The “Pussyhat” Project

Marjorie Murphy Campbell

“We need to be remembered for our passion and purpose, not our pink pussycat hats.”~Petula Dvorak

In a heart-breaking negation of the core concept of January 21’s Women’s March in D.C., Jayna Zweiman and Krista Suh have launched a parallel project dubbed the “Pussyhat Project.” Zweiman and Suh aim to create “a powerful visual statement” at the Women’s March on Washington, D.C – a sea of pink “pussies” demanding “fair treatment” and “honoring the truth.” Their environmental visual seeks to eliminate the differences between the many diverse attendees and create a “community” of women all wearing matching, handcrafted “pussy” hats.

LI-88d-Pussyhat-620x424No doubt well-intentioned by the organizers and knitters, this project harms the March, as well as feminism, women and girls, and  victims of sexual abuse and feminism,.

“Pussyhats” compromise the mission and purpose of the March. The purpose of the January 21 March is to feature “diversity” and to “reflect our multiple and intersecting identities.” From its inception, the March’s design and leadership have sought to promote a wide variety of identity groups, “joined in diversity,” while equating “women’s rights” with all “human rights,” including the most marginalized in society. Empathy and love, often associated with the feminine, motivate the peaceful, nonviolence of the event, an event meant to be an obvious coalition of “diverse communities.”

Zweiman and Suh have organized a vast effort to mask this very diversity and create for every woman attending a bright pink “pussy” cap. This spectacle threatens to obscure the crowd’s diversity and upend the purpose of the March.

Worse, the “sameness” they seek derives from a vile, derogatory reference to women’s sexual organs. Creating a sea of “pussies” will dramatically change the impact of this event, giving commentators and the media an easy excuse to ignore the serious, often complex, issues motivating women to protest. Already, news outlets – like USA Today – seem sadly captivated with “pussyhats” rather than issues at the heart of the March.  Challenging women not attending the event to craft and donate thousands of these caps eclipses the opportunity to engage women everywhere in the issues targeted by each protester.

 “Pussy” hurts women. Did Zweiman and Suh consider how hurtful and bullying the term “pussy” is for multitudes of girls and women? Fresh off a widely broadcast, triggering, derogatory use of the term by the President-elect, many women sincerely fear the new administration. They genuinely worry that feminism’s gains face reversal, along with a reassertion of a primarily sexual role for females, one based upon a uniform, male-driven scale of beauty.

In the aftermath of this controversy, some women have reportedly suffered hate crimes, taunted by catcalls and intimidation with the word “pussy” and related epithets. One college took action and called a post-election posting “with the message ‘Suck it up, pussies!'” a “targeted act of intimidation and cowardice.” This threat to the worth and dignity of each individual female concerns all women collectively.

Rather than soundly rejecting this derogatory hate term of harassment and objectification – and affirm women’s worth as a gender critical to the well being of society – Zweiman and Suh join the male, deprecatory voice to the March. They specifically acknowledge that “pussy” is “a derogatory term for female genitalia” but rationalize its use as a “term of empowerment.” How can slanderous objectification and stereotyping of women ever “empower” them to oppose their oppression and stand firm for their dignity and worth?

Now as before, women must refuse to be meek and guileful, for truth cannot be served by dissimulation. Women who fancy that they manipulate the world by pussy power and gentle cajolery are fools. It is slavery to have to adopt such tactics. ~Germaine Greer

The organizers’ claim that use of this vile word “empowers” women denies and invalidates the experience of women victimized by male verbal and sexual abuse. Yet the organizers and knitters are creating a social pressure and expectation for full inclusion in this community of women that everyone should don a “pussyhat.”  The very women who have compelling personal reasons to participate in this March – women sexually abused by men – might reasonably stay home, rather than deal with a long, triggering day of “pussyhats” and “pussy power.”

“Pussyhats” normalize sexualizing females. If the March draws the hundreds of thousands of women it envisions, media coverage will be abundant. Saturday evening news and Sunday talk shows will echo with debates about the sexualizing, pink hats and with open, uncensured use of the offensive “pussy” and “pussies.” Inevitably, there will be quips and snickering and offensive innuendo.

By Monday morning, every girl in the English-speaking world will know the reference and “pussy” will be a normal way of referring to a female whether in our elementary schools, colleges or workplaces. The “pussyhat” movement will have destroyed decades of work by courageous women – including victims of verbal abuse – by normalizing the derogatory term and purposefully injecting it into mainstream media as an appropriate reference to the female.

Imagine the harm Monday morning, as women across the country return to their workplaces and male colleagues – you know who they are – chide, “So, where’s your pussy hat?” or “Did your pussyhat keep your head warm?’   or “Did you have your head up your pussyhat?” How can an employer, teacher or manager address such nasty, derisive, sexual innuendo when women themselves normalized the word?

Even as I write, the subtle process of normalizing is apparent. The organizers fail to denote the pejorative nature of the word, typically reflected by a refusal to reprint the word in it’s entirety, e.g. “‘Suck it up p***ies!’ sticky note mocking anti-Trump students being investigated — as a hate crime.” Practically, to discuss the project, commentators, like myself, are forced to use the word as simply another noun.

“Pussyhats” trivialize crucial women’s issues. Finally, it must be observed that the “Pussyhat Project” smacks of affluence and privilege, myopically claiming knitting and crocheting as “traditionally women’s crafts.” While these crafts may well be fashionable in the organizers demographic bracket, only 1/3 of women even know how to knit or crochet. More, the average working woman, juggling job demands, family needs and life’s everyday stresses, is far more concerned with issues impacting daily life, such as childcare, medical coverage and job availability. The image of women leisurely sitting in supportive female circles whilst  knitting and crocheting through an evening is pure fiction for most women today.

This image is also frankly frivolous compared to the dire, pressing social issues with which girls and women desperately need help and support. Consider the children and women in the District of Columbia who, while the “pussyhat” marchers demand “fair treatment”, are trapped in sexual slavery.

Right here in the nation’s capital, our most vulnerable residents — children — are subjected to sex slavery. Their stories don’t make the evening news or even warrant blurbs in your morning paper. But human trafficking is, and has been, a shadowy and seamy part of D.C. life.

Sexual assault remains rampant in the United States, with 1 in 5 women saying they had been a victim, according to a 2011 survey. “Pussy” for these women and children, sexually enslaved and sexually damaged, is not “clever wordplay,” as Zweiman and Suh callously assert in their mission statement. “Pussy” is an intimate, private part of their bodies, which has been violated, commercialized, abused and wounded.

Women largely voted for Hillary Clinton out of concern for their rights as women. While 42% of women did vote for Donald Trump (including myself), their vote by no means signals satisfaction with issues of concern to women. Whether, like me, you are appalled by the killing of unborn girls and sexual trafficking of children or by the objectification of women as sex slaves or commercial wombs for hire, or whether you have other issues of concern such as pornography, unequal pay, access to education, the March is an opportunity to express both our concerns and our serious commitment to activism. As columnist Dvorak so eloquently said, “We can’t make a difference with goofy hats, cheeky signs and silly songs. This is our chance to stand up, to remind the world how powerful we are and demand to be heard. . . . We need to be remembered for our passion and purpose, not our pink pussycat hats.”

I urge Zweiman and Suh to scale back this ill-conceived project and discourage protestors from wearing “pussyhats.” I urge groups of women marching together to say “no” to this project and march as the serious-minded, worthy individuals they are. Let women’s concerns and solutions issue forth from this March, not over-shadowed by a pink, sexualizing, stereotyping scheme that commands press coverage.


13 thoughts on “The “Pussyhat” Project

    • I was leery of Pink Pussyhats until viewing it as a good answer to the Red Ballcaps.

        • Canadians are laughing and cringing at the same time. The mere fact that the movement derived from a man who was having a private conversation get inflamed and taken out of context for a bogus purpose makes us laugh. My god, we cringe because just floating the word around as they do is degrading to all people. These ladies are so caught up in this bogus mess its setting their equal rights way back. I just can’t take them seriously anymore. Trumps doing well so far. Looking forward to see more progress for USA.

  1. Dear Marjorie,

    Thank you for posting this! I agree with everything you said. I wanted to know if I was alone or not. It is a breath of fresh air! I am 32 years old and not one for social media much and when the March happened yesterday I was shocked and appalled by the “pussyhat” project. I was planning on attending our local city women’s march but when I saw this “pussyhat” and “nasty girl” slogans I actually began to tear up at how these women debase themselves with derogatory language. I was going to march but I just could not stand up and march with pride surrounded by people donning such merchandise. It is this exact same use of derogatory names and sexualized treatment (along with the many other issues you mentioned) that made me want to march! Not slap it on our bodies and look like jokers and fools. I felt hurt that I would be so offended by women in the women’s march! Who knew? They seem ignorant that strength and unity stems from standing up together, and that uniforms don’t make unity, beliefs do!
    I was even further shocked when our local Portland chapter for the women’s march in interviews said she did not identify as a women and had no intention to march for women’s rights until she was asked to run it! How can the leader of the local women’s march not identify as a women but as non- binary and believes that women by nature are subordinate! I thought to myself how is this possible? I am an inclusive person and I am an anthropologist. I am a progressive and a democrat I believe everyone one on the gender spectrum, sexuality, ethnicity, religion and culture should be treated equally and with love and should be welcome anywhere. I don’t want to seem intolerant, but, should not the leader of the women’s march identify as a women or at least look at our gender with a positive view? Even seeing that I still wanted to march at that point.
    This has been an awakening for me. I see a lack of organization and self-reflection in the women’s movement. I want to march with dignity not cling to trendy tshirts, call myself derogatory names and rely on the visual appearance of sameness to breed meaning. Where is women’s anger? Where is the strength? Where is the true want for change? How can we be respected when we present ourselves in silly outfits and degrade and sexualize ourselves further with insults? Unfortunately the change women want is masked by a layer of superficiality. I feel very ashamed I did not march, I should have… but it broke my heart to see my fellow women and supporter’s present themselves like that.

  2. Wow, liberal women want to be the female version of who men call “dick head” and it is not a compliment, way to go dummies. Looked and sounded so stupid at your “protest” way to go liberal women.

  3. Yes! The hats that were worn and the signs that were displayed resultedbin a step backwards for the women’s movement and invalidate women who have been victims of sexual abuse. Thank you for the thoughtful article.

  4. what a lot of crap. wonderful uplifting from here in australia seeing all those brave fabulous women taking on trump and the life denying policies he stands for. unity!

    • Yes, the Women’s march in DC was an antiTrump March with profanity, vulgarity and hostility. But that seemed to be the only point on which the diverse groups agreed. BTW President Trump yesterday followed through on his life affirming policies and reinstituted the Mexican City Policy.

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  7. Just my thoughts on the pussy hat concept, whatever they’re worth… I think, like most women that I know do, that by making the hats CAT shaped, not GENITAL shaped, we were not sexualizing ourselves, but telling Trump and the people that support him that if you are going to refer to a woman or a vulva as a cat, prepare for claws! We were saying “we hear your misogyny and we mock it and defy it.” Symbols are always going to be controversial because people can interpret them different ways. I do know some people who thought the hats represented literal genitals and were offended because “only white women have pink genitals” (um, no, we don’t. Nobody has hot pink genitals unless they need a doctor, it’s just a color that represents love and compassion to many.) And I see why you felt it threatened the diversity of the march. But I’ve heard from others who felt like diversity in the march was an afterthought, if considered at all. We all have our own perceptions, and none of us are “right”, and none of us are undermining feminism even if you disagree with the exact course of action. The word pussy had not gone underground, so to blame this movement for its nonexistant comeback is, frankly, ridiculous. If you don’t want a hat, cool, but don’t hate mine or the women who enjoyed them. (Also, my hat was literally two small squares of pink felt a friend sewed together on three sides, so it wasn’t as exclusive an event to have a hat as you make it out to be.)