The Pussyhat has become one of the most iconic accessories of this decade.
It came to life in 2016, when Donald Trump ― the man who once bragged about grabbing women by the pussy ― was elected president and women all over the country prepared to protest at the Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 21, 2017.
As all this was happening, two women, Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman, launched the Pussyhat Project, a movement supporting women’s rights. Their idea was to create a bold statement of solidarity at the Women’s March, and as a result, their Pussyhat design painted a powerful sea of pink when thousands of women wore them at marches all over the country.
The design was simple ― a rectangle that, when worn, had two corners that mimicked cat ears ― but the hat was imbued with plenty of meaning: “Pussyhat” is a play on “pussycat,” and the word “pussy” is considered a derogatory term for female genitalia. As for the color, pink was chosen because it’s often associated with femininity, and the whole point of the movement was to stand up for women and women’s rights.
We had a chance to speak with Suh (who left the Pussyhat Project in January 2017 to start her own ventures) about the hat, how it felt to wear it with all those women on that January day and what it means now.
On wearing the hat at the Women’s March on Washington in 2017:
It was really thrilling and for me. It got across the point that I’m not alone in all this. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen “Fight Club,” but you know how he goes around and everyone gives him these knowing looks? It kind of felt like that. I was like, I’m suddenly a part of something, and what I thought only mattered to me and maybe a few others actually [matters to] all of us.
I think my generation ― I’m 31 ― we overuse the word “awesome,” but it was literally awesome. [It was] awe-inducing [to see] another [hat] and another one in the days leading up to the march. At the actual march, it was just everywhere. People who didn’t have one wanted one, and people were just giving them away off their heads. It was just so beautiful.
This older woman, a volunteer, took me aside at the march and said, “Krista, you really did it. You have to soak that in.” I was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. It’s working. It’s good.” But she was like, “No, you don’t get it.”
I’m 5 feet tall, [and] this National Geographic reporter happened to find me that day. You have to imagine, everyone’s wearing these hats, but I’m the one who created it, and it’s like I have this delicious secret. When she happened to run into me, [she asked] me, “What’s with these hats?” and I was like, “Oh, it’s funny you should ask, because I started it.” She was like, “No! Really? Can I follow you around today?” I just felt like I was this rare lion she was taking great pictures of for National Geographic.
Those two women taught me this photographer’s trick. They had me stand up on a guardrail, and just being a few feet above the ground, suddenly I could see all the way down the Mall, and I could really see the sea of pink. That’s the moment it really hit me.
On whether the hat is a symbol of solidarity:
I think so. I know there’s criticism of the hat. Right now, [women] are coming into D.C., and they’re accompanied with notes. A lot of people explain who they are, where they’re from, what their connection is to the women’s rights movement, and it’s always really touching. People say they’ve been raped and cannot march because they have PTSD, so this hat is a way for them to be part of the movement and help others. There are women who write that they’ve never done anything this feminist in their life, they’ve always just followed along with their husbands, but they just can’t take it anymore.
I think at the heart of it, it’s such a human thing to hand-make something and give it to someone you love or even a stranger as a gesture of love. To me, that’s very pure.
On whether she knew the hat would take off:
It was always scalable, meaning if it’s just me and a few friends [who wear it], great. I joke that when people ask me this question, that it’s my cue to say, “Oh, golly, no, I just thought it was going to be a little nice thing I did,” but I’m always like, “Yes! I knew.” I knew it was going to be huge.
I had it right. I understood the breadth of it, because I understood how deeply women were hurt across the country and how deeply women wanted to help, particularly each other. So that didn’t surprise me. I was dreaming big. My whole team was. But at the same time, I didn’t foresee the depth of it. I didn’t anticipate women coming up to me and telling me this project brought them out of a grief.
On the hat’s lasting impact:
A mortician wrote in to us and shared that someone came in, an elderly woman, and in death, she wanted to be buried in her Pussyhat. This woman was almost 100. That’s another thing — it was women of all ages, so I knew it was going to be a big deal, but [I never thought] someone would be buried in it.
A woman told me in Michigan that they were at a town hall meeting for immigration, and this Hispanic woman was there with her little girl, and she told her little girl, “If you get lost, go to one of the ladies in the pink hats. They’ll help you.” That is exactly what the hat’s about, to show that you care and that we can depend on each other.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.