I think a lot of you may know that a knitting friend/colleague and I (hi, Marie!) have been researching the knitting community for a while now. It started with a survey that I posted on Ravelry and advertised at the first Sock Summit (remember those?). The response was pretty overwhelming - not only did I get over 2,000 responses in a very short time, but people wrote screeds in response to the open-ended questions. We have also interviewed knitters individually and in focus groups. My colleague and I are still (!!) coding the data; you people have a lot to say, all of it rich and thick. I've gotten a paper out, and she and I are giving a presentation on more of the data in June, so we're starting to get a handle on it. The goal is something larger, when all put together.
And then came January, and the pink pussyhats and the Women's March. My first real exposure to the pussyhat discussion came before the march when I saw a response that someone posted on Facebook to a Washington Post article. The article, entitled: "The Women's March needs passion and purpose, not pink pussycat hats", fascinated me. Especially when the author referred to the proposed pink hats (this came out before the march) as "well-intentioned, she-power frippery". Wow.
Knitters (including the one who posted on Facebook) responded in ways that I didn't find at all surprising, given what we've seen in our data, and what I know of my fellow knitters. Like: “We are going to protest on our own terms. We don’t have to do it in the way that the patriarchy deems serious or correct.” And: "Knitters can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can knit while we call our representatives, wait on hold while trying to get through to congress, we can put down our needles and make donations to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU and sign endless petitions. We can knit while we attend PTA meetings and community organize." Both of these quotes capture sentiments that we see in our data; they also capture the sense of having to explain things about knitting that knitters know and non-knitters don't.
Other articles discussed not only the issues with pink, and craftiness (as an index of non-feminist femininity), but also with the word itself: "pussy". People don't like it. At all.
In fact, the pussyhats are interesting in no small part, I think, because of the uncomfortable mixing of (assumed) prefeminist (maybe even antifeminist) knitting - and don't forget that color! - and the reclaiming of that impolite, raucous, uncomfortable word (the one we all had to hear our now-President saying on a hot mike): pussy.
Words for female genitalia are marked. By which I mean, we notice them in conversation. They are more derogatory, more shocking, more offensive, than similar words for male genitalia. Calling someone a dick just doesn't have the same sting as calling someone a pussy - let alone calling them that other word for female genitalia that I don't say in class without a warning that it's coming. (It's one of two words that I treat that way.)
Note: I'm a linguist - this is all data. We have to be able to talk about these words; they both mean and do something in the public sphere.
So, what did these hats, in all their knitted, offensively-named, pinkness do in the public sphere?
The answer to that, I think, is emblematic of knitting and knitters in some very interesting ways. They were aggressive without being mean; they were noticeable and visually arresting, and lighthearted at the same time. My experience of them was that they were bonding; they created a tribe out of a disparate group of people. When we finally crammed onto a trolley to go to the San Diego march (after letting two trains go by because they were too full of people to fit any more in), while there wasn't a sea of pink, the hats were definitely in evidence:
All of this is to say that the pussyhat phenomenon strikes me as quintessentially knitting in action. I know that by no means all knitters (or even the majority of knitters) agree with or support the politics of the march, or knitted a hat (or hats); but I still think that that this is a moment that captures the essence of how knitters see their craft in relationship to their lives more broadly writ.
So, Marie and I have put together a short survey on pussyhats. It offers questions both for those who did knit pussyhats, and for those who did not. We'd like to hear from everybody. It's truly short - probably only five or ten minutes to fill out. And we'd love to see it distributed as widely as possible. So please, feel free to post it (if you let me know where you've posted it, I'd love to drop by and say thanks!), email it out, FB it, tweet it, whatever you want to do to get it out to your own community of knitters (again, whether they were pussyhat knitters or not).
Here is the link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/HDTVNZ7. You can copy and paste it, or just click on it from here. Thank you in advance for your input and help.
As a rather ironic addendum, I was so intrigued by the whole movement and how it relates to what we've learned about the knitting community that I utterly failed to knit any of my own, for me or for my girls (who marched with us).