From Pant(aloons) to Pussy Hats: About Strategy, Change, and the Power of Political Statement – A Panel at the American Journalism Historians Conference in Little Rock, October 14, 2017

I had the privilege of joining Jane Marcellus, Tracy Lucht (standing in for Kimberly Wilmot Voss) and Caryl Cooper on a panel Jane arranged at the American Journalism Historians Association Annual Conference in Little Rock on October 14 with Erika Pribanic-Smith as our excellent moderator. We appeared last on the program, ending minutes before the call to gala celebration dinner at the Clinton Library.

Here is our group abstract:

From Pant(aloon)s to Pussyhats: Feminist Dress as Media Spectacle

This panel examines ways that women have historically employed articles of clothing and manners of grooming as symbols in feminist campaigns for social change. Because these campaigns often employed media spectacle, their symbolism is of interest to media historians. Examining 19th-century Dress Reform, early 20th-century suffrage garb, hairstyles across several eras, pants in the 1970s, and finally 21st-century “pussy hats,” panelists will discuss themes such as the disruption of gendered expectations (i.e. pants as naturally “male”), the use of traditionally feminine skills (sewing and knitting) to undermine and reframe symbolic oppression, feminist use of media and the news media’s treatment of them.

Here we all are as we finished our presentation. Jane is holding the pink knitted hat that Coline Jenkins gave me in the summer. She is the great-great granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and great granddaughter of Harriot Stanton Blatch. That is one charged hat. I posted about how I happened to receive it.

L to R, Erika Pribanic-Smith, Caryl Cooper, Jane Marcellus, Tracy Lucht, Brooke Kroeger

Caryl Cooper framed her presentation about the evolution of African American hairstyling as political statement.

Caryl Cooper, University of Alabama

Beyond Whipping It Back and Forth: Hair as a Symbol of Feminist Resistance

Long before Willow Smith’s 2011 call to young people to “whip your hair back and forth” as an act of resistance and resilience and Broadway’s Tony Award-winning production, “Hair,” which made it the symbol of the 1960s counter-culture movement, women’s hairstyles have been an integral part of feminist discourse and identity. This talk will explore the intersectionality of women’s hairstyles, feminism and resistance to political, economic and social oppression from the 1920s to the 1970s and their representation in media.

Caryl Cooper, University of Alabama, at the AJHA 2017 Conference in Little Rock, AR

Mine looked at the dramatic change in response to the fight for the vote in the final decade of the struggle from this vantage point:

Brooke Kroeger, New York University

 “When Women’s Suffrage Got Its Makeover On”

As the seventy-year campaign for woman suffrage neared its end, movement organizers astutely deployed style and color to the campaign’s distinct advantage. Harriot Stanton Blatch noted that spectacle was the movement’s most potent weapon. Borrowing a phrase from Walt Whitman, she told the New York Tribune in 1912 that, “Logic and sermons never convince.” More useful, she said, were emotions, music, marches, strength in numbers and a “sense of form and color.” This was evident in the resplendent costumes of the great suffrage parades of New York and Washington and in the dress of fashionable society dames, who could attract full-page portraits of themselves in magazines such as Harper’s Weekly or the New York Evening Post, replete with paragraph-long descriptions of their picturesque frocks alongside their organizing prowess, and in the notable absence of high color displays during wartime parades and events. In every instance, and to achieve varied objectives, the suffragists understood the power of clothing, form and color  to carry message.

Here’s a PDF of my slides:

AJHA – KEYNOTE – 14 OCT 2017 copy

Tracy Lucht of Iowa State University graciously presented on behalf of Kimberly Wilmot Voss, who could not be present.

Kimberly Wilmot Voss, University of Central Florida

Fashion as Feminism: Pants as Literal and Symbolic Liberation as Described by Newspaper Fashion Editors

In the late 1960s and into the 1970s, one fashion debate was whether women should wear pants in business and social situations. Dress reform had been an issue for decades, beginning with Amelia Bloomer and female suffrage. To some people, the wearing of pants symbolized a threat to gender distinctions at a changing time. For others, it was a form of liberation that was covered in the fashion pages. In 1957, The New York Times noted that physician Mary Walker was awarded the Medal of Honor for being one of the first women to wear pants and “other masculine clothing in public.” Pants were about more than clothing. As Gail Collins wrote in her book, When Everything Changed, pants became a theme for the complexity of gender roles in America in the 1960s and 1970s.

Tracy Lucht, presenting on behalf of Kimberly Wilmot Voss.

And Jane Marcellus presented our finale, looking at the use of symbolic clothing within the women’s movement over the past century as media spectacle.

Jane Marcellus, Middle Tennessee State University

Prison Garb and Pussyhats: Using Women’s Traditional Skills to Reframe Symbolic Oppression

In 1919, members of the National Woman’s Party who had been imprisoned and sometimes force-fed for picketing in front of the White House went on a national train tour, dubbed the Prison Special, to tell the story of their confinement and generate public support for suffrage. For the tour, the women stitched replicas of the coarse, shapeless, degrading uniforms they had been forced to wear while incarcerated. Almost a century later, women knitted or crocheted pink “pussyhats” for the 2017 Women’s March, again reframing symbolic oppression. This talk will compare these two events, discussing sewing and knitting as feminist acts and the power of using traditional women’s skills to rework oppressive symbols as part of a media spectacle.

 Here is a PDF of Jane’s slides.

Jane Marcellus- Prison-Garb-and-Pussyhats

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NHD contestants: Please read this.

Upcoming events: March 4: Westchester County League of Women VotersMarch 10: Keynote, Joint Journalism & Communications Historians Conference, New York City. April 15: Nassau County and Farmingdale-Bethpage historical societies at the Farmingdale Public Library.

The Suffragents in the news: Reviews of the book .  . . Notices and articles about the Suffragents . . . Brooke’s articles in various publications . . . Brooke’s “Summer Camp Newsletters,”  the logs posted real-time over more than three months of Suffragents launch events . . . and the Suffragents on Facebook.