Posted on 1 Comment

Hearing and Seeing Isn’t Enough: Performative Allyship and Feminism


On January 26, 2017, TIME Magazine covered the Women’s March on DC, which many proclaimed to be the largest protest in American history. Large pink letters read, “THE RESISTANCE RISES: HOW A MARCH BECOMES A MOVEMENT” over that iconic, hand knit pussy hat, whose shadow grows onto the other half of the page.

The Pussyhat Project was started by Jayna Zweiman in late 2016. Zweiman had suffered a head and neck injury in 2012 that left her disabled. She eventually found refuge in the knitting community, and started the Pussyhat Project as a way of participating in the Women’s March without attending. The story blossomed, and her hat ended up on the cover of TIME Magazine.

The project, however, has received a lot of flak from both women of color and the trans community. Women of color stress that it is exclusionary because not all vaginas are pink. The trans community sees it as exclusionary because not all women have vaginas, and not all people that have vaginas are women.

Their website opens with a letter from January 14, 2018, which outlines how the founding principles are “inclusivity, compassion, creativity, personal connection, and open dialogue… It is an exciting and ongoing process, and these criticisms are part of it”. It later reads:

“There are some people who have felt invisible because of this project. Some have interpreted pink hats with cat ears as white women’s vulvas. Not all women have pussies. Not all pussies are pink. Our intent was and always will be to support all women. We hear some of you saying this symbol has made some women feel excluded. We hear you. We see you.”

But this begs the question: If you hear us, if you see us, are you taking into consideration what we have to say?

Despite whatever appeasements show up on their website, the narrative surrounding The Pussyhat Project caters completely to cisgender, white females, arguably the least oppressed intersection of women. While still claiming to be allies, these women continue to wear the hats.

This allows a space for people who agree with the narrative that the feminist movement should exclude transgender people. When a TERF shows up in a pink hat and sees others in the same regalia, she assumes she has allies, and the others with pink hats unknowingly strengthen her message due to association.

There are many who argue that this specific individual is a small section of the feminist community, and that transgender people should feel safe attending rallies. However, if you had a barrel of 100 apples and knew that one was poisoned, would you risk eating any of the apples?


TERF alert from the Women’s March in Vancouver

This woman felt emboldened to bring the sign because of the narrative of the hat. She is surrounded by countless other pussyhat-wearing women who don’t confront her, further strengthening the message of her sign. This image went viral immediately, exponentially solidifying the narrative of how the pussyhat, and movements associated with it, are exclusionary to transgender people.

Many liberals immediately react by saying that this woman shouldn’t be lumped in with the liberal agenda, and that for every one of her there are countless allies. This further separates transgender people and their allies because it minimizes the systemic struggles of transgender people to overreaction. Every time a trans person is murdered, cisgender people view the attacker as someone separate from their group, while trans people view the victim as an extension of themselves, often realizing that that could have been them if they weren’t as lucky. Saying that this woman doesn’t speak for them is a privilege.

Despite liberals claiming that this is a lone wolf, there are countless people that agree with her message that consider themselves feminists:

If we are going to foster an inclusive feminist movement, it is on the job of allies to understand the narrative surrounding their actions and presentation of self, to hold other supporters of the movement accountable for their actions and presentation of self, and to use our personal status and intersections to give voice to women whose intersections are different than ours, no matter the case. A movement excluding these properties just creates another underclass, under even more layers of oppression.

Want to be an ally?

Burn your hat.


Today is J21 and some are already back to brunch while the real struggle continues

1 thought on “Hearing and Seeing Isn’t Enough: Performative Allyship and Feminism

  1. Don’t burn your hat, that’s very wasteful. I’ve heard of some groups collecting hats, unravelling them, and making them into other garments to be donated.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.