Where have all the pussyhats gone?

We started out 2017 knitting and marching in the streets for the resistance. What's next?

Published December 31, 2017 10:00AM (EST)

 (Salon/Peter Cooper)
(Salon/Peter Cooper)

Just in time for Christmas, Vanity Fair released a sexist and ageist video suggesting that Hillary Clinton should sit down and shut up and maybe take up knitting — anything but run for office again. What a fresh idea! Women should shut up and tend to their sewing notions! (The magazine has since apologized.) It is of course outrageous that anyone suggest a woman sit down and shut up, let alone a woman who won the popular vote for president against Donald Trump and has been a warrior all her life for the rights of women and girls.

The Vanity Fair video angered so many women because the “advice” aimed at Clinton echoes that which all women have heard their entire lives, both explicitly and implied: Sit down, shut up, stay out of sight. What are we doing to change that, aside from channeling anger at one team of journalists? #MeToo has been a monumental movement, and some men who used power to abuse women and intimidate them into silence have finally been dethroned. But what are we doing to get new laws passed or policies changed to address it on a systemic level?

Last year, actually, we did knit — we made all those pussyhats. Earlier this month, I flew from Paris to Casablanca on my way back to the United States, wearing my pussyhat. I was thinking about the resistance — it’s hard not to when one is in Casablanca, hard not to think about Bogart and Bergman and Victor Laszlo leading people against the Nazis. I was traveling a couple of days after the deadline to enroll in ACA health insurance, reading texts from my good friend Pete, who was gobsmacked by the 2018 cost of health insurance for his family and full of anti-Trump vitriol in the confines of our private communication. I was thinking about his public silence about Trump. People stopped me in each airport, saying, “I love your hat!” This happens just about everywhere, but I almost never encounter another person wearing one at the same time. When people stop me to compliment the hat — and by extension, show their solidarity with the resistance — I say, “Thanks. You should wear one, too!” So it’s both literally and metaphorically that I wonder, where have all the pussyhats gone? (Are people waiting for Hillary to knit them a new one?)

Too many of the million people who marched in the iconic Women’s Marches back in January have not been active in political resistance since then (not to mention, too many people didn’t march in the first place). It is difficult to inspire people to get active in public affairs, and it is much harder to fight ongoing battles than it is to march for one day. Many have engaged in fighting the Trump administration and its horrific policies from a distance — texting or calling members of Congress, posting on social media. Daily Action is the largest organization orchestrating such activities and about half of its participants were marchers. But this work is not the hands-on participation needed to win elections, to regain Democratic control of Congress and ensure other electoral victories in 2018. That requires physically registering voters, campaigning for liberal and progressive candidates, getting people out to the polls to vote, and donating and soliciting money on an on-going basis, not a one-day event.

Further, we must be constantly and consistently working to stem the tide of hate and ignorance in this nation. Too many people, whether or not they marched, don’t confront the people in their personal lives who support Trump and his racist, sexist and xenophobic views. Too many people don’t confront the people in their lives who don’t participate in electoral politics. In this time when Trump and his minions are turning back the clock in America and enacting social and economic policies that directly strike the most vulnerable among us and will harm us all for generations to come, where have all the pussyhats gone?

The resistance as we call it has had some victories, but not many. The Republicans remain in power. As we head into the critically important congressional midterms, Democrats are well poised for some key victories, which could thwart the Trump kakistocracy’s ability to ram policy through. There is so much work to be done. We need to put our dollars and our bodies into interacting with people to win these elections. And we need to continue to wage the battle for the soul of the republic — we need to wear our pussyhats on our sleeves and speak up to challenge and confront supports of Trump and his regime, to confront those who hold reactionary values that aren’t in keeping with ours, to mobilize those who are not voting. We need to make sure that we are intersectional in our approach to doing this work and to organizing — far too often we’re not. And those with platforms — writers, musicians, actors — must engage our audiences around these issues. We must fulfill the promises we made to do so in our loud outcries after Trump was elected.

Where have all the pussyhats gone? Yes, the resistance has been active — and people’s opinions have changed rapidly on some issues, particularly feminist ones. “Feminism” is even the word of the year. But as the brilliant Sarah Selzer points out in her keen analysis, the resistance is a movement with “mostly symbolic power in a reactionary world.” We have a long way to go in terms of tangible accomplishments like electing Democrats and effecting policy change.

The organizers of the 2017 March are now organizing “power to the polls” — the collective agenda for 2018 to “kick-off a national voter registration and mobilization tour targeting swing states to register new voters, engage impacted communities, harness our collective energy to advocate for policies and candidates that reflect our values and collaborate with our partners to elect more women and progressives candidates to office.” I hope we see a surge of participation to realize these goals. As it stands, the DNC is struggling to raise money ahead of the 2018 elections, Republicans continue to advance their skilled efforts at voter suppression, which in real ways threatens our very democracy, and every Democratic candidate in a competitive 2018 house race could use more volunteers and more money.

Where have all the pussyhats gone? Will they return in active force in 2018 to take back the House? Or will that be just a dream some of us had? Sitting in a park in Paris, France — Anne Frank Garden, in fact — I was reading the news and it sure looked bad, as Joni Mitchell once sang. I thought about my own plan to do more. I’m a working writer who writes about politics and feminism, and I work hard to change hearts and minds through a magazine, Roar, I founded the day after Trump’s election, that began publishing on Inauguration Day. And while I do use my modest platform to effect change, I know I need to use it more often to call out hate and to encourage electoral participation. I know, too, that I need to do more in my personal life and in my one-on-one interactions to challenge and confront people.

I left Casablanca wearing my pink pussyhat and returned to Rehoboth Beach, the tiny coastal town in Delaware where I live. Back home I saw Pete, my friend who was texting me while I was in Paris and Casablanca about health insurance and Trump. I love him — really, I’d give him a kidney — but Pete is the embodiment of people with a platform who do nothing with it to effect social change. He’s been in a wildly popular local band for years, and people like him. Musicians, especially younger musicians, tell him he’s the reason they started playing; they beg him to sit in on the gigs and play. “He’s kinda our Keith Richards,” says a mutual friend. We laugh about this, but he clearly has a regional platform.

So it drives me mad that he often wears a "Lebowski 2020" T-shirt to gigs. "You are sending the message that elections don't matter," I say, while Pete shrugs and smiles and replies, "I'm sending the message that I'm a fan of 'The Big Lebowski.'"

Pete is a good guy, a smart guy. He does a ton of work for charity and the community and is a good dad and he cares about people and the world and art. But when he rightfully complains about the destruction Trump is causing, expresses deep concern about his ability to afford the premiums for his kids' health insurance, I think about that “Lebowski 2020” shirt. I say to him, “What did you do to keep Trump from getting elected? What are you doing to defeat him and the Republican Congress?”

I am met with silence.

“Jon Bon Jovi is always out there for the Democrats,” I tell him. “Jon Bon Jovi is doing more for electoral politics than you are.” I hope one day this might irk him enough to motivate him to do more.

But the other night, Pete wore my pussyhat on stage. He was trying to make it up to me for ignoring some blatant sexual harassment and literal pussygrabbing that had happened in our community, so he put my hat on while the band that was playing called for him to join them onstage. Up he went with the pussyhat on, and during his number, two dudes came up to me and said, “That’s really cool, that hat.” When men who are respected by other men identify as feminists and take feminist action, things change. Over time, those small actions add up, and culture changes as a result.

Indeed, small yet meaningful actions, when performed en masse in an organized fashion, add up. But individually these can be the hardest to consciously integrate into our daily lives. Most people, if asked, will say they would take major resistance action if needed. Of course they would hide a Jew if the Nazis were in power. They’d put their lives on the line, face execution if caught. These are noble beliefs; we all hope they will never have to be tested.

In the meantime, there are potential voters to be registered on a Saturday afternoon at the mall. There are doors to knock on and phone calls to make on behalf of candidates challenging Republicans in flippable congressional districts in 2018. There are small donations to make to those candidates — a fraction of what it would cost to house and feed a person in hiding for a year, really — and like-minded donors to motivate. In 2018, I'm asking you to put your pussyhats back on and get to work. And when someone compliments you on your hat — and they will, to show their solidarity — don't forget to say, “Thanks. And you should wear one, too.”

By Anna March

Anna March’s writing appears frequently here in Salon as well as in The New York Times' Modern Love column, New York Magazine and The Rumpus. She is the Publisher of the magazine Roar. Her essay collection, "Feminist Killjoy," and novel are forthcoming. Follow her on Twitter @annamarch or learn more about her at annamarch.com.

MORE FROM Anna March