One of the things we’ve been discussing over on the Feminist Fashion Bloggers Google group is the question of whether there is a conflict between feminism and the pursuit of activities which are generally seen as ‘domestic’ and considered as ‘traditionally feminine’. Millie at Interrobangs Anonymous and Franca at Oranges and Apples have both posted with their thoughts on the ‘lifestyle bloggers’ who present an idealised and very traditional-seeming picture of their lives and crafting (and, several years ago, this wonderful post by Kate Davies tackled the same topic from a slightly different angle). But what about crafting itself? Am I just harking back to the bad old days when women were domestic drudges and rejecting the liberation that was delivered to us by mass production?
Well, no, I don’t think I am. Because while there are some areas in which I’m genuinely grateful for mass-production (as much as I love my handknitted socks, I’m very thankful that tights are cheaply and widely available) I’m not a fan of the fashion industry in general. From the low wages and poor working conditions in the factories where far too many High Street clothes are still made (often by women workers), to the pressure on women to buy this year’s styles and colours and aspire to this year’s ideal of beauty, to the environmental impact of throw-away fashion culture, I think that the fashion industry is fundamentally oppressive. Learning to make or refashion my own clothes and buying second-hand are ways of opting out of that system and asserting my individuality.
There’s a long and noble tradition of links between crafts and radicalism, going back to William Morris at least. I have a wonderful essay by Elizabeth Wilson, published in a book given away to celebrate twenty years of the Virago press in 1993, about the importance of traditional women’s crafts, such as knitting, to a section of the women’s movement in the Seventies, and the way they ‘wanted work and home life, child care and other forms of creative endeavour to be integrated instead of parcelled up into separate times and places’. This struck a chord with my own brand of feminism when I read it, and does so even more now; her comment that ‘an interest in crafts and the conservation and appreciation of second-hand clothes and furniture…could be anti-consumerist without being puritanical’ sums up the way I try to live my life (I don’t always succeed, but I do try).
(And I am utterly charmed that when I went back and looked for a post along very much these lines I wrote in an old blog several years ago the first comment on it turned out to be from Antje saying that it had inspired her to look for a local knitting group and think about learning to knit. Which just goes to show that knitting doesn’t have to be confined to the domestic sphere; as Antje and all the indie dyers I know prove, it can also be the foundation for a successful business!)