The Modern Crafting Movement and Feminism

7 years ago

Every once in a while, a great article about crafting and feminism creates a lot of discussion. There are definitely the camps that want to bash crafting. Part of it might be a backlash against the word "crafting," as opposed to "craftsmanship" or "art." In fact, I have a friend who wants to bash pretty much all my activities because I label them with the word "crafting," instead of "art" or "drinking too much in bars late at night." I see it as a little like the 1990s -- when the punk rock girls and riotgrrls were taking back the word "slut," making zines, and daring to wear Hello Kitty barrettes.

Feminism is partly about letting people make their own choices. In the '90s, I was rejecting the perceived request of second-wave feminists -- that to be a feminist, I had to reject the girly. I was trying to figure out how to incorporate girliness without compromising my principles. Second-wave feminists might occasionally complain that we third wavers don't remember or appreciate all the work they did so that we had the space to make our own choices. I do appreciate it, but I want to WEAR my hot pink sparkly Hello Kitty push-up bra, not burn it.

And now, I want to MAKE the damn thing first. Because I can. Because it's fun. Because it's a valuable skill to be able to make your own things. Because I don't necessarily want the bras available to me in stores.

It's a natural progression. A little like being in an elevator and suddenly hearing a muzak version of a The Cure song. You may think, "WHAT IS THE WORLD COMING TO?!?" Upon further reflection, you might think, "Wow, this is really soothing in a horrible way, to a woman of my advanced 36 years. How nice that the music I got made fun of for listening to is now totally mainstream. Now there's room for new stuff. Please, children, build us some new stuff!"

There's a great article by Beth Ann Pentney, Feminism, Activism, and Knitting: Are the Fibre Arts a Viable Mode for Feminist Political Action?, in which she posits that the gap between second wave and third wave can be bridged by altering the idea of feminism to be a practice, rather than only an intellectual and political movement. Go read that article. Srsly.

Insinuating that women creating traditional crafts -- or nontraditional crafts, or traditional crafts in nontraditional ways, or whatever -- are not feminist seems just plain silly. Maybe they are feminist or maybe they aren't. If a woman is sitting around watching Glee and knitting after her job in Cubeland and then selling her work on Etsy instead of, oh, I don't know, creating a hellish corporate empire, crushing peoples' souls and will to live, strewing them in her path on her way to corporate greatness, it doesn't mean she is setting feminism back by 50 years.

Sewing and crafting household items was the domain of women for a very long time. Sometimes it seems that, through socialization, it still is. Hell, I'm a stay-at-home mom and I spend much of my time sewing (NOT out of necessity, but by choice). If I stop to think about it for more than a second, my brain practically explodes. How did I get here? This is not my beautiful wife... Why am I not a car mechanic again?

Gertie, from A Blog for Better Sewing, discusses this very nicely in her post Sewing and Feminism 101.

Prior to the advent of feminism, home sewing was wrapped up in all the other messy notions that prompted the need for women's liberation: The erasure of women into undervalued roles and social conditions that didn't allow for sustainable life choices choices outside of marriage and motherhood .. women began to detach themselves from domestic work and hence, home sewing became a less popular -- perhaps even ridiculed -- activity. We have the second wave of feminism to thank for many legal rights that women now have. But sadly, this era also saw the further decline of home crafts. For some, sewing might even have been considered an anti-feminist activity.

Gertie goes on to say,

This idea has, thankfully, largely been criticized by third wave feminists, who, for the most part, rejected the idea that to gain power women must inject themselves into traditionally male activities and give up any aspirations of domestic bliss. As these feminists saw it, disowning any activity that was traditionally feminine further compounded the cultural notion that women's work is meaningless -- that to do work of importance, we must take on traditionally male roles."

In the age of everything ready made, the act of doing it yourself is a subversive act, whether explicitly feminist or not. But consumerist society creates a backlash of its own, in the form of rampant marketing of expensive craft supplies to women. Fabric, yarn, sewing equipment, etc. can all cost absurd amounts of money. They often make me feel like I am giving in to consumerist society just as much, and maybe more, than if I just purchased everything ready made.

And this is where the crafting and feminism movement gets into trouble. This crafting business, this expensive "hobby," seems to me to be in the realm of a middle-class luxury. And as Amy Juschka, who blogs at, points out,

One of the third wave’s greatest accomplishments was its success in challenging second-wave feminism’s overemphasis on the experiences of middle-class white women. In second-wave feminism, the ground for challenging women’s oppression was to argue that the personal is the political; but that personal tended to be that of affluent white women. .. Keeping this in mind, one can then ask about feminist crafting and the assumptions therein. For example, knitting, in a sense, is a middle-class hobby. It, along with much crafting, is a luxury that many women cannot afford. And while the DIY ethic provides women with a sense of self-reliance it’s also a tad self-indulgent."

So true. I buy tons of fabric and spend way too much money on it. I justify it, though, when I go to the fabric store and find beautiful fabrics designed by a woman whose blog I read. Then I happily plunk down $15 a yard for it. The internet and blogging communities have made that one side of it transparent enough to me that I happily do it.

Where do you draw the line? How does thinking about feminism effect your crafting habits?

My image, originally posted here

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