On September 13, as the star-studded Met Gala 2021 was in full swing on New York City’s Upper East Side, Luna Matatas was in her Toronto home stewing. When she'd opened Twitter that night, she'd found herself tagged by users pointing her to a picture of the model Cara Delevingne, who was wearing a white vest emblazoned with red lettering spelling out “Peg the Patriarchy” — a phrase that Matatas says she coined in 2015, and filed to have trademarked in Canada in 2017 (the trademark was approved in 2018).
Matatas didn’t have any idea that Delevingne would be wearing an outfit incorporating the phrase, and at the Met Gala, neither the model nor Dior’s Maria Grazia Chiuri, who designed the outfit, seemed to credit Matatas at all. The most elaboration Delevingne gave when asked about her outfit referred to the sex act pegging. “If anyone doesn’t know what this word is, you’re going to have to look it up because I’m not going to explain it,” Delevingne said.
Matatas’ reaction was complicated: Part of her was “giddy” to see the phrase she’d come up with being given such a large stage. But she also felt a strong sense of injustice about not getting credit from a huge fashion institution and a white, cis woman with a platform. “This happens to small artists all the time,” she said on Instagram. “So much so that I have an assistant whose job includes finding and tracing people printing and selling Peg the Patriarchy. Remember that as a fat, queer, POC I am working twice as hard just to do what I'm already amazing at. From censorship to patriarchy to racism, all biz barriers specific to my social location. Enter sex shop co-owner at Met Gala with a custom designed vest with Peg the Patriarchy on it.”
A representative for Dior didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment from Refinery29, and a representative for Delevingne declined to comment. Lora DiCarlo, the sexual wellness brand co-owned by Delevingne, said in a statement: “Lora DiCarlo was not involved with the 2021 Met Gala.”
Until now, most of the people who co-opted “Peg the Patriarchy” were small Etsy shop owners who hadn’t realized the phrase was trademarked and who happily took their products down; Matatas even later befriended some of these creators. But, unlike these small businesses, Delevingne and Dior had the resources to research the term and properly credit it, Matatas says, which is why this particular use is so frustrating. “Having the conversation taken away from my brand and not being accredited is very patriarchal,” Matatas tells Refinery29. “Queens lift queens up, and it would have been so easy to just credit me.”
Legally, Matatas may not have much recourse, says Todd J. Braverman, a lawyer, former U.S. Trademark Office examining attorney, and a partner and current head of the U.S. Trademark Group at Pearl Cohen in New York. Delevingne and the designer don't appear to be selling "Peg the Patriarchy" vests, and Delevingne could argue that, at the Met Gala, she was simply expressing her values and making a statement. As such, this use of the phrase may be covered as free expression under the First Amendment. “Delevingne's First Amendment free speech rights would prevail over Matatas' trademark right," Braverman says. He adds that short phrases can be harder to trademark in the U.S. than names or logos, like the Nike swoosh.
But if Delevingne, the designer, or any other shop started to make and sell "Peg the Patriarchy" merch (the latter of which has already begun to happen on Etsy, Matatas says), Braverman would likely suggest Matatas send cease-and-desist letters. The sex educator owns a Canadian trademark registration for "Peg the Patriarchy," but the term isn’t trademarked in the U.S. (though “shred the patriarchy” and “patriarchy is a bitch” are). Even so, if Matatas can prove that she had previously sold "Peg the Patriarchy" merch to people in cities where the copycat sellers were now trying to sell products, her trademark rights might be enforceable in this case, Braverman says.
Matatas knows that right now, legally, there’s not much she can do about the situation she’s in with Delevingne and Dior, but just because something is technically legal doesn’t make it right, and the sex educator doesn't plan to stay quiet about what happened. She’s using this moment to speak up about small artists’ rights — and to clarify what she meant when she came up with the phrase "Peg the Patriarchy."
That last point has become increasingly important since, after it gained so much attention at the Met Gala, some folks on social media have pointed out problems with the phrase. "The 'peg the patriarchy' Met Gala outfit is only a dig on hegemonic masculinity if one accepts the premise it is degrading to be a man on the receiving end of anal sex — a premise which is not only itself homophobic, but is also a fundamental aspect of homophobic ideology itself," tweeted Stephen Molldrem, PhD, a professor who's done research on queer studies, among other topics. In other words, the phrase "peg the patriarchy" can be interpreted in a way that casts pegging in a negative, shame-inducing way that equates anal sex with humiliation, domination, or worse. In fact, pegging is often a pleasurable act, and as Matatas previously told Refinery29 in an article about pegging, “We know that anyone, even people with penises, can strap on [a dildo] and anyone, even people without penises, can receive strap-on play.”
Here, we ask Matatas about the power and limitations of the phrase she coined, and what she wants people to know in the aftermath of virality.
Refinery29: What does the phrase “Peg the Patriarchy” mean to you?
Luna Matatas: “I wanted to start these conversations about the ways in which equity is connected to our empowerment but also our erotic side. We play a lot with fantasy and power and we can use those metaphors in our social activism. It really is a metaphor. Pegging is a fantasy about anal penetration. But it’s not so much about anal sex. It’s not so much about cis-men. Because patriarchy has no gender — it’s a system and it affects everybody. We're all in a position of either power or subservient under patriarchy. Which doesn't work for anybody. So ‘peg the patriarchy’ is kind of saying, ‘Let’s subvert this. Let's not obey and be subservient. Let’s use this fantasy metaphor to shake things up.”
That makes sense. And you said you came up with the phrase in 2015, which was quite a year, with Donald Trump announcing his run for U.S. president and such. I’m curious how the phrase felt right in the moment and how it still holds up today.
“Right! Context obviously matters and I think it coming up then right before the election was also important. We were seeing this alpha dominance, we were seeing a lot of toxic masculinity — and those are the behaviors that anyone can embody, but they uphold the same system. And now we're seeing so many debates around bodily autonomy for people with uteruses and abortion debates. So we're, we're also in this vibe of, ‘Why are we still using this system? Patriarchy doesn't work. Let's stop using it.’”
When you decided to start selling merch with this phrase on it, what were some challenges you faced?
“It's been tough to merchandise it because patriarchy is also in business. And so, some graphic designers don't want to work with it and some companies don't want to print it or I often get treated differently [because of the word peg]. There's so much censorship on social media, especially for fat, POC people. It's been challenging but really fun.
What led you to trademark the phrase?
“Cause someone stole it. I saw people were using it. And usually, it's other small artists who are printing t-shirts too. Most people I reach out to and I say, ‘Hey, you know, can you not do that?’ And they're usually pretty good about taking it down... But with this... I'm a small business owner, so I don't have a legal team. It's me and a few staff. But in the aftermath of the [Met Gala], now my SEO is distorted, there's like seven copycats on Etsy.”
What do you want people to know about the way “Peg the Patriarchy” was promoted at the Met Gala?
“Not being accredited is very patriarchal. Patriarchy is subconsciously woven into a lot of things that we've normalized, like competitiveness and ‘power over’ instead of ‘power with.’ Subverting that means thinking, behaving, and questioning in different ways. And it's really uncomfortable to do that. Ideally, I would just love to see people talking about it more.”
You mentioned in your Instagram post that this has been especially difficult because you’re a small business owner, and added “remember that as a fat, queer, POC I am working twice as hard just to do what I'm already amazing at.” Can you talk a bit more about those dynamics, and why they’re important to this conversation?
“Thanks for the opportunity to do that, because I think that is the jelly in the sandwich. It's the fact that her world and access to power is so different from mine. This makes it even harder for me, and they make it harder for me to challenge them versus challenging another like-minded Etsy creator, who are usually really lovely and who are usually like, ‘Let me take it down. I didn't know.’ It can feel very disempowering to be reminded where your social location lands you. And, and so that's of the personal part where I'm like, ‘Oh, I have to not take this personally.’ With a thin, cis, white woman with a lot of power and privilege, of course, she has more access and it’s easier to get legitimized. I think it’s amazing I’ve been able to do it without that access to power and to do it in a way that’s true to my identity. There’s a lot of social justice power in living in this body and doing things from this body. For Cara too, there’s probably things where she probably gets judged by certain aspects coming from patriarchy in a heavily visible industry about bodies and modeling. It’s all connected.”
I know sometimes when a phrase goes viral, its meaning can be distorted or misunderstood. Do you see that happening online?
“Yes, some have made it about receiving anal sex and so it's been really personalized into the act. We forget the patriarchy is not a body and it's something that we're trying to disempower. And so the narrative has really gone much more into the act of pegging and what it looks like between two people and the implications of fantasy, like pegging, which people have different opinions about. I guess it’s also good people are talking about pegging, but it's not really rooted in the social justice piece of ‘peg the patriarchy.’”
That makes sense. I also wanted to ask you about some sentiments online that I saw, where people were saying it’s reductive to use ‘peg’ in this way because it sounds like it’s being used as a punishment, which it isn’t always, especially in LGBTQ+ spaces.
“My identity is also part of the vessel of this message. But it's humbling because I can't interpret every single meaning of everybody's perspective when I'm creating something. It's humbling to bump into other people's interpretations. Some of them, I think, are very valid. They are perspectives on pegging that don't work for some people in the way that they see their bodies, their sex acts, and their gender identity. For other people, it has been a way of dealing with internalized homophobia and so throwing pleasure at it through this specific fantasy. So anyone can have strap-on sex. Anyone can have anal sex, but pegging is just the derivative fantasy of this. But there's also an attachment to it, because it's something that cis, het men are identifying with, it feels like it's stealing from some of the other interpretations. But I just don't see it that way. I think it’s a fantasy, and our erotic imaginations sometimes use really painful things that we've internalized — such as homophobia or racism or sexism — and they throw pleasure at it. And so we enter into that erotic space through that connection bumping up against our dark sides. That's what kink is.”
What are your next steps?
“I’ve become more susceptible to people who have a lot of hate for the phrase or for feminism. So I’m trying to take care of myself... And my big focus has been trying to insert myself into a story that was being owned by somebody else. And so that means engaging in some conversations and also soaking up the amazing support from the community that has just shown up with fierceness and warmth. Right now I’m trying to reclaim my baby, my brand — and I'll create more things and this won't be the first time that something's stolen or the last time. But I would love to have the narrative come back to where it was originally rooted and have it be about dismantling the system.”
How can we all “Peg the Patriarchy” ourselves?
“So we first need to eliminate the gender binary. And so that means more gender expansiveness and gender diversity. It also means dismantling any of the social or institutional or political structures that are dependent on the gender binary and that default to men — that ‘men do this and women do that.’ I think it would be great for us to start to have those conversations more in the mainstream. And it would be great for everyone to start to see that patriarchy affects all genders, and the ways in which patriarchy reinforces a lot of the pain and discomfort people are living with.
So if you feel that men aren't allowed to express themselves emotionally and that's terrible, we should be talking about that. Patriarchy has decided these things. Questioning what we've learned about masculinity and femininity and the exclusion of other types of gender expression and how that's showing up in ourselves is important. That's going to be a really powerful motivator for people to start asking, ‘Where patriarchy is existing in my day-to-day life?’”
This interview has been condensed for clarity and length.