OPINION

A Sea of Pink

London

9 March 2017

“When you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything… Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

These were the grotesque words spoken by Donald Trump to television presenter Billy Bush in 2015. Said off-record, the conversation was captured on a microphone and, in the weeks leading up to the US election, leaked to the international media. Trump unashamedly put the comment down to “locker room banter”. Before the leak, Trump had already proved himself to be abhorrently racist and sexist, but never before had he appeared to advocate sexual assault. For those campaigning against Trump, the publishing of the sound recording was seen as a pivotal moment in the election campaign. Surely this man could not be voted president?

The world is familiar with what happened next. The regressive significance, however, of having a man who relegates discussion of sexual assault to “locker room banter” as a world leader, has not been forgotten. Instead, Trump’s comments have provided the inspiration for one the most politicised craft objects in recent years.

The Pussyhat, a hand-knitted, pink garment with two ear-like peaks, was conceived in November 2016 by Los Angeles-based creatives Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman. The hat was designed as a symbol of unity to “provide the people of the Women’s March in Washington a means to make a unique collective visual statement.” Following its spread on social media, and the knitting pattern being circulated freely online, the Pussyhat adorned the heads of thousands at the Women’s March on 21 January, not just in Washington but across the world.

The Pussyhat subsequently became one of the most dominant, and visible, symbols of the Women’s Movement against Trump and on 8 March, International Women’s Day, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) announced that it had acquired Zweiman’s hand-knitted hat for its Rapid Response collection. “The Pussyhat has become an immediately recognisable expression of female solidarity and symbol of the power of collective action,” said Corinna Gardner, acting keeper of the V&A’s Design Architecture and Digital department, on acquiring the garment. But what made the Pussyhat such internationally-recognised symbol in the first place?

One of the major factors is its name. The hat is symbolic in its brash reclaiming of the word 'pussy,' turning a pejorative into a badge of pride. But it is also interesting in its form. Although knitting has recently experienced a contemporary revival, the craft remains rooted in the often oppressive ideologies of traditional gender roles: think, for instance, of the 1950s housewife. With women typically resigned to the role of homemaker, knitting was seen as a useful domestic skill that could double up as a modest hobby. It could be pursued from inside the home, juggled between housework and childcare.

The use of knitting in political movements is nothing new; its inherently soft and unthreatening aesthetic lends itself well to peaceful protest. In 2014, Wool Against Weapons knitted a seven-mile-long scarf to protest against the country's Trident nuclear weapon programme, whilst in 2002, Canada’s Revolutionary Knitting Circle garnered column inches for staging a Global Knit-In protest at the G8 Summit. The Pussyhat however sets itself apart. In its application to a women’s movement, its political significance is almost instinctively heightened.

Once more, in an age of slacktivism, in which you can signal a political opinion by simply liking a Facebook post, the popularity of the Pussyhat is encouraging. Participating in the Pussyhat movement didn't involve merely signing an online petition, or even printing off some ready-made campaign posters, but instead engaging with a cause and dedicating time to a movement. Of Suh and Zweiman's two specified aims in their creation of the Pussyhat, one was to provide people who could not physically partake in the Women's March with a way to visibly support the movement. It is significant that even for those that couldn't attend the March, by making and wearing a Pussyhat their contribution to the movement was still active.

When the V&A launched its Rapid Response collection in 2014, Gardner described the objects it displayed as responding to the “right here, right now" with its approach centring upon "looking at the objects that you might be wearing or reading about in the press and thinking more broadly about the design world.” The Pussyhat is not a feat of craftsmanship – in fact it's rather the opposite; a simple pattern that was designed to be achievable to non craft-minded activists. But in the Pussyhat's inclusivity, symbolism and the underlying significance of repositioning a craft that is historically linked with female oppression as a tool for the campaigning for women's rights, it is a welcome and important addition to a public collection.