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MARTHA SEZ: America shows the power of protest, part 2

February 2, 2017
By MARTHA ALLEN , Lake Placid News

What's new, pussycat?

Back to the pussyhats.

I can't get over the images of the emblematic shocking pink, magenta and fuchsia caps worn by protesters in the Jan. 21 Women's March in Washington, D.C. In aerial photographs, the hats look like a red tide.

"We want to see a sea of pink," said Kat Coyle, who, with Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, created the pussyhat.

Coyle, owner of the Little Knittery yarn shop in Atwater Village, Los Angeles, offers the pattern free on, the popular knitters' and crocheters' site.

The design of the cat hats is genius. Even better than the witty placards carried by marchers, the pink hats gave immediate visual evidence of the movement and its size, especially in aerial crowd shots. You can't miss them. On her Ravelry page, Coyle called it "a unique collective visual statement which will help activists be better heard."

Ravelry was instrumental in spreading the word about the march, as well as the hats, and other forms of social media were on board as well, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

On the Ravelry site, The Little Knittery group lists its reasons for participation: "To protect legislation and policies regarding human rights and other issues, including women's rights, immigration reform, healthcare reform, the natural environment, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, freedom of religion, and workers' rights."

Historically, women, both solitary and in groups, have been needleworkers. The quilting bee and the sewing bee are still popular today. Yes, contemporary women are busy, but women have always been busy. My grandmother told me how they used to boil and beat the laundry, clean and polish, cook and make clothing for the family. Many of us still knit and crochet, carrying on old traditions, in many cases taught to us by mothers and grandmothers. Knitting and crocheting pussyhats for a feminist cause is a way to find common cause and come together. Women knitters and crocheters were encouraged to make hats for men, women and children who would be participating in the marches. Solidarity.

It often takes an outside threat to unify a group. If we had never been privy to the video revealing Donald Trump boasting to another man that he could do anything he liked to women-kiss them without permission, grab them by the private parts, for example-everyone might have just stayed home or gone to the movies or whatever. Women might have continued knitting and crocheting baby clothes and sweaters and hats without cat ears. The thing is, we could hardly help but know about his disrespectful use of the word pussy, since it was trumpeted on television and radio and repeated on social media and by word of mouth.

This word has a rich folk history, used almost exclusively by men in order to denigrate women. Of course, no lady could utter it unless referring to a kitten or a willow catkin, so now to say it out loud in a rebellious or subversive spirit is freeing and pretty hilarious.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "Puss is a synonym or pet-name for 'cat,' now mostly superseded by PUSSY ... applied to a girl or woman, formerly a term of contempt or reproach, now used playfully as a term of endearment, often connoting slyness."

Henry Fielding, from his play "The Modern Husband," 1732: "I think her an ugly, ungenteel, squinting, flirting, impudent, odious, dirty puss."

Anthony Trollope, from his novel "Can You Forgive Her?" 1864: "To think that the little puss should defend herself so coolly!"

These references to sly women are mild and humorous compared to contemporary vulgar usage. How refreshing to take charge of this word, with its insulting connotations, and flaunt it ourselves-granted, slyly and subversively-as a banner. To wear it as a hat, made by women, in shades of pink and purple relegated to our gender.

"The more we are seen, the more we are heard," Coyle says.

Of course, men marched too, and some even wore pussyhats. Men and women of all ages in cities around the world marched with their children and grandchildren.

I have been asked to make pussyhats for family and friends, even now that the Women's' March is over. I'm experimenting with cotton yarn for the warmer weather. The hats are relatively easy to knit and crochet-the hard part is finding sources for bright pink yarn. The march caused a run on the market. Here's hoping for upcoming events that require pussyhats.

Have a good week.



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