I wasn’t crazy about the whole “pussyhat” thing — the pink knitted cat-eared hats that were pervasive at January’s women’s marches and again at this week’s International Women’s Day gatherings.
In equal measures, I felt bemusement and horror. I get it, I really do. The notion of turning the tables, reclaiming the word and reclaiming power are seductive. Moving from victim to victor, as it were.
That said, I was hesitant to type “pussyhat” into Google, not quite sure what would pop up. It was slightly embarrassing to look at. I couldn’t quite wrap my head around whether the hats just made their wearers look silly. There was something about exhorting women to knit that seemed like a return to a past of women doing needlework, entirely missing the point of women being full-fledged citizens.
With some ambivalence, I dug out my needles, bought some yarn and started knitting. And then my husband started calling me “Madame Defarge.”
In my memory of “A Tale of Two Cities,” Madame Defarge was a villain. Or was she? When I Googled her, I came upon the word tricoteuse, a French word for a knitting woman.
From Wikipedia’s page on tricoteuse I learned that in 1789, thousands of working-class women protested food prices and shortages in Versailles, France. The unexpected success of their demands for bread gave them a stunning, unanticipated status. These “Mothers of the Nation” enjoyed a few years of influence and celebrity, up to the Reign of Terror in 1793. Then the market women found themselves barred from the spectator gallery of the National Convention and later from any part of political assembly. Yet, they would gather again, supposedly sitting beside the guillotine during the French Revolution, knitting between executions.
So fast-forward 200-plus years. I await the 2017 Women’s March, and I find myself soothed by knitting. Not knowing what to expect. Not realizing the numbers of women, who, like myself, knit to bide time. Knit to stay present. Knit as a meditation. Knit in solidarity. Knit hats that I don’t even know if we’ll wear.
Early that Saturday morning of the Women’s March in January, as our band of five walked to a Metro station for a 20-minute ride into Washington, D.C., we saw other small groups also wearing pink hats. We all smiled and nodded in recognition.
The hats adorned women on the platform and in the train. My eyes welled up as I saw all the hats. Different shades of pink, different patterns, some sewn versus knitted. I felt giddy.
In early 1972, Ms. magazine debuted. It was a magazine by women for women, knit together around women’s issues. For my 19th birthday, my mother gave me a subscription, and worried that I’d never get married.
At the march, 45 years later, I watched Ms. magazine’s founder, Gloria Steinem, speak on the Jumbotron. From where I stood, crushed within the heart of a sea of pink hats, I fought back tears. I realized that women’s hard-won rights might be under siege, but we’re not alone. I laughed at a sign that said, “I CAN’T BELIEVE WE HAVE TO DO THIS ——— AGAIN!”
Now there’s a different call to arms, one to get involved. Back home, I look up the telephone numbers of my congressional representatives. I make calls. I knit a neck warmer. There are no food shortages. No lack of bread. No guillotines.
I’m anxious, nonetheless. I call my congressman, Peter King, every week to let him know what I’d like him to vote for and against. Every day brings new issues. His aides say that he’ll get back to me, but he doesn’t.
I buy more yarn. I knit infinity scarves for my daughter-in-law and granddaughter. So far, we knitting women have not been barred from gathering. We bind. We unite. We join. We connect. We are not the villains of this story.
Reader Laura Metzinger lives in Bay Shore.