Monday, August 29, 2011


Summer's over!  Summer's over!  Eeeek!  (I feel like Chicken Little.)  Classes started on campus today; my classes start tomorrow.  I've spent all day finalizing my syllabi (why does that always take so much longer than I think it will?), and getting them uploaded into our online course containers (and why does that always take so much longer than I think it should?!), not to mention fighting with our lovely management program to get it to fork over class lists and permission numbers (that would be the multimillion dollar system that takes longer to load pages than my aged grandmother pouring molasses in the Arctic)(note: no aged grandmothers were harmed in the writing of this post).  But that's mostly under control, leaving me to hyperventilate quietly in a corner, worrying that I've forgotten something and that I'll walk into class tomorrow with lipstick on my teeth and toilet paper on my shoe.  You know, a usual beginning-of-semester day.

What this also means is that, although I've been knitting, and have even finished some knitting (Stripe Study is done!  Younger Daughter's socks are done!), and have cast on for something new (more on that next time), I have no photographic evidence of the aforementioned knitting successes.  Alas.

However, I did see something on Erica's lovely blog that caught my attention.  It was a link to this article, entitled Tough Gals: Do They Still Exist?  (Note: The use of the word "gals" in the title probably should have alerted me to its blood-pressure-raising content.)  In that article, knitting (along with, oddly enough, making cupcakes) is explicitly blamed for modern women's lack of toughitude.  (Gun-toting and car-hot-wiring are apparently the skills that we knitters lack that would help us to achieve modern feminist womanhood.  I don't think that the word "feminist" means what the author of the article think it means.)

Now, my first reaction was to foam quietly at the mouth.  I thought long and hard about writing a post about all the reasons why this kind of thing makes me foam at the mouth, but Erica already did it for me, and did it beautifully.  However, after taking some deep breaths, drinking some tea, and spinning with my lovely little office spindle (pttthhhbbttt!), I had calmed down enough for my inner linguistic anthropologist to take hold.

And my inner linguistic anthropologist said:  Hunh?

I love "hunh" moments.  I tell my students to watch for them.  Because the moment you say, "Hunh.  I wonder why that person did/said that, in that way?", in that moment, you've got a little string to pull.  A little string that hangs off the whole fabric of a particular cultural world.  And if you pull on that string, tug at it patiently, slowly but surely you can get to see all kinds of interesting things about how that fabric is put together.  Just as dropping some stitches down a piece of knitting and then working them back up to the needles can teach us more about the structure of a knitted fabric than almost anything else, so can pulling a little "hunh" thread teach us about the world we live in.

In the end, it's all data.

So, hunh.  I wonder what it is about knitting that makes it an index of anti-feminism?  (And I should say that this is by no means the only place I've seen or heard this.)  I mean, as something that is indexical of women, couldn't it also become a symbol of feminism?  Is it a particular kind of womanhood that knitting calls to mind?  (Come to think of it, is it a particular kind of knitting that calls unfeminist womanhood to mind?)  And why knitting and cupcakes, of all things?  Why are cupcakes particularly anti-feminist?  Why isn't woodworking considered a backward-looking symbol of luddite masculinity?

So many questions.  This is why I think the knitting community is worthy of study - we are clearly oversimplified in the mind's eye of the culture within which we live.  And this is just more data, right?


Willow said...

Usually, I just wonder what actually prompted the post or comment. People are incredibly complex and who knows what pushes somebody's buttons. Girls can just be so catty (domesticated or not) to each other. I normally just figure that it's probably PMS. Like when a macho guy races around me on the freeway and then jumps off at the next exit--I assume he really needs to pee. Whether it's true or not, it makes me laugh. Which is the best way to deal with Huh? moments and I suppose the Hunh? moments too.

Off to hot wire my toaster oven or something just to prove I can...

Lynne said...

I read the article and dismissed it as just another point of view! I'm not ashamed of knitting, or making cupcakes for that matter, and I won't allow any other woman (or man) tell me what I should be!

It's like a knitter I know who dismisses all those who knit socks, beanies and/or scarves as "pretend" knitters - they should be knitting sweaters. Each to their own, I say.

Have a wonderful semester - and check your shoes before you go into class!! LOL

Unknown said...

love the "righteous indignation" label at the bottom of this post. ;-)

Nana Sadie said...

I particularly liked Franklin Habit's comment on the post.

It's hard enough to be a feminist of any stripe, without our tearing each other down in the process.
Can't wait to see photos, hon - "Summer's Over, Summer's Over"
(I'll chime in Ms. Little!)

EGunn said...

There are so many levels of complexity to that issue, aren't there? In an interesting twist, I rabbit-holed my way to an article in Bust that outs the author as a gardener and a cupcake blogger. Now there's a real hunh? for you! The only thing that I can figure is that it was a poor attempt at tongue-in-cheek? In this case, I have to agree with Willow...people are inscrutable. I love your social scientist approach to the problem, though...there are so many meaty issues to be teased out from this.

Good luck with the beginning of the semester! I hope it gets off to a good start, despite the panic. =)

Alwen said...

What's interesting is that the simplistic attitude that if you knit, you are de facto not a feminist goes at least back to the suffragettes:

(From an exchange of letters between Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Eliza Osborne.)

"Looking forward to the scintillations of wit, the philosophical researches, the historical traditions, the scientific discoveries, the astronomical explorations, the mysteries of theosophy, palmistry, mental science, the revelations of the unknown world where angels and devils do congregate, looking forward to discussions of all these grand themes, in meeting the eldest daughter of David and Martha Wright, the niece of Lucretia Mott, the sister-in-law of William Lloyd Garrison, a queenly-looking woman five feet eight in height, and well proportioned, with glorious black eyes, rivaling even De Stael's in power and pathos, one can readily imagine the disappointment I experienced when such a woman pulled a cotton wash rag from her pocket and forthwith began to knit with bowed head.

"Fixing her eyes and concentrating her thoughts on a rag one foot square; it was impossible for conversation to rise above the "wash-rag level! It was enough to make the most aged optimist 'solemn' to see such a wreck of glorious womanhood."

This one makes me want to grind my teeth, but Eliza's reply is included and she certainly gave as good as she got!

Anonymous said...

Hope the semester got off to a great start for you today: lipstick and toilet paper both in proper place.

Having read the article when it came out and found her logic thoroughly baffling. It was almost as if she wrote to convince herself of what she's been told is anti-feminist. Much like a seventh grader's essay on who she will be when twenty-five: a perspective often limited by the boundaries of her life, colored by peers, and slanted by the media and entertainment sectors.
Most of all I felt sorry for her!

Carrie#K said...

Baffling. In order to be truly free as women, we need to be men. Men who don't like cupcakes or lovely wool sweaters.

Hope your first day went well!

M-H said...

Loved this post, and your lovely description of what it means to be deconstructive. Indeed, those little strings need to be pulled. Ask to be pulled. Beg to be pulled. Pull on!

twinsetellen said...

As an interesting aside, this evening at a work reception, I was engaged in a spirited discussion of my knitting and spinning by a multi-gendered group of very smart people. The tough guy was asking the best questions about fiber, and no one seemed to think for a moment that by knitting and actually making my own yarn I was being girly. They just thought I was being interesting.

That multi-million dollar decisions are often made in this same company by a room full of women who are not ashamed to show their "domestic" ways right next to their genius business/technical ways may have something to do with this attitude. Just a hypothesis...

twinsetjan said...

Have I ever told you that I've knit in meetings in the Pentagon...and in a humvee in Baghdad? Girly...hunh?

Gwen said...

Not too long before that absurd blog post, I finally read Anne Macdonald's No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting. So I have in my head the change from knitting as an essential activity, and during the Revolutionary and Civil Wars (and into WWI at least) a desperately requested activity, to a leisure activity. The sources used by the book changed from diaries and letters and however the war requests went out to straight up advertising and limited to advertising. (and that whole argyle sock/sweater thing to catch a man, so say the ads - hoo!)

"Soft" - Knitting as a consumer activity, rather than a producer activity? And is there a lingering trace of Man Traps? (I don't have any of those around here, but I use knit items in place of apron strings on the kid.) (wait! How do Man Traps tie into the Boyfriend Sweater Curse?)

I really want to see what you find and write with your knitter research. (in the end, I was left unsatisfied with No Idle Hands. Seemed to lack depth, especially in more recent times) (all those marketing trends and attempts by yarn companies to survive, which is definitely related to knitters and knitting, but not the only thing) (Barber sets the bar high)

For all that mulling I did, before finally coming back in here to comment, well, I hope some if it is coherent. I'm not particularly concerned with relevance. ;)