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Male Hookers

June 30, 2007

That’s my fiancé in that picture, holding the fish he crocheted for me out of 100% alpaca. We’ve had a long distance relationship for a while now, and this has given him the opportunity to learn how to crochet in secret and surprise me with his newfound skills. Quite apart from the fact that he made this fish without a pattern – keep in mind this is his first project (okay, I’m done bragging) is the fact that he was willing to take on a craft that is so traditionally feminine.

It’s not that he doesn’t know how to do more manly things. He has a hobby lathe that can turn both wood and metal. He paints and draws in various mediums (including apparel). He even takes some pretty wicked amateur photography.

Stop. Read the first two paragraphs again. See anything wrong with them? Yeeaaaah. His doing something “feminine” qualifies as news, and I spend the follow-up paragraph talking about how he’s a Real Mantm, just to make sure that you don’t think I’m about to marry a sissy boy or something (marriage, that’s a whole other can of patriarchal worms, don’t get me started. Maybe you should ask lisiepeasie about it, she’s a lot more eloquent about it than I am).

How would those paragraphs read if the genders and the crafts were reversed? What if I told you that I secretly took up welding to make him that wrought iron trellis that he needed to grow grapes on, but rest assured, I’m a proper girl who knits, crochets, sews (on good days, destroys garments on bad) and am about to take up spinning? Which of these scenarios is more threatening? The emasculating bitch who usurps her man’s charges around the house? Or the sensitive sissy boy who is subservient to the emasculating bitch?

Emasculating bitch indeed. Somehow she manages to show up in both scenarios. What really is so threatening to men about women’s work?

Like it or not, the gendered nature of crafting makes the personal political. In Stitch ‘N Bitch: The Knitter’s Handbook, Debbie Stoller recounts the history of knitting.

Both men and women knit [in the mid-1300s and 1400s], but the men belonged to fancy, exclusive guilds where they would spend six years training to become master knitters, the piece de resistance of their studies being a vast knit carpet they would complete at the end of their schooling. For most of its history, however, knitting has been a women’s craft, perhaps because it is so portable and can be done in small stretches of time, which makes it perfectly compatible with child rearing.

With the advent of knitting machines and the steep fall in the profitability of hand knitted garments, knitting was once again relegated to the “women’s realm”, and those fancy exclusive guilds disbanded. In other words, it’s not making money anymore, its value as a craft is limited. Ergo it is now women’s work.

While this post is primarily about genders and crafting, I would like to take the time to point out that anything labelled “women’s work” is devalued. Note the pink ghetto where legions of workers (primarily women) are underpaid – nurses, teachers, childcare workers, etc. Think of how many tabloid new shows make a big deal out of stay-at-home fathers who help with the housework. Housework, there’s another devalued activity with recent stats showing that men still do less housework than women, regardless of how many hours they each work at their real jobs.

I digress. The point I am trying to make is that we are not as free as we think we are. We are still constrained by the pervasive stereotypes that dominate our social consciousness. While I was a wage monkey at a Big Bookstore tm I had a teenage boy come in to look for a beginner’s crochet book for his “mother”. After showing him all the old ladies’ pattern books, I noticed that he was gravitating to the more hip, youthful tomes. Then my manager, who was behind the bookshelf came around and winked at the kid. He said, “Sure, it’s for your mother.” Poor guy turned so red that all he could do was grab Happy Hooker off the shelf and shuffle off to the cash register. At least he bought the book. I would’ve kicked my manager in the junk and taken my business elsewhere.

It’s rather ridiculous that we’re still embarrassed enough to limit our leisure. It’s doubly ridiculous that we’re still prisoners of our own constructs to the point where more than half of the human race is undervalued and oppressed. The personal is political, unfortunately.

Men who craft are hot. Check out Brooklyn Tweed’s blog for a handsome knitter who designs his own garments. Meanwhile, check out these other knit blogs that are no less remarkable for being run by skilled and competent females.

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