This past weekend the fairer sex proved it wasn't backing down from its year-old promise to take on the patriarchy and fight for justice in a post-Trump world. Revved up further with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, millions of marchers hit the streets across the US and abroad on Saturday, a beautifully temperate day that seemed to echo the defiant but focused attitude that centered on a brighter tomorrow.
As women and men organized local marches from Burbank to Shanghai, the message was “vote" and the sentiment was all about change-making.
“I want to make voting fun again; that's a theme running through a lot of the marchers," says activist and founder of the Pussyhat Project, Krista Suh, who marched alongside an estimated half a million others in Los Angeles. “It's so important with the midterm elections that we don't drop the ball on this one. This is a chance for us to flip the house and it's an exciting time."
As it was last year, pink was everywhere. Thanks to nearly omnipresent knotted rose-hued kitty-shaped hats, the brainchild of knitting afficanados Krista Suh and Jayna Zerimann, the pussyhats have quickly become something of modern day feminist lore.“There's something meaningful about making your own protest gear with your own hands," says Suh. “I was a beginner knitter but I thought If I could knit this hat, everyone could."
Krista Suh by Rachael Lee Stroud
How the pussycats came to be is really a testament to what happens when coincidence meets action. In late 2016, Suh, an artist and screenwriter and Zweiman, a design architect who was rehabbing from a serious injury and unable to perform any rigorous activity, decided to take a crochet class at the Little Knittery, a local yarn store in Los Angeles. After discovering a joint passion for women's rights and activism, the two realized that brightly colored crocheted hats-named to reclaim the women's anatomy from the President's choice moniker-could serve as a statement of solidarity for women at the march, and those- like Zweiman, who would be unable to attend.
“It went from one hat to a sea of pink," said Suh, who estimates millions of hats have been made and worn between the two marches. “I thought about the aerial shots from overhead and I got so excited about it. At first there weren't as many sister marches, so this allowed people from everywhere to knit a hat and sent it in, and contributed to all these on-the-ground networks."
To help get as many women involved as possible, the duo called on Little Knittery owner Kat Coyle to design a simple pattern that would be easily executed by those who may not know their way around a pair of knitting needles. Thanks to social media and the word of mouth nature of the international knitting community, more than 60,000 people downloaded the pattern. On January 21, 2017, millions of protesters across 600 countries helped create a "sea of pink" thanks to the hundreds of thousands of pussyhats that helped color the crowd. And just like that, an iconic fashion accessory was born.
Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman
“Last year we organized and got a lot of first time activists into the fold; now it's about leading them to the next step," says Suh. "We're hoping to transfer the urge to march and protest into a civil action."
This past weekend, Suh tells SWAAY the power of community activism was evident, proving that even those who can't make it to NYC or DC consider themselves part of the Women's Movement. To wit, sister marches sprung up locally in communities across the country and world, including in China, where Suh says expats marched in solidarity with their American sisters. “We've proven we can impact on a huge level and now we're realizing we are everywhere," she adds. "It's powerful to see the sea of pink marching together, but also when you see that woman at the grocery store wearing the hat."
Some might ask if Trump has been the catalyst of change. Would the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements have unfolded in a Hillary presidency? Maybe not. Some would argue that the urgency of the message comes at a time when Atwood storylines are becoming frighteningly feasible. As is evidenced by the solidarity shown at the Golden Globe awards amongst its female attendees and the massive outpouring of women across all industries who are finally calling out sexual predators, it's clear there is a lot on the line, and we are going to fight for all of it.
“All these issues are related, and they are all centered on the idea that it's really hard to be a woman in the US and I don't mean that in a victim way, just a plainspoken way," says Suh. “Caring about yourself is a radical act as a woman. It's about our safety and freedom to exist. It's a human rights issue. The personal is political."
For Suh, changing the narrative means helping women realize that the system was created to keep them out of positions of power, and it's not their fault that they haven't gotten there. Rather than fighting to become the one token female success story, Suh says we need to uplift more women into positions of power by giving them the same tools that are afforded to men, namely sexual respect, mentorship and access to capital.
“In the past people wanted to divide and conquer," she says. “There was this idea of the one exceptional woman. They've always had a place for that woman in the patriarchy- but it's only one spot like say for an Ivanka Trump. If you don't make it, they say it's your own fault. It's a clever trick but women are waking up to that now. The deck can be stacked against us and our sight is set on how to redo the system."
Krista Suh at the 2018 Women's March
In order to get the message out, Suh has just penned a book, DIY Rules for a WTF World: How To Speak Up, Get Creative and CHANGE THE WORLD, which she says acts as a handbook for those young ladies who are looking to help “demolish the patriarchy." “For me, it's a lot of showing people not only can you be politically active, you already are," says Suh. "I want to teach people that whatever wild, crazy idea they have that's really scary to them, they should nurture rather than squelch. Women have great ideas all the time and don't follow up on them or talk themselves out of them. I think the book will create an even more massive revolution than the one we've already started"
And speaking of revolution, which for all intents and purposes began during a knitting circle, Suh reminds women not to underestimate the power of mixing pleasure with protest, as it's an easy way to mobilize. “I didn't have to reinvent the wheel," says Suh. “Women have been getting together and talking in knitting circles for centuries. It's like men fishing or golfing; that's where deals are made. The assumption is women in knitting circles are just gossiping but it's a lot more than that."
According to Suh, this year's iteration of the Women's March is just as much about symbolism as it is activism. She reminds women not to forget the importance of taking part in rituals that celebrate and elevate all of us.“This year's march marks progression but it's also like renewing our vows, reconnecting with what got us so fired up last year" she says." I think it's important because rituals are so important. Men tend to downgrade the rituals of women. When women organize something it's seen as frivolous. We have to reject that as women. Patriarchy is this haze all around us, and when [people] say 'what's the point of the march and the hat,' they are downgrading the rituals of women. I think it's important to recognize that because we don't even realize the goal posts are being moved all the time."
For decades, women have been unknowingly suffering from PSD and intergenerational trauma, but now Dr. Valerie Rein wants women to reclaim their power through mind, body and healing tools.
As women, no matter how many accomplishments we have or how successful we look on the outside, we all occasionally hear that nagging internal voice telling us to do more. We criticize ourselves more than anyone else and then throw ourselves into the never-ending cycle of self-care, all in effort to save ourselves from crashing into this invisible internal wall. According to psychologist, entrepreneur and author, Dr. Valerie Rein, these feelings are not your fault and there is nothing wrong with you— but chances are you definitely suffering from Patriarchy Stress Disorder.
Patriarchy Stress Disorder (PSD) is defined as the collective inherited trauma of oppression that forms an invisible inner barrier to women's happiness and fulfillment. The term was coined by Rein who discovered a missing link between trauma and the effects that patriarchal power structures have had on certain groups of people all throughout history up until the present day. Her life experience, in addition to research, have led Rein to develop a deeper understanding of the ways in which men and women are experiencing symptoms of trauma and stress that have been genetically passed down from previously oppressed generations.
What makes the discovery of this disorder significant is that it provides women with an answer to the stresses and trauma we feel but cannot explain or overcome. After being admitted to the ER with stroke-like symptoms one afternoon, when Rein noticed the left side of her body and face going numb, she was baffled to learn from her doctors that the results of her tests revealed that her stroke-like symptoms were caused by stress. Rein was then left to figure out what exactly she did for her clients in order for them to be able to step into the fullness of themselves that she was unable to do for herself. "What started seeping through the tears was the realization that I checked all the boxes that society told me I needed to feel happy and fulfilled, but I didn't feel happy or fulfilled and I didn't feel unhappy either. I didn't feel much of anything at all, not even stress," she stated.
Photo Courtesy of Dr. Valerie Rein
This raised the question for Rein as to what sort of hidden traumas women are suppressing without having any awareness of its presence. In her evaluation of her healing methodology, Rein realized that she was using mind, body and trauma healing tools with her clients because, while they had never experienced a traumatic event, they were showing the tell-tale symptoms of trauma which are described as a disconnect from parts of ourselves, body and emotions. In addition to her personal evaluation, research at the time had revealed that traumatic experiences are, in fact, passed down genetically throughout generations. This was Rein's lightbulb moment. The answer to a very real problem that she, and all women, have been experiencing is intergenerational trauma as a result of oppression formed under the patriarchy.
Although Rein's discovery would undoubtably change the way women experience and understand stress, it was crucial that she first broaden the definition of trauma not with the intention of catering to PSD, but to better identify the ways in which trauma presents itself in the current generation. When studying psychology from the books and diagnostic manuals written exclusively by white men, trauma was narrowly defined as a life-threatening experience. By that definition, not many people fit the bill despite showing trauma-like symptoms such as disconnections from parts of their body, emotions and self-expression. However, as the field of psychology has expanded, more voices have been joining the conversations and expanding the definition of trauma based on their lived experience. "I have broadened the definition to say that any experience that makes us feel unsafe psychically or emotionally can be traumatic," stated Rein. By redefining trauma, people across the gender spectrum are able to find validation in their experiences and begin their journey to healing these traumas not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
While PSD is not experienced by one particular gender, as women who have been one of the most historically disadvantaged and oppressed groups, we have inherited survival instructions that express themselves differently for different women. For some women, this means their nervous systems freeze when faced with something that has been historically dangerous for women such as stepping into their power, speaking out, being visible or making a lot of money. Then there are women who go into fight or flight mode. Although they are able to stand in the spotlight, they pay a high price for it when their nervous system begins to work in a constant state of hyper vigilance in order to keep them safe. These women often find themselves having trouble with anxiety, intimacy, sleeping or relaxing without a glass of wine or a pill. Because of this, adrenaline fatigue has become an epidemic among high achieving women that is resulting in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
"For the first time, it makes sense that we are not broken or making this up, and we have gained this understanding by looking through the lens of a shared trauma. All of these things have been either forbidden or impossible for women. A woman's power has always been a punishable offense throughout history," stated Rein.
Although the idea of having a disorder may be scary to some and even potentially contribute to a victim mentality, Rein wants people to be empowered by PSD and to see it as a diagnosis meant to validate your experience by giving it a name, making it real and giving you a means to heal yourself. "There are still experiences in our lives that are triggering PSD and the more layers we heal, the more power we claim, the more resilience we have and more ability we have in staying plugged into our power and happiness. These triggers affect us less and less the more we heal," emphasized Rein. While the task of breaking intergenerational transmission of trauma seems intimidating, the author has flipped the negative approach to the healing journey from a game of survival to the game of how good can it get.
In her new book, Patriarchy Stress Disorder: The Invisible Barrier to Women's Happiness and Fulfillment, Rein details an easy system for healing that includes the necessary tools she has sourced over 20 years on her healing exploration with the pioneers of mind, body and trauma resolution. Her 5-step system serves to help "Jailbreakers" escape the inner prison of PSD and other hidden trauma through the process of Waking Up in Prison, Meeting the Prison Guards, Turning the Prison Guards into Body Guards, Digging the Tunnel to Freedom and Savoring Freedom. Readers can also find free tools on Rein's website to help aid in their healing journey and exploration.
"I think of the book coming out as the birth of a movement. Healing is not women against men– it's women, men and people across the gender spectrum, coming together in a shared understanding that we all have trauma and we can all heal."