Everyday feminism and knitting

Cross posted

When I think about the core of feminism for me, I come up with this:

it is [recognising] that women are autonomous adults, capable of making decisions for themselves, of being rational and competent, of conceiving of a vision of the good life, and making choices in order to achieve that vision of the good life.

Or to put it in Stef’s fine words – being a feminist means that you are free to fuck up. Your life, your decisions, your responsibility. Just because you are an autonomous adult.

I’ve taken that from a post I wrote a year or two ago, about why feminists must be pro-choice.

Thinking in terms of autonomy means going further than just making choices. It means that a person has not only made a choice, but that choice is considered, it is unconstrained, it can be put into practice, in the longer term, it adds to her status as an adult.

But that’s all very abstract, very much a theorised position, rather than a guide to everyday living. How feminism manifests in my life is a different matter.

Part of the way it plays out is in the relationships I form with other people, which I try to base on respect. Respect for them as people, respect for their purposes. That respect can include criticising their choices, or approving of them. It certainly involves holding them responsible for those decisions. Only children and some people whose capacity to act autonomously is in some way diminished are immune from responsibility. Being up for criticism is part of being adult. Equally, those who criticise are responsible for what they say. There are no one way streets for adults.

Partly it plays out in listening to women’s experience, and understanding that if someone says that her experience is A, B, and C, then really, it is not up to me to tell her what her experience is, nor that her experience doesn’t matter in the light of my theory. Shut up and listen already is a very, very useful heuristic to live by.

Feminism sees me viewing everything through a gender lens. A gender analysis is my first approach to an issue. Does this affect men and women differently, and if so how, and does it matter? Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn’t, sometimes it just doesn’t matter.

Feminism pushes me to think in terms of inclusion and exclusion, not just for women, but for anyone who doesn’t fit into the nicely fitted moulds of contemporary society. The teenagers’ reading room at the library is great for teens, but deeply exclusive for pre-teens who want to read the books held there. The ramp up to the first floor entrance to the library means that everyone can get into the library, but it’s a long way further to go for people using mobility devices. Sitting on a work table while lecturing may mean nothing to pakeha students, but it causes a jolt of discomfort for many Maori students, making the room a difficult place for learning. And so it goes.

Feminism means that I value women’s work. The first time I went to the Royal Adelaide Show, I was astonished to see displays of knitting and sewing and lacemaking, even tatting, baking and preserving, quilt making and embroidery. Well, not so much the quilting and embroidery, but the trays of ginger crunch and filled sponge cakes and jars of jellies amazed me. That one could enter a competition for such things, and get certificates. Very, very old-fashioned, I thought. And then I thought again, because it could be seen as a celebration of women’s work, of the things that so many women do so well, every day, but because it is housework and home care, baking and cooking rather than creating meals like a chef, it is not valued. My feminism values and celebrates that work.

And my feminism values women’s spaces. For some years, I belonged to a book group. We were a group of women ranging in age from early thirties to late fifties, we read classic works and every six weeks or so, we got together on a Friday night to talk about them. The conversation would start with the book we had all read, then move on to Jane Austen (of course!), and from there segue to work and family and children and current events and partners and on and on. Some of the women in the group were explicitly feminist, some were not, all of us enjoyed each other’s company, and we enjoyed the women-space. The group functioned differently from gender mixed groups I have been involved in, and I suppose it functioned differently from all-male groups, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you about that (pace Jane Austen and conversations between men). I couldn’t say that the all-women group functioned better than mixed groups I have been involved with, because that’s not the point. Nor would I describe it as feminist, although as a feminist, I valued the women’s space that it created, just as a place to be.

So is knitting feminist? No. Not in itself, and not every feminist knits, nor does every feminist like knitting and crafting work. (Though it’s hard to go past these daleks created by a feminist of my acquaintance.) But when a group of women get together, and knit, or bake, or garden, or read books, or engage in the slow conversation of blog posts, then with a feminist eye, I see the joy of creating space for women to be.

None of which means that men’s work, men’s spaces, are not valuable too. Nor that a group such as my book group must always be women-only. Nor that men can’t enjoy craft work. Nor that a blog tagged as feminist is necessarily a space only for women. Just that as a feminist, I recognise and value the way that women’s work and women’s spaces can enable women to flourish.


7 comments on “Everyday feminism and knitting

  1. Jackie Clark says:

    I appreciate your ability to articulate your feminism, and I am very aware that my feminism is not informed by theory, but it does come from the same place that yours comes from. What I find very hard to talk about is that there are women in this world who act in ways that do not align to my feminist beliefs. Who do not, in my eyes at least, add anything to the ongoing struggle which is the feminist one. I have no qualms about sex work, or female driven porn, as a feminist. Sex workers, in my eyes, work at something which I can value and appreciate. I support their struggles, and I understand their choices. My difficulty will always be with young women (usually) who live their lives unthinkingly. Who do not understand that every time you call yourself a girl, every time you bitch about other women, every time you get your tits out for the boys, every time you use your body to denigrate both yourself and other women – every time you do any of those things, and more, you keep all women in a place we have been struggling to get out of, forever. I know what empowerment is, what it looks like, and so I support a woman’s choice to do whatever she wants, whenever she wants. Good god, I spend all day trying to short circuit sexist traditional rhetoric for little girls. Am I just old and redundant? Am I behind the times? Am I wrong? I don’t know – but I appreciate that the discussions over a variety of online communities over the last few days has made me think even more about what I believe.

  2. WittyKnitter says:

    Here’s the thing about respect: it can lead you to odd places. Our Knitter’s Guild recently put out its annual reports prior to the AGM. In the membership report is the information that we have ‘six male members’. wtf and ffs and all that, I thought. But really, if it’s women’s work, maybe we should report this as an oddity?

    I’m not sure I want to celebrate domestic work as ‘women’s work’ – it’s work necessary to keep the family fed, I guess – but then I don’t count knitting as domestic work. To me it’s in a different category from baking; it’s a craft which, although it is basically for clothing, keeps changing and growing and creating new ways to express yourself (eg Megan’s Daleks). The kind of baking done at shows is, well, dated, in my view,and doesn’t really celebrate women so much as women’s ability to make things according to a strict set of rules. The politics of rules and judging at shows is unbelieveable, and I’ve often thought there should be a novel in it.

    For example, there has been a brawl going on here for years to try and bring the categories of knitting work for the NSW Show up-to-date, with only limited success. It’s hard to fit some of the new designs and ideas into the existing categories of ‘8-ply knitted jumper: adult’ etc. There’s even uncertainty about where to put silk objects: when they brought in the new category for garments including silk a couple of years ago it was listed as a plant fibre (!) and we can’t seem to get it changed. Megan’s Daleks wouldn’t get a gurnsey (haha) in the NSW show – the knitted toy category awards are dominated by knitted clowns from published sources, despite several concerted attempts to ‘take over the toy cabinet’ with more original ideas.

    To me feminism celebrates women’s achievements, whatever they are. The stuff that wins prizes at the shows, in just about every category, is stuff that makes people feel safe. I’d like to think that feminism wasn’t like that. And in your first eight paragraphs you articulate that brilliantly.

  3. demelza says:

    my feminism comes from my upbringing and my life so far, its guides my thoughts and actions, its just about a spiritual belief in many ways..

    I dont knit, but I do sew, I make clothes for my children and for myself, I make things for income, for independant spending that I dont have to justify. so maybe my sewing is feminist as it empowers me to do things for me.

    Are you going to start a book group here? I would be keen to join one…

  4. Mindy says:

    Slowly but surely the men’s names on winning jams, chutneys, cakes and scones etc are increasing at the Yass show. I get a kick out of knowing that my son and daughter will grow up assuming that anyone can enter these competitions if they want to and it doesn’t matter if your name is John or Daphne all you have to do is be good enough.

    @Jackie -at times I find myself looking at some younger women and asking myself ‘Is this what I’m fighting for?’ and I think the answer is still yes. I’m fighting to give them the space to make the mistakes that I made, to come to their own realisation about how it can suck. Some of them won’t, some of them will resist and wish that they could just be ‘looked after’, and some of them will become fighters too. If I can give one young woman space to realise that maybe feminism, or whatever she chooses to call it, is better for her and her children in the long run then I think I’ve done a good thing.

  5. demelza says:

    I am still fighting, and I look at my 3 daughters and my son and want for them to have equal opportunites regardless of gender but for this to happen Women have to keep fighting

  6. […] Some (at times heated) discussion on the nature of modern feminism, and more, was sparked by Maia’s post at The Hand Mirror, Is this what feminists look like? Ideologically Impure answered with This is what this feminist looks like, In the Gateaux responded by debating third wave feminism and BeeFaerie mused on everyday feminism and knitting. […]

  7. […] a community and reading and crafting link: Everyday feminism and knitting by Deborah at A Bee of a Certain Age: But when a group of women get together, and knit, or bake, or […]

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