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Those pink hats, that vulgar word: Now a rallying cry against President Trump

Those pink hats, that vulgar word: Now a rallying cry against President Trump
Cecilia Crocker, 63, of San Francisco and her daughters Samantha and Stephanie Crocker and their friend, Rachel O'Reilly, protest the policies of President Trump at the Women's March on Washington on Saturday. (Robin Abcarian / Los Angeles Times)

Who could have guessed that a vulgar, sexist conversation between a future president and an entertainment journalist would not just normalize a word that has always made us cringe, but provide a rallying cry for a reinvigorated feminist movement?

On Saturday morning, as I came out of the Metro near the Verizon Center in Washington, and saw a sea of pink "pussy hats" stretching forever, I realized that President Trump's infamous vulgarity has not just been co-opted by his opponents, but weaponized in the fight against his campaign promises and policies.

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The mass demonstrations around the country and the globe on the day after Trump was inaugurated were about several things: his stance on abortion and reproductive rights (an overwhelming theme of protest signs); religious and racial discrimination; and climate change.

These fears are not unfounded. Already, Trump is turning back the clock on reproductive rights. Tuesday, he reinstated a Republican Party favorite, the "global gag rule," which denies foreign aid to organizations that provide abortions or even discuss the procedure as a healthcare option. He and his congressional allies support defunding Planned Parenthood, which provided healthcare to nearly a million mostly low-income Californians last year.

Despite the gravity of these issues, protesters shared a kind of lightness, accomplished with a sly humor that seems almost entirely lacking in our new chief executive.

Melania Trump turned up twice wearing outfits with what is called a pussy bow, and fasion sleuths mused that perhaps it was a calculated nose-thumb to critics. (Jan. 20, 2017)

People were exuberant, energized and funny: "We need a leader, not a creepy tweeter" was an oft-heard chant on Constitution Avenue, as crowds of demonstrators streamed past the south side of the White House. "1962 is calling," read one of my favorite protest signs. "Don't answer!"

The once-verboten word was everywhere, spelled out or implied. One wordless poster, by German illustrator Lennart Gabel, showed Trump grabbing the Statue of Liberty by the crotch, which is what he told "Access Hollywood's" Billy Bush in 2005 that he does to women.

The new ubiquity of this word is a measure of how fast standards are changing in the era of Trump.

Women's body parts — and their names — have always been the subject of prurience, squeamishness and shame.

One protest sign at the women's march is a statement on President Trump's vow to turn back the clock on reproductive right
One protest sign at the women's march is a statement on President Trump's vow to turn back the clock on reproductive right (Robin Abcarian/Los Angeles Times)

On Saturday night, I watched a performance of Lisa Loomer's new play, "Roe" at the Arena Stage in Washington. Its two main characters are Sarah Weddington, the young attorney who argued the Roe v. Wade case before the Supreme Court, and her client, Norma McCorvey.

An early scene set in the late 1960s features women, with speculums and mirrors, trying to find their cervices, in the style of "Our Bodies, Ourselves," the breakthrough self-help book.

The consciousness raising has never really stopped.

In 2000, I was standing on a sidewalk in Los Angeles outside Campanile restaurant, waiting for my car. I was on my way to see a controversial play with a group of women. An older couple standing next to us casually asked what we were seeing.

I remember stammering and blushing as I coughed up, "The Vagina Monologues."

They laughed nervously and turned away.

More than a decade later, I remember not being able to comfortably say "Pussy Riot" aloud when members of the Russian arts' collective were being persecuted by their government. Now, that discomfort seems quaint.

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Still, for many women, the p-word does not easily pass the lips.

"I don't feel comfortable using it," said Cecilia Crocker, a 63-year-old Colombia-born San Franciscan, who marched in Washington with her daughters, Stephanie and Samantha. "I am not a prude, and I use a lot of words that are not ladylike, but this is a word Donald Trump would use, not me."

A protestor at the Women's March on Washington holds posters by German illustrator Lennart Gabel.
A protestor at the Women's March on Washington holds posters by German illustrator Lennart Gabel. (Robin Abcarian/Los Angeles Times)

Likewise, her 31-year-old daughter, Stephanie Crocker, a San Francisco prop stylist, said "it's not a word I would have thrown around before." But she was struck during the campaign by a much-viewed exchange between Republican strategist Ana Navarro, a vocal Trump opponent, who repeatedly used the word, and Scottie Nell Hughes, a Trump supporter.

"Will you please stop saying that word," Hughes told Navarro. "My daughter is listening."

"Don't tell me you're offended when I say [it]," snapped Navarro, "but you're not offended when Donald Trump says it. That is just absurd."

It is exactly this kind of hypocrisy that gave rise to the pink hats and the in-your-face display of a word that is not ordinarily used in polite company.

But civility in our public discourse is a thing of the past.

Women have embraced their nasty side. And we have no one but Trump to thank for that.

Twitter: @AbcarianLAT

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