“What does pussy mean anyway?” my daughter and goddaughter asked as my best friend and I were making the trip to the Women’s March on Washington DC. We’d just left a rest stop, where the predawn crowd of about a hundred women -- many in pink pussyhats -- clapped as our eleven-year-old girls arrived with their tee shirts proclaiming “This is What a Feminist Looks Like” and “Grrrl Power.”
My friend and I looked at each other and nodded. “Pussy is a slang word for our pudenda,” I started. “And sometimes it’s said in a demeaning and disrespectful way, calling someone weak if it’s said in reference to a man, or objectifying girls or women.”
The girls were incensed. My daughter then started talking about the Trump/ Billy Bush tape. "He was saying that he can grab women by the pussy . . ."
"Because he is a celebrity and can get away with it," my friend added.
"So the message we got from him is that he thinks it’s okay to treat women like objects and to assault them,” I finished. "That's why we're reclaiming the word as something more powerful."
That launched us into a discussion about consent. “After he said that, there was a lot of outrage and memes on the internet saying Pussy Bites Back or Power to the Pussy, and then when Trump was elected and the march started being planned, people were knitting pink hats with little ears and calling them pussyhats.”
They already knew about “the wall”, the threat of deportations and a Muslim registry, the movement to take away reproductive freedom, plans to defund Planned Parenthood, and destroy Obamacare. They know about racism and racial profiling. They don’t think that gay marriage should be a big deal because duh, people should be able to love who they love.
“That’s just bullying!” Smart girls. They know about bullying.
The organized bus for which we’d signed up had mysteriously cancelled in the middle of the night, so we got in a car and forged ahead with no idea how to navigate Washington, DC. Our girls had taken to this spirit, declaring we were “spontaneous warrior moms.” Driving those five hours to the march, it felt like we finally had the opportunity to speak up for not only ourselves, but for everyone who had taken insults and scapegoating throughout the past year by our new president.
We somehow found parking at 11am at Union Station, and immediately joined the community of pink pussyhats flowing to the National Mall. We were so enthralled with the loveliness of the immense crowds -- every age, every color -- that it didn’t matter we couldn’t get anywhere near enough to the stage to hear the speakers. The mood everywhere was one of friendship and family, of true nationhood. We met a big burly bearded man sporting a pink pussyhat and holding a sign with the same slogan as my daughter's tee shirt. John Kerry himself strolled past us, walking his family dog.
As the crowd swelled, word spread that our community was too large for an organized march. Everyone decided otherwise, and this community the size of a midwestern city began marching towards the White House, spilling in from all different directions. We chanted “This is what democracy looks like” and meant it and felt it. We joined the chorus of "Black Lives Matter" and tears came to our eyes when our daughters chanted "My Body, My Choice" with other young women, while the adults and men responded, "Her body, her choice." There was no violence, no bad behavior. Everybody was united and peaceful, and through that we were powerful.
My friend and I plus our daughters made it as close as two blocks away from the White House when the crowd began filtering back. So we slipped away to a less crowded street, and slowly made our way to Union Station, full of hope. I’d never experienced anything like it. Yet, I believe this is just the beginning. If we continue to be vigilant, if we stick together as a community, that hope we all felt will remain. I see from this experience that we all need to do more than we did in this past election. We have to be active, interested, and fully awake.
And we’ll have to start knitting more pussyhats.