Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Storm in a coffee cup

I don't have tea cups. There aren't enough tea-drinkers in the house (and those that there are tend to prefer gigantic mugs).

But on the other hand, there does seem to be a bit of a storm swirling about. I read Jane Brocket's blog regularly to admire her wonderful sense of colour, and her skill at imbuing the everyday with significance. I wasn't going to buy her book, but I certainly didn't think of the domestic arts as being in any way controversial. Apparently I was naive. Being a post-feminist child, I didn't realise that while I had a right to choose a degree, a second degree, a job, when to have a child, how to spend my money, I don't, apparently have a right to choose what to do with my leisure time. If and when I relax, I may select my options from an approved list of occupations traditionally associated with men. The fact that I might be going screaming mad with boredom is neither here nor there, so long as I don't shackle myself to traditionally 'feminine' skills.

Haven't we had this debate? How is it feminist to devalue anything done by women, and to despise those poor souls who still want to practice these arts? I do call myself a feminist, and am very proud to do so. I have talked to enough women of my mother's and grandmothers' generation to be all too aware that it was only feminism that gave me the right to live as a full human being, and not be a lesser species socially and legally. I also know that the fight is not over, but sniping about knitting needles does nothing for the advancement of women. We can knit and think at the same time. And incidentally, men can knit too. Even in the 1950s, men could knit. My mother remembers seeing her uncle knitting an immensely complicated Norwegian jumper.

But my own particular contribution is a reaction to the dichotomy between undomestic working women and the pinnied goddesses who stay at home all day, which Cornflower discusses today. I represent, you see, the third group, the working women who still enjoy the domestic arts.

Up to a point. Firstly, I am not exactly a high-flyer (although simultaneously working, completing an MA and still managing to knit probably ought to qualify for some kind of medal). Nor am I any kind of domestic goddess. I dust so seldom that I ought to mark it on the calendar, and if I had half the amount of clutter that I do this would still be a very untidy house. I don't enjoy cleaning up and tidying away, you see, so I do the bare minimum necessary for health (my kitchen tends to be spotless; I know too many Environmental Health Officers to let that slip). I also have such blameless leisure activities as reading and watching films. But I don't just knit or sew or bake for fun. I work hard to develop my skills, to produce work that I can be proud of. I'm not forcing anyone else to do it, nor am I even saying that they should do it. All I ask is that the decriers of my choice of how I spend my time should stop being so defensive, and allow me my freedom, as I allow them theirs.

Or I might just take my extensive knowledge and collection of sharp pointy objects and apply it. Now excuse me, I have taken the afternoon off work in order to relax, so I think I shall bake a cake.

NB - the memory stick in the picture contains my dissertation. It seemed appropriate to the argument.


Jean from Cornwall said...

I should point out that the Uncle who knit was gay, and the knitting was not-to-be-spoken-of, BUT, I will also add that in year four at school, we had storytime and all the children, boys too, knitted then.
The decriers may be "high-flyers", but they are the mediocre intellects who dismiss the arts that enhance for fear they may be found out as not very good. They are too busy keeping up a front to learn to excel in creativity.

Poshyarns said...

I found you via your comments at Cornflower. I think there are rumblings among many of us domestic art practitioners! Lovely to hear your thoughts.

Vivienne said...

Whereas now knitting gay uncles are a cause for celebration (see the Panopticon passim).