That Pussy Hat, Though

Q: If Becky spends three hours knitting a pussy hat, how long has she been a feminist?

I was lucky to be able to go to the Women’s March on Washington, D.C. Our numbers were astonishing. It was even scary, at points, wondering if people would be crushed under a stampede of UGG boots.

Everyone I saw in a pussy hat was white.

White women, we need to talk. Shit’s gotten scary, but in times like this, we need to remember that for some women, things have already been real scary for a long time.

We need to lift these women. We need to take a back seat, and center the struggles of people who know more about fighting the power than we ever will. That is how we make feminism strong. That is how we make real progress.

The pussy hat is an exclusionary, white-feminist symbol, and you need to set aside your feelings about that statement and understand it.

Activist and scholar Ericka Hart gave a powerful speech called “Who Is This For?” at the Philadelphia women’s march. It’s a crucial watch for any feminist.

In it, she said, “Not everyone who identifies as a woman has a pussy, nor does your identity as a woman have anything to do with pussy. But, yet I see a sea of knitted hats touting the power of the pussy, when some of you will never have to ponder the anti-Black origins upon which gynecology was built — from Betsey, Anarcha and Lucy to Sarah Baartman’s whole body and Henrietta Lack’s cervix. If you want to talk about pussy, then you must start with the Black pussy. The trauma of the pussy did not begin with Trump; it began when such a high premium was put on the power of the white one.”

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In case you don’t know, gynecology was built on the bodies of black women, without their consent. Modern, white academia would erase the abuse they endured, yet white women benefit from these sacrifices more than black women do in our society. A study released this month revealed that black women die from cervical cancer at twice the rate of white women. Clearly, healthcare access is more of an issue for some than it is for others. It would be ironic, if it weren’t just so fucking typical.

First-wave feminism in the U.S. focused on women’s suffrage. Sojurner Truth and countless other black women fought for women’s suffrage, too, but many chapters of the National American Woman Suffrage Association deliberately excluded black women and argued for white women’s suffrage only.

The roots of white feminism are rotten. The women with the money and power to fight have always told black women that they’ll have to wait their turn. “Just let us get our rights, then we’ll worry about yours.” It’s an empty promise that’s still parroted today.

Meanwhile, black voters are still disenfranchised and purged from the rolls, and their districts are gerrymandered so their votes count less. Black children are killed by police, and white America struggles to justify how they deserved it. Black people can’t wait any longer for justice. We need to help center their demands now.

Throughout our feminist history, most of the people with the connections, degrees and arguments that appeal to mainstream media have been white. White feminist narratives are put front and center. Those pink pussy hats are a prime example, because not all women have pussies, and not all pussies are pink.

I am white, too. But I’m talking to you, white feminists, because we have to be better. We have to do better. We have to follow the true leaders of the movement.

Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectional feminism in 1989. Look into it. Read Angela Davis. Read author bell hooks. Follow black activists on social media and lift their voices. Look into Sowers of Justice, Black Lives Matter Louisville, Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice, Arms of Compassion, West Louisville Talks, The Kentucky Alliance Against Racism and Political Repression and the Kentucky Health Justice Network. Support them with your money. Show up to meetings. Listen and learn how to be a better feminist.

Some people claim that in these desperate times, it’s divisive to criticize any movement forward, but if history has shown us anything, that argument is a stinking pile of self-centered white feminism that’s designed to exclude black feminists. Just because you’re white doesn’t mean you have to be a white feminist. Get real. Catch up. It’s time. •

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