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."
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.