By Sarah Held / March 1, 2019
Sarah Held reports on feminist protest practices, current discourses, aesthetic-cultural interventions and, among other things, strategies against the Locker Room Talk.
Stitch’n’Bitch: This is not about needlework. Photo Coralina Rodriguez Meyer
Sexualized violence against women – for more than 40 years this has been called for by various feminist (protest) groups (1). A simple and clear message is also that skin color or social origin as well as the gender associated with the birth should not play a role. Sounds quite understandable, even if that was not always on the agenda of feminist movements. However, the demand of a society without sexualised violence in patriarchy is rather utopia than usus.
Social changes can be sought from different perspectives. Within feminist protest practices, the lever is also used inter alia with contemporary interventions against sexualized violence (relationships) from an artistic-feminist position in order to realize the utopia of a world without sexualized violence to some extent. In the foreground are actionist art forms that work with textile displays, known as Critical Crafting, in (partly) public space and thus appear in the pop discourse.
The Pink Pussy Hats, which subvert the misogynous statements of current US President Donald Trump and became the symbol of resistance to contemporary feminist protests in pop culture, are presented as examples . When writing about the pop culture phenomenon of the Pussy Hats,meaning pink wool caps on women’s right demos, it is essential to reflect critical voices regarding this headgear as well as the representation practice in the context of the 2017 feminist demonstrations.
As a visualization strategy of common intentions, the Pussy Hats have appeared as a by-product of the Women’s Marches taking place in the Global West in January 2017. (2) These are handcrafted pink wool hats with cat ears that visually and linguistically use the term Pussy . They were created as visual metaphors to protest the Trump’s so-called Locker Room Talk .
This phrase refers to a conversation extract between Donald Trump and journalist Billy Bush of the Washington Post. It contains misogyny statements and shows the deeply sexist habitus of the US president. (3) The phrase “tomb ’em by the pussy”, resulting from the “easy talk of the lords”, went viral and was taken up ironically by feminists. During the demonstrations, the Pussy Hats served as a visual cipher for protesting the Women’s Marches (4). The demonstrations were criticized for maintaining a white difference feminism in which only the group of white middle-class women could be portrayed. Black women, Women of Color,Transgender women and other marginalized and intersectionally affected women’s groups would (again) not be considered by the feminist mass appeal. For example, bell hooks and Angela Davis made a great deal of attention in the 1970s to these invisibility and exclusion mechanisms. Your criticism regarding the above exclusion mechanisms is still current. There were also absolutely legitimate criticisms regarding anti-Semitist positions by co-organizer and spokeswoman Linda Sarsour. The sake of completeness called, but no longer be taken up.
The above-mentioned criticism of feminist protest practices in the US is transferred to the Pussy Hats . They, too, are denounced for standing for exclusive feminisms, because due to their color only white women would be able to enroll in the pink resistance symbolism. Furthermore, it was emphasized that they are trans-exclusive, as not all women read as women have a biological vulva or vagina; Thus, the term Pussy for this group is also discriminatory. (5) However, this criticism can be easily deconstructed from the aesthetic-visual language level, because the politics of visual culture function differently than individual political approaches. The pussy hatsact as a visual unification strategy of the different concerns of the subjects who want to rebel against Trump’s sexist statements, no matter what skin color and no matter which gender was assigned to them at birth. It must be asked in this discussion, whether now jointly against phallogozentristische discourses is intervened or the diversely structured category of women * should be visualized, especially as it is the visual return coach is an ironic statement that would not work if the term Pussywould not be picked up. In order to stay with the mechanisms of visual culture, the “power of evidence” 6 can be argued here: the sea of pink caps, to which the individual subjects merge, stands for a large mass, visually clearly as opposition to Trump, on behalf of heterocentric sexism in patriarchy, positioned. As an allegorical function in feminist protest, an intertextual work of imagery and text (“grave ’em by the pussy”) is completely interdependent. This means that the subversive affirmation visualized by wearing pink cat caps could not materialize without naming the term. Especially since the criticism, the pink hue would stand exclusively for the vulgarities of white women and the termPussy excludes trans persons, as to the allegory function of the Pussy Hats while wearing on the demo because of the ambiguity of the term is obsolete. In the ambiguity is the potential, because finally with the cat ears also clearly on the less vulgar connoted meaning of the Pussy term alluded .
As another example of artistic activism to highlight social ills, mention should be made of the Cunt Quilt , which also revolts against Trump’s misogyny using visual language armaments. The New York artist Coralina Rodriguez Meyer called on the Internet to send her underwear to make the Cunt Quilt, in Stitch’n’Bitch sessions. (7) The artist also encourages her addressees to submit the very dirty specimens wet with various body fluids. Her mission is to collect such long-worn linen and show it publicly in the Cunt Quilt until there is a president in the US.
The Cunt Quilt thus stands in the tradition of abject art practices, as they were implemented especially in the 1970s in the context of the second women’s movement by artists such as Ana Mendieta or Cindy Sherman. Abjection derives from French and means meanness or depravity. The Abject Art often works with disgusting substances such as feces, (menstrual) blood, various body fluids and provokes by these transgressive practices of socially accepted expectations provocative taboo breaks. The mentioned art practices are often provided with attributes such as “disturbing” and “irritating” or simply “disgusting”, but can still be interpreted as witty. Also the Cunt Quilt is in the course of theLocker Room Talks was created and used for demonstration purposes in public spaces at the Women’s Marches . Thus, the practice can be read as a performative “dirty laundry” to draw attention to sexism and misogyny through artistic action in public space.
The presented artistic interventions are thus understood as an amalgamation of different discursive strategies which, together with further socio-cultural or even legislative interventions, want to create a structural change in the current state of society: Equal coexistence of the sexes, without biological determination, sexual violence or class violence. or ethnic discrimination. The demand is actually not that utopian.
1 See Force Upsetting Rape Culture or The Antirape Movement in Barrie Levy: Women and Violence. Berkeley: Seal Press, 2008. pp. 135-164.
3 www.nytimes.com/2016/10/08/us/donald-trump-tape-transcript.html (called 28. 03. 2018)
4 In 2017, with three to four million participants, 2017 was the largest protests in US history.
5 www.iwf.org/blog/2805547/Distinctive-P- Hat-Deemed-Offensive-to-Transgender-Women (called March 28, 2018)
6 Sigrid Schade; Silke Wenk: Studies on visual culture. Introduction to a transdisciplinary research field. Bielefeld: Transcript, 2011.
Sarah Held lives in Vienna and has a doctorate in textile art for the visualization of sexual violence and femicides. For thematic relaxation, she teaches queer-feminist pornography at various Austrian universities. In her free time, she enjoys traveling with Girl Gang’s Street Harassment.