The title itself is an attention-grabber: DIY Rules for a WTF World. Then consider the cover illustration of the pink kitty ears that filled the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in January 2017, when more than a million women in handmade caps made “pussy grabs back” their rallying cry. Like those marchers, Krista Suh’s book refuses to be ignored.
The Hollywood screenwriter and knitter took an idea for staying warm and in two months turned it into a worldwide movement known as The Pussyhat Project. A year later, she’s written what could stand as The Feminine Mystique for her generation.
During a phone interview, Suh happily and fearlessly accepts being compared to Betty Friedan, author of the groundbreaking 1963 book that identified for bored housewives “the problem that has no name.” As she continues her predecessors’ fight for respect, Suh will stop at the Contemporary Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. this Wednesday (April 25) to sign copies of her own feminist guide, subtitled How to Speak Up, Get Creative, and Change the World. The 30-year-old also will discuss “artivism.”
Suh slowly changed her personal world when she allowed herself to be creative and have fun. “(Creativity) was certainly marginalized in my life — literally,” she says. “I was very much a cliché Asian-American good girl. I got straight As and I was pre-med.” But during biology classes at prestigious Barnard College, she found herself writing poems along the edges of her notes.
“All through my 20s, I reversed that,” she says. “I started making creativity the main part of my paper and moved the things that I wasn’t really, truly interested in into the margins.”
Suh thinks knitting is perfect for women’s protests because crafting is put down as the “feminine” or “domestic” cousin of art. The sexually suggestive pussyhat landed on the covers of Time and The New Yorker because it broke rules. “The content is revolutionary, but the form is really revolutionary, too,” Suh says. “They’re both subversive.”
Her latest fiber project, the evil eye glove, was adopted by gun-control advocates at March for Our Lives demonstrations. Expect to see more wearers keeping watch on politicians before November’s midterm elections.
Suh’s book swipes at “the patriarchy,” but in our interview she clarifies that she isn’t referring solely to men. “To me, patriarchy is the idea that there’s one right way of doing something. So if you’re a woman, a person of color or not the ruling class — surprise! — the way you’re doing it is not the right way.”
DIY Rules is written in the conversational tone of a BFF, rather than with the smugness or reserve of what Suh terms “the exceptional woman.” Eye-rolling by a skeptical reader quickly gives way to feelings of empathy and then empowerment as Suh shares her mistakes while offering women a toolkit for personal and global illumination.
“I call it ‘the bad-influence best friend,’ ” Suh says. Such a woman carries what Suh calls the “valid stamp,” ready to help confirm that your seemingly crazy idea is legit.
A pussyhat might sound silly by itself, but together they formed an impactful sea of pink. “I think looking at the women who came before you, you suddenly realize, ‘Oh, I’m not just a drop in the ocean, I’m part of a wave that’s going somewhere,’ ” Suh says.
While she feels a kinship with earlier leaders like Friedan, Gloria Steinem and Susan B. Anthony, Suh sets herself apart by encouraging today’s feminists to have fun and even be splashy.
Suh says older women who marched in 1960s and ’70s, plus those who never demonstrated before, approach her to say, “We’ve been waiting for you!”
“Patriarchy is one right way to do something,” Suh says. “Creativity means there are many ways to do something — and you get to choose. I think a woman’s right to choose goes beyond reproductive rights. It goes to how you choose to feel about yourself, how you choose to speak up, and how you choose to get involved. And for some women, they’ve chosen to be involved via knitting. And I think that’s a really powerful statement.”
Krista Suh discusses and signs her book 7:30 p.m. April 25 at Contemporary Arts Center, 44 E. Sixth St., Downtown. Free. More info: contemporaryartscenter.org.