When you think of ways to make feminist statements, you’re probably not thinking of a scarves or sweaters.
Crafting — knitting, crocheting, embroidering, cross-stitching, sewing, weaving, jewelry-making, quilting, or any folk art used for the beautification of the home or body — has traditionally been relegated to the realm of “women’s work.” As such, these skills have been largely underpaid, under-appreciated, and exploited. Most often, men did not contribute to their making, but benefited from their creation.
Historically, crafting was either used by wealthy women as a means of occupying idle minds during leisure time or by women who needed to supplement their income, either because their husband’s income didn’t fully provide for the family or because they were the sole breadwinners. Hester Prynne in The Scarlet Letter is just one of the more popular examples of this found in fiction.
Today, activities once thought less valuable than the work of men are subverting the patriarchy in two major ways:
While there are men who make crafts, crafting is still largely undertaken by women. And with the advent of the internet — particularly online marketplaces like Etsy that support artisans — it’s easier to do business than ever before. That means women can make money, even a living, by making crafts.
Economic empowerment is key to women’s autonomy. When women are financially stable, especially through work of their own making, they don’t have to depend on others — be they husbands or bosses — for support. It’s harder to trap a woman in an abusive relationship if she knows she can provide for herself. A woman who employs herself isn’t stuck at a job where she’s sexually harassed.
And a woman who makes her living doing “women’s work” is flying in the face of the patriarchy because that which has historically been looked down upon by men, and which may still be looked down upon by some, has become a vehicle for independence.
In addition to subverting the patriarchy through economic empowerment, crafting can also be used to make political statements.
While crafting has been used to bring women together for the purposes of education, social change, and camaraderie for centuries, the “craftivist” movement is all about using crafts as a means of delivering explicitly anti-establishment messages.
For example, there is Subversive Cross-Stitch, which features patterns for phrases like “nevertheless, she persisted” and “nasty woman.” Likewise, Femmebroidery is doing similar things with phrases like “punch nazis,” “abolish prisons,” and “smash capitalism” in the embroidery world. And, of course, there are the many women who knitted pussy hats for the Women’s March. (The pussy hats are exclusionary to non-binary people and women without vaginas, though that’s another story for another post.)
These women and many more are using the trappings of domesticity as a method of protest. The stereotype of crafts is that they’re uniquely feminine and therefore frivolous and “girly” — something to be ashamed of. That, too, is a symptom of the patriarchy because women were relegated to the realm of domesticity by men then shamed for what they created within the confines of that too-small world.
In short, crafting is feminist as fuck. And craftivism is a powerful way women can use their skills and talents to make their voices heard and fight for social and economic equality.
Mandy Shunnarah is a writer based in Columbus, Ohio. When she’s not writing book reviews and creative nonfiction essays and working on her first novel, she can be found binging on political TV dramas, shopping at thrift stores, cursing with astonishing vivacity, making angry embroidery, and cuddling with her three devilish cats. Learn more on her website offthebeatenshelf.com.