Donald Trump took the oath of office on Friday before a crowd speckled with red, many of them wearing the campaign’s famous “Make America Great Again” hats.
Saturday’s Women’s March on Washington in downtown D.C. drew a crowd with vastly different political beliefs, but there was one similarity, as the sea of people was peppered with pink, cat-eared “pussyhats.” The (mostly) homemade hats were a sly reference to lewd comments Trump made in a 2005 Access Hollywood tape leaked a month before the election. And they also echoed some of the traits that experts said made the Trump hat so effective for the winning candidate.
Marchers on Saturday said they liked the hat because it unified them around one general message.
“I think this woman who put this together is frickin’ brilliant and a genius because it’s such a political, simple statement: a pink hat, and all you have is the pussycat ears,” said Mellicent Dyane, 50, a casting director from New York City, wearing a neon pink hat as she watched the rally. “It speaks volumes.”
In that sense, the pussyhat has some of the same traits that made the “Make America Great Again” hat work: it sends a very particular political message, one that is simultaneously unifying and antagonistic.
The Trump “Make America Great Again” implies that somehow, someone (perhaps the political establishment, especially from the party in power for the last eight years) allowed America to no longer be great, and that the wearers are banding together to get that greatness back.
Despite not bearing a slogan, the “pussyhats” have their own clear target of criticism, explains one expert.
“It doesn’t have the words on the hat like the ‘Make America Great Hat’ does, but the name of the hat evokes memories of this [Access Hollywood] tape that has a message that the people who made this want to convey,” said Todd Davies, associate director of Stanford’s Symbolic Systems program.
But the hats were intended also to be unifying for women (and the men who came to support the march). Following an election where Donald Trump effectively used masculinity as a campaign strategy, the pussyhats are unabashedly feminine, in that they are pink and homemade (not to mention that they reference a derogatory term for the female anatomy). That’s by design: the “Pussyhat Project” website explains that “knitting and crochet are traditionally women’s crafts,” adding, “[knitting] circles are powerful gatherings of women.”
The similarities don’t end there. Both hats represent a kind of backlash: one by a group of people who believed they were ignored political outsiders, and the other by people who recently suffered a stinging election defeat.
In addition, simplicity is arguably a central goal of both hats, albeit to different ends. The Trump hat’s plain red background with white Times New Roman lettering “represented [an] everyman sensibility,” as FastCo Design’s Dianna Budds explained this year. Likewise, most pussyhat patterns are simple — one article promised viewers they could learn how to sew a hat “in the time it actually takes to ironically watch The Bachelor” — allowing some crafters to crank out and distribute many.
While the red caps and pink knit hats invite comparison, they aren’t perfect analogues of each other; the homemade pussyhats, in shades ranging from fuchsia to powder pink to mauve (and a few that weren’t pink at all) — were naturally not as uniform as the mass-produced Trump hats.
Again, the Pussyhat Project characterizes that as a feature rather than a bug, allowing people to be unique and diverse in their designs. (Likewise, the homemade hats helped people connect with one another — marchers on Saturday reported getting hats from their grandmothers, wives, state legislators, and even strangers on the street.)
Importantly, though, the pussyhat has a long way to go to reach the power that the Trump hat has. Extolling the red trucker hat as the “symbol of the year 2016,” Davies wrote about what made it stick.
“Lots of things can be symbols,” he said. “but relatively few things actually are. Being a symbol is an acquired status that gets established through use.”
The pussyhats could simply become a memento for marchers, as opposed to something they continually wear. After all, Trump rallies gave supporters regular reasons to get together and don their hats, eventually making the caps familiar to many Americans. The pink hats very easily might never reach that point.
At least for now, the pussyhats and trucker hats fulfill the basic role of identifying tribes. Saturday afternoon, red-hatted families ate in restaurants alongside pink-hatted marchers. Without even talking, they knew exactly which team they were on.
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