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!