Posters of “Pussyhats” peppered campus for days before the Visual Arts Department welcomed back alum and Pussyhat Project co-founder Jayna Zweiman ’01. Zweiman spoke at the List Art Center yesterday about life events that led to the creation of the Women’s March’s now-iconic cat-shaped headwear.
“I knew right away that we needed to bring her back to Brown and embrace her and celebrate this phenomenal project that she developed and co-founded,” said Professor of Visual Art Wendy Edwards, the chair of the visual arts department.
Zweiman became interested in knitting after she sustained a head injury three and half years ago. She had long been curious about the medium of thread and the idea of “using a line and turning it into a space,” she said. Knitting was also a form of creative expression that required no cleanup — an activity for which she did not have the energy due to her injury. “Having a form of disability can inform your art,” Zweiman said.
She and her future Pussyhat Project co-founder Krista Suh subsequently joined a knitting community based in a Los Angeles yarn shop called The Little Knittery.
Zweiman says it was President Trump’s victory in the election that sparked the inspiration for the “Pussyhat.” “Out of that devastation, Krista and I went to the Little Knittery and started talking about the Women’s March,” Zweiman said. Both were motivated to start a movement that reacted to the presidential win and would empower women into action everywhere.
“If everyone wore hats, we could create visibility for this march,” Zweiman said. They wanted the “Pussyhat” to be a way for people who might not be able to attend the Women’s March in D.C. for financial, health or disability reasons to be included in the movement anyway, she added. The goal was for people around the country to be able to participate and make a statement if they wanted to.
To this end, volunteers across the United States individually crocheted, knitted and sewed bright pink hats with two little cat ears. These hats were either worn by their maker, given to a friend or stranger to wear at a march or shipped to the Pussyhat Project to be redistributed to protestors. The exchange of hand-made hats symbolizing a feminist movement aimed to create a national sense of community and solidarity, according to Zweiman. The success of the hat soon became evident as millions of women wore the hat internationally for the Women’s March and the International Women’s Day.
During the question and answer section of the talk, one student referenced the fact that critics of the hat have suggested that the word “pussy” in “Pussyhat” excludes transgender women from the movement.
“I think it is really important to listen to what people have to say in terms of criticism,” Zweiman said. The name “Pussyhat” was used in response to the Donald Trump scandal involving the non-consensual grabbing of female genitalia. In a wider sense, the word “pussy” is used in a derogatory fashion to relate to an individual’s female characteristics, Zweiman said. “Pussyhat” is trying to reclaim that word, she added.
Though Zweiman herself was not able to attend the Women’s March due to her past head injury, she gave her hat to a stranger to wear at the march. In this sense, the “Pussyhat” fulfilled its mission to involve everyone in the Women’s March, regardless of their location or circumstances, she said. “In this political climate, it is really important that people stand up for what they are worried about,” Zweiman said.