Nasty Women

Johanna Fateman, Zoe Leonard, Ed Halter, and more on the Women’s Marches

Women's March, January 21, 2017, Washington, DC. Photo: Mariah Robertson.

INITIALLY, I RESISTED THE PUSSY HAT, that simple, pink, knitted or crocheted rectangular stocking cap that forms “ears” with its top corners, which became, thanks to grassroots efforts gone viral, de rigueur for the Women’s March. I quietly recoiled from that playful symbol seemingly at odds with my grave and militant agenda, not to mention my personal style. (During winter, I wear a felt beret in black, burgundy, or camel.) And while I’m usually game to celebrate the beauty and valor of women’s traditional work in the home, the crafty hats rubbed salt in the wound: I’d hoped, of course, this week that we’d see a woman breaking with tradition instead, starting work in the oval office. But my friend gave me a beautiful cap that she’d knit from chunky, dusty rose yarn. It was big enough to scrunch to the side in a beret-simulation, and I wore it in the cold outside the Party City near Brooklyn’s Barclays Center at 4:30 AM as we waited to board our bus on Inauguration Day.

Arriving in downtown DC just before the dreaded ceremony commenced, the profound utility of the pussy hat became crystal clear. You could instantly identify feminist or foe in the streets, and in all its proud homemade iterations, the pink hat was a relentless, effortlessly taunting, indisputably made-in-America riposte to the deplorable red MAGA cap and the pussy grabbing it represents. The stunning visual effect of the pussy hats en masse is well documented by the field-of-fuchsia aerial photos from Saturday’s marches, but it was also amazing to see them dispersed around the city in the mix of protests and inaugural events on Friday, as the marchers gradually gained critical mass. Rosy, abstracted cat-ears descended on the city in a constant stream, their wearers cheerfully greeting one another in restaurants, bathroom lines, and on public transportation as the Trump people skulked away. Later, at the hotel bar I watched the empty parade bleachers on CNN and my spirits soared. It seemed we would be granted one wish, at least—turnout for the Women’s March would beat the inauguration’s.

Saturday, as my little group tried to get close to the rally stage or jam-packed march route, a few friends texted me from their respective charter buses, still on their way to DC, mentioning their pussy-hat ambivalence. It’s infantilizing; essentialist. I was too caught up in the moment to respond at length about my own about-face, assuming when they arrived, they’d get it, too. You had to experience the scale and repetition of the hat to feel its power as a symbol not for vaginas or femininity but for a mass consensus of outrage, and (fingers crossed) commitment to defend every progressive gain and constitutional protection assaulted by the Not-Our-President. I didn’t choose the pussy hat. I don’t particularly “like” it, but I ecstatically surrendered to its iconic magic. It was ingenious and ubiquitous and will time-stamp each image of Trump’s humiliating Day Two, a historic moment for the nascent opposition.

Johanna Fateman is a musician, a writer, and an owner of Seagull Salon in New York. She is currently coediting a collection of Andrea Dworkin’s writings for Semiotext(e).

I-395 protest on Inauguration Day, January 20, 2017, Washington, DC. Photo: Zak Kitnick.

OUR GROUP OF FOUR drove down to DC two days prior to the Women’s March so we could also participate in the Inauguration Day demonstrations, thanks to a last-minute motel room on the outskirts of the city, miraculously obtained online by my Light Industry partner Thomas Beard. Gliding into an unexpectedly quiet city on late Thursday afternoon, we took advantage of the early arrival to check out the Virginia Dwan exhibition at the National Gallery. Only when we exited the building did we spy our first recognizable cluster of Trump supporters—a small group of men and women in identical red MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN ball caps—trodding down the edge of the largely empty National Mall toward the Lincoln Memorial. Our crew wandered in the same general direction, eventually stopping at the Washington Monument to look downhill at the Memorial, which was then flanked, from our vantage, by a series of Jumbotrons along the edges of the Reflecting Pool, each displaying what seemed to be a rock band performing. “Is that a live rehearsal or a music video?” my fellow-traveler Zak Kitnick wondered aloud. “I’m pretty sure they’re just doing a sound check,” I offered, unable to spy much of a crowd. Only later did we realize that we had accidentally witnessed 3 Doors Down perform at the official Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration Concert. Sad turnout!

Friday morning, we linked up with the Democratic Socialists of America at McPherson Square, where a scrappy, determined assembly had begun to form. As we marched and chanted we were taken aback by the relatively minimal police and military presence; compared with the mass protests in Manhattan, there seemed to be very little formal security in place. Reaching one of the inauguration entrance security checkpoints, we saw Trump supporters grumbling as they waited in a clogged-up queue made even more chaotic by the mass of protestors milling about. One chunk of the DSA group broke off to march a few blocks over to get a view of the Capitol steps, and we eventually followed the throngs up a nearby highway onramp, where we and hundreds of others suddenly found ourselves blocking traffic both ways on I-395. While much has been said about the diversity of attendees on Saturday, the highway-blocking gang seemed just as varied; it was a mix of protest veterans—a Black Lives Matter T-shirt here, an Antifa back-patch there—and folks who probably weren’t as experienced in civil disobedience: moms and dads with little kids in tow, gray-haired elders in fleece jackets, even a woman casually walking her dog down the Interstate. A Parks Department chopper circled overhead as a halted big rig honked rhythmically in support and DC commuters waved enthusiastically out of their car windows.

We four eventually walked down an exit to find food in the city proper, unexpectedly intersecting with crowds of Trump supporters apparently leaving the ceremony. It was a veritable bestiary of right-wingers in town to celebrate their dubious victory—rich Republican fur-clad ghoul-women, their faces stretched taut against their bones; supersized suburbanites in XXL mall-wear; ’Muricans sporting Duck Dynasty camo and beards; gangs of young preppy assholes in Trump football scarves (“J.Crew fascists,” our friend Collin Leitch put it). Some Trumpers seemed genuinely surprised to see any protesters in DC that day, and a few felt emboldened enough to confront us directly after noticing our RESIST TRUMP placards. As we made our way through the city, some angry deplorables called us losers, crybabies, and “snowflakes” (an obscure right-wing term for liberals that one of us had to google); a particularly colorful character in a homemade JESUS SAVES leather jacket called me a sinner and a “libtard,” and a Southern woman who apparently wasn’t caught up with the news cycle told us to “move to Russia if you don’t like it.” The vibe became menacing enough that a lone protester from LA asked if she could walk with us to her Metro stop, and not long after we left her, an older Midwestern couple tagged along for the same reasons. But more remarkable was the fact that the opposing crowds, despite some angry interjections, largely jostled past one another without comment, and we never personally witnessed any instance of physical violence between the camps.

Toward the late afternoon, we collapsed on park benches near L’Enfant Plaza for a break. Two workgear-clad guys in their twenties stopped to inquire what our red armbands meant, perhaps unsure if the color indicated we were down with MAGA. “We’re socialists,” I snapped back, Thomas no doubt wondering if my big mouth was finally going to get us in trouble. The two guys stopped for a beat, as if processing the information. “Like Bernie?” one of them asked. “Yeah,” Thomas answered, “Like Bernie.” The pair just nodded and moved on.

Ed Halter, a founder and director of Light Industry in New York, teaches as critic in residence at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY.


Zoe Leonard is an artist based in New York.

Women's March, January 21, 2017, San Francisco. Photo: Roberto Valentino Sanchez.

THE WOMEN’S MARCH SAN FRANCISCO: resolute despite the rain, damning amid the darkness. The march began at 5 PM. Was the later start time so that folks could attend both the Oakland and SF marches (collective coordination) or a result of the annual anti-abortion Walk for Life rally that had booked the route for the afternoon (antagonistic antitheses)? I heard both as the reason. Either way, as day turned to night, tens of thousands of protestors from throughout the Bay Area descended on San Francisco. The march progressed along Market Street from the downtown Civic Center to the waterside Ferry Building, passing tech hubs for Twitter HQ (#Twitler) and Uber (whose CEO recently signed onto Trump’s economic advisory board). Tech’s complicity in the city’s stifling gentrification and Trump’s horrific ascent is no joke.

Downpouring rain washed over the chants of the crowd. Shared umbrellas and a solemn air: The rain and darkness brought us together. I find myself believing more and more in pathetic fallacy these days. Gloom-and-doom go hand in hand.

PS: Best sign: “I’ve seen more intelligent cabinets at IKEA.”

Alex Fialho is programs director at Visual AIDS and a writer and curator based in New York.

IT IS 4:00 AM and you wonder why your alarm is going off and you go to turn it off but you realize in a panic that you must get to the bus. It is Saturday and what else were you going to do today anyway but mope around and try to get some writing done and drink too much coffee and bemoan the state of the world while reading the New York Times. Instead you start walking at 5:20 AM to meet your friend Cole and you hop on the L train at Graham Avenue and then on the 6 train at Union Square and in thirty minutes you are at Astor Place. Laurie envelops you in a big hug and you are welcomed. Standing at the entrance, Mary says hi and tells you she is getting you a star for your #starsofallstripes campaign with MoveOn. You get on a big pink bus; you fall asleep for a few hours until it is 8:30 AM when everyone is abuzz. Anne is reading a real book and you are reminded of her poem “The Glass Essay”:

At 4 A.M. I wake. Thinking
of the man who
left in September.
His name was Law.

Maybe because you expected we’d break the glass ceiling in November and maybe because you’re thinking of President Obama, the man who left yesterday and whose name also evoked law—not only what is legal but also what is human—what the ancients called natural law. Everyone is handing out something: caps, sandwiches, cookies, buttons.

Laurie’s fingernails are painted red, silver, and blue instead of the usual silver. She stops to talk to me and I ask her what it was like organizing this trip, she says, “Three nights sleep lost, because we now have a sense of urgency. It is never too late to march. I started at fifteen protesting the war in Vietnam at the Pentagon in October of 1967. Can you believe this march is the fiftieth anniversary of me marching in DC?” Marilyn echoed the statement: “I’m an old gal. This might be my last major march. I marched for Civil Rights, anti-Vietnam, Clinic Defense, for ACT UP, and the WAC Women’s March. We march because marching works.”

You get to Maryland faster than you think. And someone is handing out transit cards and you take the redline all the way to Union Station. There, mainly black men are hocking gear and the crowd is awash in knit pink hats. Your favorite signs are there: “I can’t believe I still have to protest this shit.” And new signs: “Impeach the Peach” and “Twinkle, twinkle, little Tsar, Putin put you where you are.” People are at a standstill; there are 500,000 on the parade route and marching is slow-going but a peaceful family affair. Where are the universal protest songs of our time? We don’t have them yet and so we’re singing Woody Guthrie’s 1940 hit “This Land Is Your Land” and chanting “Black Lives Matter.” Passing the Newseum, you see that they have printed a giant banner iterating the freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights to our Constitution. They have printed a small banner beneath the big banner welcoming the new president Donald Trump. No room for subtlety here. “This is just the beginning,” says Marina. “A symbolic gesture so they know we are watching. We need small and great acts of civil disobedience. We need to remember the moral choice. Remember slavery was once legal but it was not right.” Some of us head back to the bus and others stayed in the capital. A flurry of emails followed the next day. Perhaps we were all reminded of our civic duty. Perhaps we have forgotten to act like citizens, delegating the nasty task to others to microfocus on life in our family units, in our friend groups, and on our careers. Protesting for change is tedious business, boring even after decades of effort. In this country activism is rarely dangerous or hard, but it is necessary. You get on the bus.

Andrianna Campbell is an art historian and writer based in New York.

For more on the new world order, read Michelle Kuo’s Editor’s Letter in the January issue of Artforum.