out to be huge.
In addition to publicising the project via the usual social media platforms, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Suh and Zweiman also used Ravelry.com, a platform for knitters and crocheters which has 6.8 million registered users and which soon had 8000 projects devoted to making pussy hats.
I checked out a Ravelry chat room called Pussy Hat Tally where knitters were posting about how many hats they’d made – and trying to tally the total hats knitted. They figured from the postings that it was 32,000.
This was January 16, with the march just five days away: “happyme02” had made 45; “Cynthia” had made 57; “YodaGirl” 40; “knit1purl3” reported she had sent 25 hats: 18 to DC, the rest to Portland, Boston and San Jose.
The genius of this project was not just organising the knitting of the hats, it was the way they created an online distribution system to organise for them to be delivered, via mail or drop off, to DC or anywhere in the US where there was a march. So even if you were not a knitter, or did not have the time, you could get a pink pussy hat. Planeloads of women wearing them flew into DC, but they were seen all over America. Even in the most unlikely places.
Some 600 marches were officially logged, from the huge one in DC to the tiny event on the ice-covered highway outside Sandy Cove, Nova Scotia (pop. 65) where two of the 12 marchers wore pink pussy hats.
Each mailed hat contained a home-printed slip with the name of the knitter and her thoughts on women’s rights. The aim was to create “a sea of pink where each pixel represents both a marcher and her hat maker!” Zweiman said in an interview with Teen Vogue.
It also meant that knitters who could not be physically present could feel part of the tumultuous and historic rebellion against the new President.
It has been estimated that 60,000 pussy hats were worn in America that day, and many more around the world.
After the march, the Ravelry knitters were still at it – filling orders from family members, donating hats to domestic violence shelters, selling them to raise funds for Planned Parenthood.
And so was the Yarn Mart in Little Rock – that’s in Arkansas where Trump won 60.6 per cent of the vote last November – which posted on Facebook that its reorder of pink yarn had already sold again!
As of last week the PussyHat project website was going viral as women everywhere want the pattern so they too could have a pussy hat. This is not like a badge that will be put away until the next march. Expect to see pink pussy hats everywhere.
Last week pussy hat was on the cover of both Time magazine and the New Yorker – seemingly already the iconic representation of the growing movement of resistance to Trump and his threats to women’s rights.
This article was first published in the Sydney Morning Herald online on 3 February 2017