Sunday, April 3, 2011

Gender Roles and Stitching

I commented on a friend's blog post about male quilters and my fingers just flew.  Something about the subject really sparked my thinking, perhaps because my husband is a former theater costumer and was a clothing artisan in Santa Fe.  Living through the feminist "revolution" affected me profoundly in some good and devastatingly negative ways.  Anyway, since I wrote it, I decided to copy it here.  The comment was a reaction to an article that seemed to me to perhaps subtly imply men are exceptionally competent quilters and I think that may have raised some hackles in the overall general discussion.  After all, I thought the whole feminist hullabaloo (minus the political, societal, spiritual, and economic subtexts of the movement) was supposed to be about individual merit, period.



I'm confused about it all, I admit. Gender roles have always thrown me. Or mystified me. Or something.

I'm really girlie, take my word for it -- pink and lace and ribbons. But I was one of only two girls in my advanced calculus class in high school. Where were all the girls? The other girl and I became great friends and sat together. Sometimes she was late to class because her class before that was shop, in which she was the only girl, and it was at the other side of the school building. And she was a great ski racer. She taught me to crochet during that class. I mean it, that is during the class, because sometimes it got kinda slow. The Japanese American guy (another potential for stereotyping, like in, of course an Asian was in advanced calculus) that sat on the other side of her never exhibited the least bit of interest in our crocheting until we got A's on our tests and then he wondered how we managed to do both at the same time. And of course, girlie me ended up with a career in accounting. I probably would have loved engineering but it never occurred to me. How many women were engineers in the 1970's? And every engineer I've ever met has said he would have liked to be an accountant.

All this is to say, I'm baffled by folks who get unsettled by what they perceive to be the crossing of the gender line because for me, it has always been highly nebulous and by my era, permeable. Yet, men and women are very different. I'm not sure if they feel, perhaps unconsciously, that it threatens Western Civilization.

As I understand it, quilting started because printed fabric was incredibly expensive to manufacture and purchase so women, the homemakers, were forced by economic circumstances to sew little bits of it together. Now, in our post industrial revolution paradise of riches, we are at leisure to turn quilt making into an art form. Again, as I understand it, and I'm no quilt historian, after some resurgence in the 1930's, it rather died out again until women gave new interest and life to quilting in the 1970's. Maybe any resentment comes from women now because they feel like men only recently jumped on this art form bandwagon in any noticeable number and are therefore getting undeserved recognition simply because they are men. It's impossible to say without seeing their quilts. To me, it's all about the quilt. But I must say, I'd be surprised if they are finer than what Japanese women are doing.


  1. Very good points, sister.

    I've never been interested in the 'womanly' arts, such as sewing and knitting, crocheting etc. I wanted to take 'shop' (the school said 'no', I had to take Home Ec, which was boring!) and I have done many things in my life that might be considered 'male only'.

    I have heard that many men in prison crochet and knit as a hobby! That sort of messes with the stereotypical 'manly man' image, doesn't it?

    Why can't people just enjoy a hobby without others getting 'huffy' about someone of the 'wrong' gender doing it...go figure.

  2. LOr- I spent many years dodging the gay community because of my commitment to the theatre arts and costuming in particular. As you wanted to take shop and had to take home ec, when I declared in theatre school that I wanted to master costuming the director of the school was horrified because the "guys" just didn't do this. he wanted me to do the set building and I refused so he "let" me be a makeup/hair/wig major until the following year he hired a male costumer. Must have made him nuts to do it, but this fellow mentored me for three years and I designed 28 shows. Later I would have problems again when I wanted to go into window dressing in retail at which I was very good, but again was swimming upstream. Lynne will attest to my maleness but life has been interesting....

  3. By the time I hit seventh and eighth grade, it was mandatory for girls to take shop and guys to take Home Ec. I didn't particularly enjoy either because I'm not so good at following directions to the letter when I'm crafting something. I always add my own touch, and teachers don't appreciate that sometimes....

    One of my first jobs was helping Dad finish the pine reproduction furniture he made and sold. I was in my late teens before I really took an interest in the "girlie" crafts. I've tried it all, but put it on the shelf when my carpal tunnel syndrome dictated I had to, and only started up again with quilting last year.

    I trained to be a truck driver when I was in my mid-20s and got the strangest looks, a "mere slip of a girl" like me driving a tractor-trailer. I'd just tell 'em I was driving the truck, not pushing it. LOL!

  4. I love it: "I'm driving the truck, not pushing it."

    I love pine reproduction furniture; my home is filled with it. Do you have any pics of the ones you and your dad made?

  5. No - not of those particular pieces of furniture because that was well before I had a camera. :) Dad did have a photo album of various Polariods from back in the day, but I'm not sure whatever happened to it. He asked me if I had it, but I don't.

    I do have some pieces in the house here that he made. I acquired them at various points when my parents moved. I'll take some pics of 'em just for you! :)