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Mrs Jones, Crafty Maven

International Women's Day!

It’s International Women’s Day, the day to celebrate the achievements of women, but also to highlight the challenges we still face. The soft arts and domestic crafts have often been seen as something to rebel against. That they represent the oppression of women. Well, for a time that was true, but we now understand so much more the sources of inequality for women!

I recently watched the movie “Suffragette” on a plane, and I must say by the end I wanted to punch every man on that plane! Now I know you might be a bit shocked by that, a gentle lady like me…and it wasn’t these particular men on the plane that had been oppressing women in the early 1900s. But I felt angry that history had given such privilege to men and had been so cruel and oppressive of women. And to be honest because it reminded me that I still live and work in world that is dominated by men. I travel a lot for work and I have to tell you when you sit on a plane you are swamped by men in suits that fill more than their share of space…legs spread and knees into my personal space, elbows, newspapers, luggage creating a sense of privilege and ownership. I had a man on a plane last night grumpy with me because my tiny suitcase was squashing his enormous and important suit bag. It can be pretty darn suffocating at times.

When I was young and idealistic I was proud to be a woman foraying into a man’s world and showing them that I was just as good if not better at many things. I could knit, sew, cook, solve algebra, construct things from wood, renovate furniture, landscape and work in male dominated offices with pride. In my own naïve way I bought the message that equality was here and women could have it all. And have it all we did…all the kid wrangling, remembering doctor’s appointments, organising, working, costume making, present buying, birthing and breast feeding….being superwoman it turns out is bloody exhausting.

I’m afraid as I have become older, while I am still proud of my diverse skill set, I have also become more cynical and growingly frustrated to see on a daily basis that the glass ceiling still exists; that the statistics continue to show wage inequality, inequality in management jobs, in decision making jobs; that the gender balance in undergraduate classes is lost by the time it gets out in the workforce and management; that men (and dare I say old, white, middle class men) continue to make decisions for me and about me and my fellow women (and I know its not just women, its also our First Australians, our recent arrivals, our LGBT, our elderly, but as it is International Women’s Day so I am allowing myself this indulgence). That even though I continue to show my capabilities, assumptions are made about my abilities (and my weaknesses) and I must continue to prove myself. I was beginning to feel that i was just getting older and bitter until I sat at lunch with a table of women at work recently and they all started talking about their own experiences. That constant sense that you are being judged by a different set of criteria that you you must always prove your self, of constantly being  the only woman on some committee or meeting, of being counselled to be careful not to be emotional (if only we spent more time telling men to be careful not to be aggressive, we might go someway to dealing with domestic violence I suspect). It was such a relief to learn it was not just me with this niggling annoyance and growing frustration. Here was a group pf intelligent and successful women feeling the same undercurrent.

Now many men will argue differently that it is perceived bias. And there are lots of really amazing and supportive men out there (my gorgeous husband is definitely one), but I’m afraid you need to walk a mile in my size ten heels to really understand how subtle but pervasive it is.

But, dear reader you might be starting to wonder, what does this have to do with arts and crafts? When will I speak of soft yarns and cute knits? Well I guess what I think is true about crafting and the resurgence of craft among many women (sorry men, I am actually just thinking of women here) is that women are taking back ownership of the crafts, but by our own choice. We are taking it and owning it and it no longer owns us. And that is progress!

Happy International Women’s Day!

Women Knitting late 1800s

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Craftivism

Most of us craft because, well it just feels damn good! But craft also represents a whole bunch of things to different people and you may unwittingly be one of these folks!

I’m talking about Craftivism. Now in its most formal definition it is “a form of activism, typically incorporating elements of anti-capitalism, environmentalism or third-wave feminism, that is centred on practices of craft - or what can traditionally be referred to as ‘domestic arts’”. Thank you Wikipedia, that definition gave me a bit of a giggle the domestic arts sounding like some kind of dark arts and the whole definition sounding like the topic of someone’s PhD (I’m not knocking PhDs, I have one…that’s Dr Mrs Jones thanks!!).

But an explanation I found more useful was this one from the ‘godmother’ of Craftivism Betsy Greer “craft + activism = craftivism….[that] each time you participate in crafting you are making a difference, whether it’s fighting against useless materialism or making items for charity or something betwixt and between”.

And there my dears, is the thing. Even if you simply knit something because you want to craft something handmade and personal you are metaphorically ‘sticking it to the man’ by stepping off the mass produced merry-go-round that comes with a whole bunch of side debates about consumerism, sweatshops, impacts on the planet and so on. And while your materials may well belong in the mass produced category…the notion of making and making do are brewing within you and I think that is worth celebrating in itself!

Of course there are some far more powerful and direct messages coming from craft. This blog was, in fact, inspired by the Knitting Nannas Against Gas (KNAGs) here in Australia. I have been following these wonderful ladies (and gents…but mostly ladies) for a couple of years. They opitimise to me what the craftivism movement is about…gentle slow peaceful but dogmatic subversiveness!

The KNAGs stage the most peaceful of protests. Armed with deck chairs, a ball of yarn and a good cup of tea, these nannas have persisted for the long haul sitting (or rather knitting) in protest on a weekly basis at their local member’s offices. They attract little negativity (although a recent spate of hate mail is an exception) because, well, everyone respects their nanna! 

And just today, my mum handed me a postcard that had come from the Australian Conservation Foundation. It featured another mob of Knitting Nannas who are campaigning for the creation of the Great Forests Park. A quick search of the internet reveals that there is a movement of knitters using peaceful (with the exception of needle clacking, laughter and the odd slurp of tea) protest and the symbolism of ‘quiet women’s work’ to say we need to be heard.

And it’s not just knitting. There are some badass cross stitchers out there too! Many of these cross stitchers take the idea that the cross-stitch was often the voice of the ‘feminine’ mantra. These mantra’s being stitched and displayed so everyone could rest assured the woman of the house knew her place…and they turn it on its head. This collection includes such calls to action as “Wake up kickass repeat” and “A woman’s place is in the White House” and possibly my favourite “Ovaries before Brovaries” 

Then of course there is the rise of yarn bombing and guerrilla knitting. I was lucky enough to get involved with a local council organised yarn bombing exercise a few years ago with a bunch of friends and family - I knit Brisbane. Even though we had permission and the support of cherry pickers, there was a great sense of subversiveness in stitching mohair, sequined knitwear to kangaroo sculptures and giving a giant floral handbag to a statue of a judge. The city of Brisbane woke to a town dressed for the winter. The project was part of celebration of the ‘domestic arts’.

 

But why craft and subversiveness when craft seems to have a long history of defining women in a way that we have all struggled to escape? I guess crafting firstly and foremost is an expression of you! Even when you create a gift for someone, by making with your own little hands, with your attention and care for detail, you are gifting a little piece of yourself. The same with craftivism. When the world seems out of kilter and you are trying to make sense of an injustice, it can feel right to act from the heart and craft is one way to do that.

But craft is also a great way to bring people together. You can sit and quietly craft while discussing issues, working up protests or actions or simply interact face-to-face in a fast paced, social media world! I think of friendship quilts and how they have brought together crafters in the past. Working together to a common goal and purpose and craft as a tool for social change starts to make sense.

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