Pussyhat inventor Krista Suh talks art and politics in Santa Monica

By Christina Campodonico

Krista Suh has written a book about activism and empowerment
Photo by Rachael Lee Stroud

Can knitting change the world? The homespun pink pussyhat ubiquitous to Women’s Marches around the globe has arguably become the most recognizable symbol of political resistance in our time.

Invented by Los Angeles artist and screenwriter Krista Suh with Pussyhat Project co-founder Jayna Zweiman and knitting store owner Kat Coyle, the cat-eared beanie grew organically out of Coyle’s L.A.-based Little Knittery into a DIY empowerment tool in the fight for gender parity. In contrast to the visual loudness of the president’s bright red “Make America Great Again” baseball caps, the pink pussyhat is soft, handcrafted and unabashedly feminine — but unafraid of turning Trump’s infamous “grab’em by the pussy” remarks on their head by reclaiming the word.

That said, the pussyhat’s design — namely its signature pink color and play on words — was criticized for excluding women of color and transgender people. In the wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp’s cultural dialogues on sexual abuse, the pussyhat has evolved for Suh, who’s written a new book called “DIY Rules for a WTF World,” since catapulting into the national spotlight.

On Saturday, Suh joins artist-activist Michele Pred, actress-writer Yareli Arizmendi, contemporary artist Kim Schoenstadt and UCLA’s Kathleen McHugh for a discussion of art, feminism and #MeToo at Santa Monica Airport Studios.

Why do you think knitting has become the “it” way of resisting?
We live in such a screen world now. Our day-to-day work lives don’t really give us the pleasure of progress that we can touch and see and feel. I think we’re starved of that type of experience. It’s primal and grounding to actually hold something. I think that’s why knitting is so powerful. It reminds us that you are making a difference.

What does the pussyhat mean post-#TimesUp and #MeToo?
I think in 2017 it was a really huge statement of “You are not alone,” especially because we all came together to wear it at once. That image of the march I think is burned into people’s minds. So, the hat has already done its job in that sense. But I do think, “You are not alone,” does tie into the “Me Too” movement — this whole empathy thing of, “Hey, you are not alone. Me too.” What I hear personally from the hat is “You are enough and you are enough now,” and “Don’t wait until the patriarchy gives you a gold star to speak up.”

Do you have a “Me Too” story?
I do have my own “Me Too” story [in my book]. I don’t call it that because it was before #MeToo became such a prominent hashtag. What’s sad is that it’s one of my many “Me Too” stories. For me, I wanted to share that story because it wasn’t just, “Oh, this guy masturbated in front of me on the subway and this different guy followed me and tried to…” That’s terrible in itself, but it was the first time I really had to go through the inner and outer turmoil of reporting something like that. I was literally afraid I’d be branded a liar for life. I started to see really how in this world misogyny is not just hatred of women, it’s distrust of women.

What do you say to pussyhat critics?
Just like I can’t control how every individual person reacts to the book, I can’t control how every individual person reacts to the pussyhat. I can only do my best to put out what is true to my intentions.
I think the criticisms of the hat really aren’t actually about the hat because, if you really wanna go toe-to-toe about that, we’ve said from day one that it is welcoming of transgender people and so on. And I’ve realized it’s really a criticism of feminism, not of the hat. I do hope the larger movement of modern-day feminism gets to a point where it’s intersectional because, at that point, the hat can really stand for that.

What do you think art’s role is in these politically charged times?
Patriarchy’s greatest victory, honestly, is the idea that there’s one valid way of doing something. And, surprise, surprise, the way you do it isn’t the right way if you’re a woman or person of color. I think art is so important because we keep pointing out the essential axiom they’re operating on — that there’s just one valid way of doing something — is wrong.

How have you challenged the patriarchy personally?
When I broke away from my path of being a good Asian-American girl turned doctor and lawyer — when I left pre-med and left pre-law, and started writing and doing art — I think that actually gave me the groundwork of how to be an activist because, honestly, once you’ve disappointed your parents on such a deep level, it’s sort of like, “Eeh, if Trump doesn’t like me, who cares?”

What are some of your book’s DIY rules for changing the world?
I have this concept called “blank check.” Blank check sounds really powerful because it’s so full of possibility and potential. But I think women have started to objectify themselves by the “blank check.” I know I certainly did. I was like, “Oh, I can be whoever you want me to be: mom, dad, boyfriend.”

I think that’s why women kind of kill themselves over being perfectionists in every area of our lives. We have to be fertile creatures at all times for other people, whether it’s literally giving birth or creating money.

But in order to do that, we kind of have to whitewash ourselves. And then that creates this “blank check” mentality. And, you do get rewarded for that in the short term, but in the long term, it’s murderous to yourself. Literally, you’re murdering your identity. So, just taking small steps of knowing what you like is so powerful: “What is your favorite color? What’s your favorite movie? Who’s your favorite artist?” These sound so trivial, but they’re not because you’re really making a statement and standing by it, and building up who you decide to be.

How else do you infuse social justice into the book?
I just point out some things that I think a lot of us have been shy to, which is self-care. The personal is political, which is so uncomfortable to acknowledge sometimes. But it’s so true. And then growing from there, that means self-care is political. It’s almost radical, frankly, that a woman or a person of color, just anyone who is not really vaulted by the patriarchy, for us to say, “Hey, you might dismiss me, but I don’t dismiss me. I love and care for myself.” That is revolution on the most basic scale.

How do you recommend fighting the patriarchy?
My introduction is called “Lift the Haze,” because I do see the patriarchy as a haze. It’s something that you can’t touch and you can’t even see, but it’s there and obscuring your vision. So this book is sort of the gentle primer on how to lift the haze. If we can remove the patriarchy from our minds, we can remove it from culture.

“#MeToo – Art and Feminism Now” happens from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday (Jan. 27) at Santa Monica Art Studios, 3026 Airport Ave., Santa Monica. Free, but RSVP to metooartandfeminismnow@gmail.com. Read more of this interview at argonautnews.com.