How Krista Suh Turned the 'Pussyhat' Into a Symbol of Female Empowerment
Badass Woman spotlights women who not only have a voice but defy the irrelevant preconceptions of gender. (Not to mention, they are exceptionally cool.) Here, Pussyhat Project creator Krista Suh reveals how she got the idea for a cat-eared hat that became a political symbol one year ago at the first Women's March.
Why she's a badass: Krista Suh came up with the initial idea to wear pink "pussyhats" to Women's Marches that took place across the globe on January 21, 2017, the day after President Trump's inauguration. Rather than monetize her invention, the 30-year-old screenwriter publicized the knitting patterns for others to use free of charge, and they did. When Suh, an L.A. native, traveled to Washington, D.C., for last year's march, she was greeted by seas of women (and saw pictures of thousands more worldwide) wearing the punny, cat-eared knit hats.
The pussyhat quickly become an unofficial mascot, and you can expect to see them again at the second annual Women's March this coming weekend. Recently, the pussyhat has been criticized by some as excluding transgender women, gender nonbinary people, and women of color who do not have pink genitalia. For many, they remain a symbol of female empowerment. Museums in London to Boston have started collecting the hats for exhibits on the Women's March.
Sparks of the movement: Suh came up with the pussyhat ahead of the first Women's March, as a practical solution to a California native's winter-wardrobe issue: “I couldn’t really think of anything until I realized as an L.A. girl I’d be really cold in D.C. and all the things I was imagining, like wearing a tank top or being naked, wouldn’t work in January.” Hence, a hat. As a knitting beginning, having learned the trade from her grandmother, Suh wanted to make the hat herself using her favorite pink yarn. From there, she received illustrations from friend and artist Aurora Lady and created and released the pattern with Pussyhat Project co-founder Jayna Zweiman. “Aurora did all those illustrations in four days, and in six days, we had it up. That basically gave knitters and women everywhere about two months to make 1.17 million hats before the march—that was our goal.”
Seeds of rebellion: Suh's family initially discouraged her from pursuing the Pussyhat Project. “The project came out on the day before Thanksgiving, and at Thanksgiving I brought the manifesto and knitting pattern home. My dad said, ‘Krista, I think this is a stupid idea. It’s a stupid name. It’s going to turn people off. It certainly turns me off.’” But the the immediate support from other women around the project, Suh says, kept her spirits high.
Greatest achievement: “Getting that many people to wear Pussyhats at Women’s Marches showed how ready to organize we are," Suh says. "And each hat represents 6-20 hours of work.” Suh says that seeing popular political cartoonists put their own spins on the hat illustrations was a proud moment. "It was really neat because they weren’t exactly drawing the Pussyhat to spread advertising, it was actual language at that point, shorthand. And that’s what the hat is for women and the women’s right supporters who wear it. It captures anger and hope."
Overcoming obstacles: Suh says she had experienced harassment herself and wanted to take a stand. The Democratic loss of the 2016 election, during which she campaigned for Hillary Clinton, gave her the motivation to. "Therapists were extra busy that week. My therapist canceled on me because she was so upset, that’s how bad it was.”
The Pussyhat legacy: “I want to be known for emboldening women. I think the problem we have now is that women can speak up once, and then if they screw up we’ll never hear from them again. No! We have to be able to make mistakes. Men certainly are allowed to.” Suh describes institutionalized sexism as a difficult-to-define “haze” permeating our lives. “You can’t touch it and you can’t even see it but it’s still obscuring your vision.” But she believes that strength in numbers will help women succeed. Her book, DIY Rules for a WTF World: How to Speak Up, Get Creative, and Change the World, hits bookshelves tomorrow, just in time for the Women's March. She wants women with other “crazy, wild, wonderful, creative” ideas to pursue them. “I think women have great ideas all the time, and if women everywhere could nurture those crazy ideas, then we would have an even bigger scale revolution. I want to teach people how to make their own Pussyhat project, whatever that is in them.”