Friday, February 10, 2017

Safety pins and pussy hats

I've been wearing a safety pin almost daily since shortly after 48% of the American electorate voted to make America hate again. The safety pin emerged as a symbol to demonstrate support for immigrants and refugees after Brexit and it didn't take long for us to adopt it in the US when faced with a comparable situation.

Almost as soon as I started wearing the safety pin, I saw an article criticizing white liberals for putting it on. I read some more and found another article that made an even more compelling argument for keeping it on: know what it means and have a plan. Wearing a safety pin is not just a symbol; it's a commitment to intervene when you see someone being bullied. I wear it for immigrants and refugees, for Muslims and Jews, documented and undocumented, for LGBTQ. In short, I wear it as a commitment to stand up for anyone who is being attacked for who they are or what the bully thinks they represent.

Since the election the Southern Poverty Law Center has documented a spike in hate crimes. The safety pin movement reminds me of an experiment a professor of mine did once: a student walked out of a grocery store, tripped and spilled a bag of groceries. The student bent to pick them up and no one in the crowded parking lot helped. An hour later they repeated the exercise: the student tripped and spilled a bag of groceries. Another student came to help and as soon as that one person helped, others joined in as well. 

This principle has been demonstrated over and over recently, most publicly when a rider on the New York subway stood up to clean swastikas from the windows and was joined by many of his fellow passengers. For me, wearing the safety pin is a commitment to be the one that initiates action and does the right thing.

A few weeks after I started wearing my pin, my husband and I were in a crowded airport gate in a "red" state. I asked a woman sitting alone if we could share her table. She agreed and went back to her book. A little while later, she ended up joining our conversation. I didn't know it to look at her, but she is Muslim and a first generation American. At one point she told me, "When you asked to sit here, I saw you were wearing a safety pin so I knew you were okay." 

In early January, a good friend that knits sent me a info about the pussy hat project and asked me if I wanted one. "Yes!" I replied. Why wouldn't I want to wear a symbol of women's empowerment? I love the idea of grabbing back the term "pussy" from the offensive (then) president-elect who believes that money and fame give a man the right to abuse women and "grab them by the pussy". And yet, I have heard from two women who find it offensive - one on the far left and the other pretty far right. My conservative friend asked me to change my Facebook profile picture and in an effort to keep the dialog going, I agreed. I have, however, continued to wear my hat to work and here in the Evanston bubble, I have not  had one critical comment yet. Every single day I am stopped by strangers who comment, "nice hat", some of whom strike up a longer conversation. What do you think?




3 comments:

  1. Hi Kristin,

    I have to wonder if I am your friend of the left. I hope so.

    I do want to clarify in regards to the pussy hat discussion that I do not in any way find the hats offensive. What I do find them is politically not smart. At a time when we all need to be politically REALLY smart. I think it is always a bad idea to allow the opposition to frame your language and your imagery.

    I choose to leave referencing women as "pussies to be grabbed" firmly in 45's camp. Not in mine. I think it is a really bad idea to adopt his language, in an attempt to retake language. Pussy has never been part of the language of my empowerment. Vocal, published, hired, elected, chosen, heard - these are just a few of the words of my empowerment. Not nasty. Not ever. And not pussy either.

    And then there's the pink factor. Separate from the racism of only certain segments of the society having pink genitalia, I just so resent the reintroduction of pink into the framing of women and political power. Actually I think it best to not even get me started on the ubiquitous use of pink in relation to women and the ravages of breast cancer. Really. Don't get me started. I have waged that battle for far too long; but I am heartened to see in recent years that women are beginning to see through the Susan G. Komen exploitation of women, disease and identity for personal financial gain.

    Truthfully, I'm not much interested in the conversation surrounding the pussy caps. And in responding to the blog of a dear friend I make the concession just this one last time. I have noticed that the fans of 45 reference that the Women's Marches were so vulgar. I imagine they are reacting to the plethora of pussy hats. Ironic, right, that when women embrace the word it is vulgar; but when 45 uses it in a sexual assault context it becomes "oh that boys will be boys talk was oh so long ago." Again, in the making and wearing of the caps we draw attention to ourselves and away from the rape culture that now lives in our White House.

    I embrace my brothers and sisters who now resist; even those in pussy caps. We are all needed in this historic moment. But I am afraid that one day soon the updated image of the resistance movement will be of a bloodied pussy cap - and I am not referencing menstrual blood here. President Bannon and his cabal of oil barons mean business. The face of neo-fascism will become increasingly more brutal - uglier and scarier and deadly. Those of us who have been facing down this ugliness for long decades will have to provide aid and comfort to the newly anointed. Their pussy caps will not protect them from the tear gas, billy clubs and mass arrests to come. Their safety pins won't help much either.

    I #StandIndivisble

    Mary

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  2. Kristin, I am also often out and about with my safety pin on. Since statistically most white women who voted, voted for T, I like the public statement that I am not that woman. I've had several positive interactions because of it, with a young gay woman and several Muslim women.

    My pussyhat, which my 84 year old mom knitted for me (and also for my daughters and a couple of my friends) is perched on my photo in the living room. When it gets cold again I plan to wear it outside sometimes, and hope for some fun conversations. I liked the sea of pink at the marches, I loved that the efforts were mostly homemade, and I appreciated the play on words. I think visual support can make us feel and be stronger - in the same way that when canvassing for President Obama's re-election in western Iowa I was energized whenever I saw an Obama-Biden sign.

    It's a play on the word "pussy" as used by the Grabber-in-Chief. It's a hat, with little cat ears. It's not supposed to look like a vagina, symbolize a vagina, or be the color of a vagina. It is very specifically one word - pussyhat, like pussycat. Not pussy hat.

    I do other political stuff, too. Letter and post-card writing campaigns. Marches and demonstrations and walking with union strikers. Phone calls. Volunteer ESL for immigrants. I volunteer for political candidates I believe in. Send money to Standing Rock. And the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, SPLC, HRC. But I do love the solidarity of shared symbols. And my mom is so proud to tell her friends that she knitted pussyhats for the march.

    Thanks for the chance to reflect on the topic!

    Kathy

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    Replies
    1. Mary and Kathy, I really appreciate the diverse perspectives. More importantly, I appreciate that we are all actively engaged in working for change!

      My first trip to a DC protest was in 2003, when I took my (then) 5 and 8 year old boys to the first Code Pink for Peace march on International Women's Day. In that march, too, pink was a very deliberate choice: Homeland Security had just introduced their "code yellow, orange, and red" alert system and the administration was making the case for war in Iraq (remember WMDs?). Making that trip and engaging my sons (wearing pink headbands) in the movement stands out as one of my proud parenting moments.

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