Pussy Hats and Politics

 

 

Before I get into any of my main points, I want to affirm that not all women have vulvas, and not all people with vulvas are women. I write this piece to collect and share my views on how the pussyhat can be used for intersectional feminism. I will also be using words like vulva freely. A few terms to know are transgender, a term used to describe someone who identifies as a gender other than the one they were assigned at birth, and cisgender, a term used to describe someone who identifies as the gender they were assigned at birth.

At the start of 2017, my mom and I both attended the women’s march in our own states. Both of us are outspoken feminists, and I inherited much of my political passion from her, but our views are not automatically the same. In particular, she was very excited about the presence of pussyhats while I was wary. I was capable of crocheting such a simple hat but decided not to make one for myself because of a vaguely unsettled feeling about gender and the pussyhat. My mom asked me after the march if I would be willing to make one for her. I decided to explore what the pussyhat meant to me and turn a vaguely unsettled feeling into something more concrete. A year after the election of an accused sexual predator was elected president, I wanted to reflect on the notion of the pussyhat.

The idea for the pussyhat originated with the Pussyhat Project, co-founded by Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman. Their goal was to provide people marching in the Women's March with handmade hats from folks that couldn't otherwise participate. The presence of the hats would then destigmatize things associated with femininity (like crafting and the color pink) and “pussies.” However, often embedded in this rhetoric is the unfortunate and inaccurate equivalence of vulvas and womanhood.

Transgender people can often feel excluded in discussions of gender equity, and the case of the pussyhat is an example of this. Part of what inspired the pink hats and images of vulvas/vaginas/uteruses ready to fight was the quote “grab her by the pussy.” This violent language is threatening to everyone who identifies as a woman and everyone with a vulva. However, a lot of the discourse surrounding the incident was focused only on supporting women that have vulvas. Even the march where pussyhats were made famous was explicitly called the Women’s March.

So what keeps transgender people from fully engaging with the supposed liberation of a pussyhat? Part of the problem is that the oppression of women and the oppression of people with vulvas have long been linked, and it is easy to equate them. Many women have vulvas, so the restriction of medical care and reproductive rights for people with vulvas would naturally harm many women. Laws restricting the power and education of women would naturally mean that many people with vulvas don’t have the agency to care for their bodies. However, it is not enough to focus solely on the empowerment of cisgender women. Education about and access to care for everything from the vagina to the uterus is vital for many transgender men and nonbinary folks, and it’s hard to find resources that don’t refer to these organs as “female reproductive organs.” Transgender women can also feel excluded by rhetoric that uses the vulva as a symbol of unity for women. In short, gender has for too long been thought of a simple effect of one’s body and without attention to inclusivity, the pussyhat can be an exclusive symbol.

We do need to destigmatize the vulva. It is unfair that the general public is so uninformed about a natural part of many people. We also need to destigmatize femininity. Society as a whole is harmed by seeing women and “feminine” characteristics as lesser. I would love to see the pussyhat as a union, not an intersection, of movements and people. That is to say, I would like to be able to erase notions of inherent gender in body parts and have people become more open with their gender expression.

So with that in mind, I decided to crochet my mom that pussyhat (below). It turned out pretty nice, if I do say so myself! I felt in the end that a symbol by itself can normally be interpreted many different ways, and the rhetoric and conversation accompanying it is far more important. I know that the person accompanying this symbol will be my mom, who I trust to be supportive of all gender identities. I’m still not totally comfortable with pussyhats because, as with any symbol of identity, I worry about how it can exclude and invalidate some people. I hope that people will take the pussyhat I made as a symbol of empowerment for women and for people with vulvas, keeping respect and internationality in feminism.

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About The Author

Audrey is a sophomore at Agnes Scott College majoring in math and minoring in music. When not studying she likes to read, watch shows, play games, listen to music, and hang out with friends. Her favorite genres are fantasy and sci-fi. Audrey hails from Minnesota but is enjoying being out in the Georgia winter. Her favorite animal is cats.

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