Friday, August 19, 2011

On Why Knitting Is Bad Ass

I usually don't respond to inflammatory things on the internet, mostly because I doubt that I have anything relevant to add to the discussion, and also because I don't believe in baiting trolls. Peg Aloi, over at the Huffington Post, writes one of the most condescending and insulting articles on feminism that I've ever read: it's irritating enough to bring me out of my self-imposed blog hiatus. The article laments the rise of a performatively 'femme' feminism coupled with a return to the domestic. I knew the article was going to be bad from the fourth sentence, which reads, "Even BUST magazine is sponsoring a craft fair in NYC." I'm not entirely sure why this is news, since BUST's E-i-C is Debbie Stoller of Stitch'n'Bitch fame, and Stitch'n'Bitch happened nearly ten years ago, but apparently putting some effort into researching her topic wasn't something Aloi wanted to do.

Aloi's central point seems to be that being interested in anything feminine or girly makes one unable to be a "badass, strong, tough woman." Cupcakes are out, as are heirloom tomatoes and Hello Kitty; these are seen as signs of complacency. Being interested in these things apparently means that we have given up the fight, and that when the revolution comes, we'll be lolling around eating bonbons in our high heeled shoes. Our time would be better spent "learning how to shoot a gun, hot-wire a car, and manipulate our way into a bomb shelter." My first question there is why those particular skills would be useful (in fact, I'm pretty sure basic survival skills, like gathering, shelter building, and fire starting would probably be more useful, come the apocalypse), but I'm also not sure how knowing how to knit impedes my ability to do *any* of those things.

Aloi's arguments bother me in general because they're built on lazy generalizations and pat explanations, and they also bother me in particular because my idea of myself as a feminist (and, accordingly, the way that I negotiate the world as a white, middle class feminist) is so central to my identity. (In fact, one of my student evals from last year took issue with my "feminist viewpoint".) Despite the fact that I have completed16 different knitting projects this year, I am not complacent about the obstacles that women face in society. I'm a young woman with a sizable chest who teaches at a university; I've had men say to me, "Oh, if my college professors had looked like you, I'd have paid more attention." I have to work hard to be taken seriously. Being a feminist is important to me; I believe that I have an obligation to interrogate the world as I find it and to work towards a society that is both more equal and more just. And I'm one of the lucky ones--I come from a position of privilege, and I know it.

Where does knitting fit into this? A better question to ask might be, Why is knitting an UNfeminist thing to do? Because it's "old"? Because it's domestic? Because it privileges the home? For my part, I've actually learned more about women's bodies from being a knitter. I've also learned a lot about discourses of power through the various groups that I'm involved in on Ravelry. Knitting isn't an inherently feminist act by any means, but I choose it as one. A big part of feminism for me is defying people's expectations of who and what I should be: a knitter who is a gamer who is a writer who likes to cook who used to blacksmith who would like to take up get the picture.

If it's not her kind of feminism, that's fine. What's not fine is this reductive feminism (descended, perhaps, from the second wavers?) that wants to limit the value of women to certain occupations and hobbies that are deemed "worthy" of our time and attention purely because they are masculine and therefore "bad ass".

Here are 5 knitting projects that I think are quite bad ass (some NSFW):

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