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Steve Rainwater/Flickr (CC-BY-SA)
The hats are transphobic and racist, some argue.
Remember “pussyhats,” the iconic pink knitted hats with cat ears used throughout 2017’s Women’s March? Those hats may be a thing of the past. Activists have been complaining about the hats for a long time, and some Women’s March organizers are actively encouraging their local marches to pass on them this year.
In a report from the Detroit Free Press, Women’s March Michigan’s founder and president, Phoebe Hopps, explained that the pussyhats may not be a unifying factor for multiple groups, from transgender women to women without pink genitals. According to her, both state and national Women’s March organizations want to “move away from the pussyhats” and have been “for several months now.”
This year’s anniversary march is taking place in Las Vegas through the “Power to the Polls” event, with the march largely geared around registering women to vote and making sure their voices are heard before the 2018 midterm elections. So as the Women’s March is more about “mobilizing people to the polls” by “unifying” women, Hopps isn’t very keen on promoting a hat that could divide the march’s supporters.
“There’s a few things wrong with the message,” Hopps told the Free Press. “It doesn’t sit well with a group of people that feel that the pink pussyhats are either vulgar or they are upset that they might not include trans women or non-binary women or maybe women whose [genitals] are not pink.”
She’s not alone. LaShawn Erby, Black Lives Matter-Lansing’s co-chair, also spoke out, calling the hats “a problem” that she’ll address in a speech for the day of the march, Jan. 21. For her, she stressed that it’s important to have a march where women of color are in leadership positions because they serve as representatives for other women of color (last year’s national Women’s March in D.C. was organized primarily by women of color).
“You know, nobody can speak for your experience but you, so it really is important that people that look like you, that have experiences like you to represent you,” Erby told the Free Press. “You often can look just about anywhere and see a white person leading Black people. But rarely do you see it in reverse.”
Black, Brown, Trans and Disabled women: That pink pussyhat represents the racism, transphobic, ableist oppression and…
There’s a fair point to be made that pussyhats are exclusionary. Since last year, trans women have argued that pussyhats focus way too heavily on vaginas and uteruses, basically turning the Women’s March into a protest about cisgender genitals. In an article for Mic Identities, several trans women explained that they decided to stay home because the intense focus around equating womanhood with having a “pussy” made the march feel like a “white cis women march.” Meanwhile, as NBC News points out, others believed the hat’s pink texture pushed out a somewhat white-centric and normative view about vaginas’ colors.
That said, the pussyhat was originally co-created by a woman of color as part of the Pussyhat Project. And for her, the hat’s original message wasn’t necessarily focused on cisgender or white bodies. Rather, she created the hat to explore the misogyny women feel when words like “pussy” are used in demeaning ways. In other words, the pussyhat is about reclaiming femininity, not necessarily having a vagina.
“My belief is that pink is considered a little bit frivolous, girly, weak, soft, effeminate, and honestly, I don’t think it’s the color, I think it’s a code for women,” Suh told NBC News. “And it doesn’t matter what people wear, if it’s a color associated with women, it will be mocked.”
fyi white feminists, pussyhats are racist and transphobic but that won't stop you from wearing them lmao
— chrysanthemum tran (@chrystran) March 26, 2017
A family friend just sent me a pussyhat and I wanna be grateful but I know they're transphobic. I appreciate the effort, but…
— Olivia (@koriandc) June 21, 2017
Pink pussyhat wearers, I hereby volunteer to help recycle your racist, and transphobic symbol of white/vagina-centric feminist resistance. pic.twitter.com/DKWIkvCfot
— ….SJAP…. (@FruittiLoopz) January 25, 2017
Just a thought, but maybe centering statements/imagery about womanhood on the word pussy and the color pink is transphobic. #pussyhat
— Eli Hess (@_cloudboi) January 18, 2017
Not all transgender women and women of color agree on the pussyhat’s message, either. One woman speaking at Lansing’s march, Lilianna Angel Reyes, is a transgender woman of color who wants to wear a pink pussyhat at the 2018 march. She thinks activists should remember the pussyhat has a symbolic quality to it, and that it’s representative of more than just genitals. Remember, the pussyhat is also about President Donald Trump’s comments about sexually assaulting women. For women with a pussyhat, wearing one is just as much about womanhood as it is about fighting back against sexual harassment and assault.
“I definitely understand that there are people that are concerned that the pussyhat, the pink cat hat, is very specific for people with vaginas,” Reyes explained to the Free Press. “But… it was a very specific thing… specific to when President Trump said, ‘Grab ’em by the pussy,’ and so to me it was a play on words that shows power.”
As the debate rages on about pussyhats, it’s clear that the Women’s March has a lot to figure out about representing its marchers in the coming months ahead. When so many different American women come from drastically different life experiences, it’s only natural that organizers will need something a little bit more unifying than a pink vagina.
Ana Valens is an LGBTQ reporter and essayist for the Daily Dot. Her work has previously appeared in Bitch, the Establishment, Vice's Waypoint, Rolling Stone's Glixel, and the Toast. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.