Activism, demonstrations, and protests have a close visual tie to banners and flags, but those are not the only paraphernalia used to express controversial opinions. Hats have served as a social statement and a political marker on many historical occasions. In 18th-century France the revolutionaries wore the bonnets rouges, Phrygian caps like the one still adorning Marianne, the female spirit of the French Republic. The Swedish parliament was once divided between the parties of Hats (Hattarna, representing officers and gentlemen) and Caps (Mössorna, acting on behalf of peasants and clergymen, and as the most adorable party name in existence). The 20th century headgear of choice was often a black beret, favoured by many oppositional movements, from members of La Résistance during the Second World War to the Black Panthers of the 1960s and Irish nationalists of the 1970s.
In more recent years we have seen the Pussy Riot balaclava, a bright and easily copied head garment that originally served the purpose of anonymity. It introduced the carnivalesque while respecting the rules of Russian Orthodox Church that require a woman to cover her head when inside a church. As after their cathedral performance the jailed Pussy Riot band members became a cause célèbre, their balaclavas transformed into a widely recognised symbol and a fashionable knit.
In 2017 the results of the American Presidential election were met with worldwide protests, as many were angered and disappointed that Donald Trump had been elected into office despite his offensive and often misogynistic opinions — or, perhaps, because of those opinions. This is a famous quote of his:
You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.
Donald Trump, a recording from 1995 as featured by The Independent
The series of post-inauguration protests included the Women’s March that took place on January 21st. Many of the participants wore pink knitted hats whose top corners had been designed to resemble cat ears. Pussyhat was officially introduced to the public.
On March 8th, International Women’s Day, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London announced their acquisition of a pussyhat worn during the Women’s March on Washington. The exhibit was added to the museum’s Rapid Response Collection, a miscellany of objects that relate to major historical moments through design and manufacturing. Previously acquired items include a burkini, the world’s first 3D-printed gun, a stuffed toy wolf, and Christian Louboutin shoes in five shades of ‘nude’.
The pink hat in question was made by Jayna Zweiman who, alongside her friend Krista Suh, founded the Pussyhat Project. Together with Kat Coyle, the owner of the Little Knittery yarn shop in Los Angeles, Zweiman and Suh created the knitting patterns that they shared online, helping to create as many cat-eared hats and outfit as many protesters as they could. Two days before the Women’s March the estimated number of pussyhats knitted, crocheted, sewn, and distributed was one hundred thousand. The March was described as ‘a sea of pink’.
What happened was in line with the American tradition of ‘craftivism’, a culture whose roots are in the home-made socks and scarves knitted for soldiers during the World Wars. It is a way of physically doing something for the cause when you seem to be out of options. It is also a manner of expressing one’s political opinions through a medium that had been reserved for women as homemakers removed from the political and public spheres. Today, aided by digital communication, craftivism has become a recognisable power, one that produced numerous pink evidence to show that yes, we still can!
The cover of The New Yorker from February 6th, 2017 is based on the iconic Rosie the Riveter (‘We Can Do It!’) poster made by J. Howard Miller in 1943. Abigail Gray Swartz, the artist, participated in the Women’s March in Maine on January 21st, 2017, wearing a pink pussyhat.
Pussyhat is an example of the individual and the collective at once. The headgear worn by the protesters had enough in common to be recognisable as variations of the same idea, but the colours, the styles, the techniques differed as much as the people marching. It was a form that allowed self-expression, the hats being hand-made and unique, while uniting the participants.
Pink is firmly assigned to the female gender and ‘most often associated with charm, politeness, sensitivity, tenderness, sweetness’. Decorative cat-ears have been worn for years (hello, Mean Girls! hello, Taylor Swift!) in a coquettish fashion half a step removed from the Playboy Bunny headbands. Yet, it seems, the cat-ears can also be a mark of solidarity — without losing the playfulness. Symbols are as you define them. The Women’s March allowed us to create a new one, reclaiming the colour pink and the word ‘pussy’ in a celebration of female solidarity.
In the aftermath of the March, Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen tweeted: ‘Question: Were the pink hats made in the USA?’ Yes, Michael. Yes, they were. All over the USA, in fact. As opposed to the Trump inauguration caps that had been imported from China. In psychology, this is called projection. In literary analysis, irony.
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