Claws Come Out Over Pussy Hats at Pierson

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Members of the Pierson club Feminists United gathered with parents and friends to sew what they refer to as “cat hats.”

By Christine Sampson

The Pussyhat Project has arrived at Pierson Middle-High School, albeit with a different moniker; but the unmistakable pink hats featuring pointed corners that resemble cat ears have drawn controversy that now reaches beyond the halls of the school.

A recently-launched high school club, Feminists United, has been making and selling the hats as a fundraiser for The Retreat, the East End-based non-profit that helps victims of domestic violence. The sale took place Monday alongside a bake sale during school hours at Pierson with the permission of the school administration. So far, they have sold a total of 75 hats – some of which were donated to the club, and some of which they made along with parents’ and community members’ help at a recent Friday night knitting party – and have raised around $400.

According to its website, the Pussyhat Project says the origin of the hat is a symbol of the movement to demand fair treatment for women in today’s society and to de-stigmatize the derogatory connotation of the word “pussy” as a term for women’s genitalia. Thousands of people who marched in the Women’s March on Washington, D.C., in January wore the pink hats, which are typically knitted but can also be sewed from fleece.

“We chose this loaded word for our project because we want to reclaim the term as a means of empowerment,” the Pussyhat Project says.

Laura Perrotti, the mother of the Feminists United club president, said Tuesday the school administration had asked the club to not call them “pussy hats,” and the club obliged by calling them “cat hats” — because the name might be perceived as offensive.

But it wasn’t just the name that some found offensive — it was also the activity of selling the hats that ignited a social media storm Tuesday afternoon after pictures circulated on platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

“I don’t think the hats should be sold during school hours,” Janice D’Angelo, a parent who was one of the first to speak out against the hats at school, said by phone on Wednesday. “We can’t be for or against anybody, and those hats represent the vulgarity that came out of the presidential election and the march was directly related to that, and I don’t think that is proper for school.”

“No matter what the feminist group calls them, they are originally called ‘Pink Pussy Hats.’ I don’t need this in a school where my kids go every day,” Lauren Stuckart, another parent, said in an email to The Express.

Ms. Stuckart is “all for women’s empowerment,” and said she thinks the club is a good idea. But she disagreed with the sale of the hats at school because “these hats were used as a political statement for a women’s march against [President] Donald Trump. They can say all day that they weren’t political, but they are. Keep politics out of our school.”

Late Tuesday, after a report about the objection to the sale of the hats at Pierson appeared on the Channel 12 Long Island news network, Natalie Sepp, 16, the president of Feminists United, took to a private social media account to express her frustration. She posted a message that included profane language that appeared to target Ms. D’Angelo, who was interviewed by News 12. A screen-shot of that private social media post eventually made it back to Ms. D’Angelo, who posted the image on her own social media account.

Images of the posts, obtained by The Express, show the fallout: A string of comments and responses, some that appeared to berate Feminists United, the club’s sale of the hats, and Natalie and her mother themselves.

“How dare these white trash disgusting disasters be allowed to sell those hats at school. Wow I would march right th [sic] the principal and town and cause a scene!” one comment read.

A number of comments were posted in defense of the teen and her mother.

“Keep in mind that you are posting an error of judgment made by a 16-year-old – a teenager, not an adult. When you were 16 and felt attacked or upset did you ever do or say something impulsively that wasn’t the best choice…,” one comment read.

Ms. D’Angelo initially called Natalie’s post “violent.”

“Why is that OK for that to occur and there’s no repercussion to it? … That post demonstrated behavior in a negative way,” she said. “This is supposed to be a peaceful group, but that post did not show unity.”

Early Wednesday afternoon, Ms. D’Angelo said she removed the screen-shot from the original post on her Facebook page, and said the situation was being “twisted.” The comment thread remained through Thursday afternoon.

“I did nothing wrong,” she said on Wednesday. “I decided to take it down because I’m done. I’ve just had enough.”

Ms. Perrotti responded Wednesday by calling the situation “sad.”

“My daughter is raising money to help other people,” she said. “I wish my daughter didn’t say ‘f**k you’ after a woman was bashing her club, but she’s only a 16-year-old kid expressing anger like teenagers do. My daughter was venting to her friends, and as a result she was lynched.”

She said they are trying to take something positive away from it.

“It has elevated the awareness of the club and has made many people want to join in the efforts,” Ms. Perrotti said. “We don’t want to be known for the hats. The hats were only a fundraising mechanism. There are many other things the club wants to do, like a self-defense class, a speaker program and a film series.”

Sag Harbor superintendent Katy Graves initially released a statement Tuesday saying “the district supports the equal rights of all of our students and encourages their freedom of expression through positive actions.”

On Wednesday, Ms. Graves said she and Pierson principal Jeff Nichols have had several parent meetings and have responded to every person who has called or emailed about the issues. She said the club’s students and faculty advisers have decided they would only sell the hats after school, rather than during school hours. She declined to comment on specific student or parent cases.

“What their students and their leadership are saying is they don’t want this distracting from what their initiatives are,” Ms. Graves said. “I think this club has a very positive focus.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Ms. D’Angelo had removed her entire Facebook post containing the screen-shot along with the related comment thread.

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