Ladies: It Matters How We Talk About Crafting

Ladies: It Matters How We Talk About Crafting | The Zen of Making

It all started with a couple of particularly obnoxious photo-and-quote posts. You know the kind: the vintage-y craft-related images with sassy phrases written across them that end up plastered all over Facebook? Yeah, those.

Now, truth be told, I’m not a big fan of photo-and-quote posts under the best of circumstances—the grammar is usually terrible and the images are often used without giving credit to the source—but, much like political rants and baby-related over-sharing, I generally have the good sense to ignore them. Tons of people love sharing that sort of thing, and if it makes them happy, I think they should keep doing it. (I mean, we all know that I post way too many cat photos every day. Far be it for me to judge!)

The problem is, these two posts—a run-of-the-mill tee-hee-I’m-being-naughty-and-crafting-instead-of-doing-housework-please-don’t-tell-my-husband post and a tee-hee-girls-can’t-do-math-better-buy-lots-of-fabric post—felt different than the usual FB fodder. Maybe it was because they showed up back-to-back in my newsfeed. Maybe reading Emily Matchar’s Homeward Bound had me paying more attention to feminist issues. Or maybe I just needed more coffee. Whatever the reason, on that otherwise uneventful Wednesday morning, the fact that smart, capable women were sharing these posts with other smart, capable women stopped me dead in my tracks.

First: Wait. What? Y’all know that sewing/knitting/crochet/quilting/etc. is actually math, and that grown-ass women are capable of making their own choices (responsible ones, even!), right?

Of course you do. I mean, I already mentioned that you gals were smart.

Second: Dude, are these really the messages that we want to be sending our daughters (and, for that matter, our sons) when we talk about women and making?

No, I didn’t think so.

Turns out, the longer I make my living as a professional craft writer (read: someone who does traditional women’s work as a job), the less patience I have for fellow women perpetuating harmful gender-based stereotypes under the guise of talking about their chosen crafts.

I have an idea: How about we stop telling our girls that they can’t do math and start talking about the practical, often difficult geometry that sewers and fashion designers do every day like it’s no big deal? Or, instead of giggling about how our husbands are going to kill us for going to the craft store again, why don’t we focus on the fact women all over the world are turning those same supplies into viable handmade businesses? And can we please start pointing out that, in addition to developing skills that are useful in their own right, making and crafting promote fine motor skills and problem solving abilities that translate nicely into fields like engineering, electronics, and scientific research? (Gasp!)

If you ask me, it’s high time we stop devaluing crafts. Making isn’t frivolous; it’s how we make discoveries and get things done!

Now that we’ve gotten that sorted out, let’s start respecting both our skills and each other.

23 thoughts on “Ladies: It Matters How We Talk About Crafting

  1. Good points all. However I have a bit of different take on it. Yep, guilty of liking the “I’m crafting instead of doing housework” one.
    Don’t think of it as anti-feminist (is there such a word?) just letting the world know that I have my priorities straight. Trust me the dust and dishes will still be there when I come back from my creative journey. And the men in my life (only female in the house besides several of the animals) know that if the condition of our surroundings is not to their liking, well, they are more than welcome to pick up the sponge and do it themselves.
    Now I haven’t seen the one about hubby being mad about a foray to the craft store. It’s highly possible that my friends know the words don’t apply to me in the least so they’ve not forwarded it. At my house it would probably me more appropriate to have a man on the poster saying “Just wait until my wife finds out what I just spent at Rock Auto. But damn the new headers are going to be glorious!”
    Anyway, keep doing what you’re doing here. Love your blog and the info you share. Have a great one!

  2. I have often written about how crafting leads to increased creativity in other areas of your life from problem solving to thinking outside the box. On FB I have “liked” lots of pages from beading to knitting so I see lots of craft memes and Pinterest type quotes that annoy me and I just scroll past them shaking my head thinking what were they thinking? But what bothers me more is the trend of what I call “adorable writing”. I think is sending girls and teenagers who read DIY blogs a much worse message about writing.

  3. Thank you for addressing this topic. As a woman who remembers feminism coming into vogue in the 60′s, I am grateful and opinionated about it. I talk to my daughters and granddaughters to be sure they know how precious and hard won it has been. I do not hide my craft or fabric purchases from my companion. I do not tolerate condescending comments, or demeaning FB posts. Crafting and quilting is NOT “just my hobby.” What I do is important and valuable.
    Janie Holbrook recently posted..Crossing the Bosphorus

  4. I think we should be as careful of what comments like this sound like to all men (not just “our sons”). We hear “tee hee, isn’t that funny”, they hear “crafting is for gold-digging, lazy leeches who waste our money while we’re working hard”.

  5. I do a lot of crafting: quilting, sewing, cross-stitch, tatting, etc. I’m a full-time librarian and all of the other crafters I know are smart, accomplished, professional people. But as women, it feels more natural to disparage or dismiss our own talents so as to appear more accessible and feminine. Maybe the next challenge for feminists is to look inward and ask ourselves why?

    Anyone else think Tiny Fey is a goddess? Jack Donaghy may have been the one to say “Be a white man. Take credit.” But it was a woman writer who put those words in his mouth.

  6. Love it! I’ve long said that there was no difference between the engineer part of me and the sewing part of me. In my head, I consider sewing and engineering to be doing the same thing. But when I sew, at the end of the day instead of having a pile of ethereal code, I have something that I can touch and feel and share with people who aren’t engineers. I love that!

  7. For me, the “my husband will kill me” issue has to do with husbands not valuing their wife’s hobby, and thinking of it as something she does “just for fun”. If a wife gets mad at how much her husband spends on golf, he gets mad at how much she spends on scrapbook paper, for example. Or maybe the other way around. But either way, to me, that is an issue of not communicating about finances within a marriage more than specifically a woman’s rights issue. That said, I agree that we as women who craft need to be aware of how we portray ourselves, and not play stupid when it comes to the traditionally male aspects of crafting and blogging, ie, the math, technology, and power tools. To me, those things are a fun part of my hobby.
    Leah recently posted..Chickenwire Earring Holder

  8. Thanks so much for writing this post! You are making such a good point. I think it’s interesting, as well, that many of the (admittedly few) male crafters don’t do this! They immediately take what they do seriously and discuss more serious topics, it seems. There is a bit of soul-searching that ought to happen about why we would devalue this hard work.
    Melissa Q. recently posted..fall and winter classes

  9. YES. Thank you. These make me cringe when I scroll past them on Pinterest, etc. I think all of the above comments are valid points, and I have to admit to being completely single and not having to worry about justifying my purchases to anyone else – but for me, these are just one example of the way feminism / sexism are marching backwards. For a while it was inching, now it’s marching. After all, these are times that *need* a site like Everyday Sexism, that shows ads on tv (here in the UK, at least) about how moms just love doing the shopping for the kids as it was the Donna Reed show, and no woman with a spare pound to their hips is allowed on screen. To me, these meme things feel like a kind of defensive move – making fun of your own ‘silly’ hobby before someone else has the chance to. I wish instead they said something like ‘wow, I sure am exhausted from working my ass off on that quilt all day, which will be used to keep my loved ones (or someone willing to pay me lots of money for my work) warm for decades.’

    I guess that’s just not as catchy. :)
    Julie recently posted..Vintage Sunday: Painting!

  10. Both of my parents were crafty, so I never experienced and would not tolerate the sniping about it wasting money or feeling like it was something that needed to be hidden.

    It took me into adulthood to appreciate that crafting (of any kind) is still firmly divided into boy’s and girl’s worlds. Women get quilts, sewing, knitting. Men get woodwork, miniature painting, and building model planes and trains.

    I worked at a fabric store for 3 years, and in that whole time, never once had a man come in for a sewing project–the only thing they came in for was the stuff you put on car ceilings.

    I guess it ties back into an idea that a real man doesn’t care about fashion unless he’s gay, and since women know jack shit about engineering or military history why would they ever care about modeling?

  11. Great post! Isn’t it absolutely ridiculous how anything that culturally gets put in the feminine box gets devalued?! Many people are extremely out of touch with how to make, fix and maintain just about a majority of the things they wear, use, eat etc, at least in developed countries; this is a travesty. This lack of connection is what creates such a wasteful way of living, throw away and buy new. People making and selling and otherwise doing are on the forefronts of the sustainable movement oftentimes. Making is very difficult and it should not be belittled. This reminds me of something I read. Apparently before the 50′s in America the color pink was associated with males and blue with females because “pink was powerful and blue was soft and delicate”. It just shows how as soon as something gets associated with women or femaleness it loses value for absolutely no other reason. Great post.

  12. Totally agree with your comments about the way we can portray our craft interests. I leaned crotchet from my Welsh grandmother, sewing and knitting from my mother. My Scottish grandmother was a wonderful seamstress, sewing silk shirts for Enrico Caruso when he visited Edinburgh. These were strong women who gave their families things they would otherwise have missed were it not for their creativity. No one would ever have sneered at their craft. So why now, in the 21st century, do we have to pretend that what we do is not meaningful? Even if it is only for our own satisfaction, it is still important.

  13. Pingback: The Adventures | Tara Swiger

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