Women can do anything they want…

and that includes spinning and knitting. And yo! for knitting on International Women’s day…

women knitting

Once upon a time I was stridently criticised by a particularly angry women for knitting. Apparently I was letting the side down. Apparently no feminist (for such we both were, and in my case still am) should contemplate doing such a thing.

Not right on enough, you see.

40s showgirls knitting

Of course, I was dressed like this at the time…

But even though I was actually wearing my dungarees – pocket useful for holding yarn, IMO, even if it did give you an attractive and unusual third breast – it was not good enough. Knitting, you see, was a Weapon of the Opressor. Women, apparently, just knitted for men and/or because men told them to.

Yeah, right.

WW1 women knitting

WW1 knitters, from Knitters of Yore, Interweave DVD

OK, these rather redoubtable women are knitting for men – for soldiers in WW1 (though perhaps some of the socks and scarves may have found their way to the nurses and VADs). So, quite possibly, are these women from WW2, who appear to be mending as much a creating:

women knitting in WW2

I wasn’t dressed like this either, when we had our argument, but on balance I feel more attracted to the ribbons and the shoes and the rather strange triangular hat worn by the dancers.

Once I’d stopped laughing, I could see she sort-of had something: women have knitted and spun and weaved and worked with textiles as part of their everyday lives, and done it to bring in income. They’ve been exploited doing it. But at some point everyone has, male and female – the deprived and exploited sock-knitters of mid-Wales, for instance, were men as well as women. That wasn’t what she was thinking of, though. After thirty minutes of abuse I snapped. I suspected that her attack on me had more to do with her relationship with her mother, an opinion I chose to share (hey, it was the mid-80s and she was into Marxist self-examination, so I felt I was being helpful, OK?). I might have gone a bit far, but I did mange not to stab her with my needles – long, metal and sharp, of course – which I consider to have been quite restrained.

Quite seriously, for me – raised by a stroppy feminist and true to my own roots – feminism broadly means I can do what I want and be what I want to be, providing I don’t harm anyone else, and that nobody has the right to tell me I cannot (it means many other things as well, but let’s not get distracted). OK, if I wanted to take up pole-dancing I might like to think about it a bit, but if I want to knit, I can knit. If I want to spin, I can spin.

NSW women spinning, WW1

Women spinning yarn for soldiers’ socks, New South Wales, 1915; Wikimedia Commons

If I want to be a brain surgeon, an astronaut, a farmer – I can. Society might not always agree, but by and large things have moved on a bit from the time I was told I couldn’t join a BBC cameraman [sic, and I was] training programme because I was female.

And if I want to knit, I’m ******* knitting.

wartime knitters

Wartime knitters – courtesy BBC / Getty

I am going along to have coffee with some women I know today in a local cafe, just to mark International Women’s Day. They are older than I am and most were once members of the Socialist Worker’s Party. I wonder if times really have changed? I shall take my knitting and find out!

(But I will not, as a public service, be wearing the dungarees, happily thrown out years ago. Bechod.)

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39 thoughts on “Women can do anything they want…

  1. Helen

    Hoorah, I have been ‘accused’ of being a feminist many times which always amuses me as I don’t like labels. What my approach actually is is that it doesn’t matter who you are you are entitled to do what you want and shouldn’t be stopped because you are a woman, man, black or white etc. I hope that in the future we wont need to have an International Woman’s day as we will be treated equally as second nature rather than to tick some equality tick box!

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      YES!

      That would be such a wonderful world, wouldn’t it? Sometimes I have to remind myself that things are improving, despite people – and some newspapers – who would prefer it if they didn’t. When I was a kid my parents were part of an international teachers’ group and we quite often had people staying in our house because they couldn’t find anywhere to rent. It only struck me much later that they were all (apart from still being family friends) either black or Asian. The white teachers from places like the US never needed to stay. That was the 1970s.

      Reply
  2. Elaine

    Right On!! We have Knit In Public Day here and it always draws quite a crowd wherever like-minded people meet.
    Do you know what kind of spinning machine that is with the 3 women spinning, the one in the middle? I see it has a treadle.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      I was hoping someone here knew – not a clue. I wonder if it could be home made? That wouldn’t surprise me, given the whole ANZ pro-DIY attitude. At first I thought it wash;t actually being used for spinning, but it is – or at least plying. Her feet are working treadles…

      Reply
  3. woolandgathering

    I applaude every word in this post!
    Let´s knit our way through Women´s Liberation Day and celebrate the fact that knitting is not anti-feministic! On the contrary! – I may use my knitting and love for wool to demonstrate that women knit because they choose to, not because they have to ..there´s been progress:)

    Reply
  4. opusanglicanum

    I’ve always boggled at that strand of feminism that insists that one must be as much like a man as possible in order to be feminist. I once rang a certain museum to see if they would be interested in my services as an Ancient Greek lady and was told that they would rather have an Amazon warrior talking to little girls in order “to give a more positive spin on Ancient Greek women” I boggled, I really did, firstly because anyone with even the most basic knowledge of the culture will tell you the the amazons were emphatically NOT Greek, (that’s kind of the point of amazons)but also because what every nine year old seems to know is that the amazons chopped of their own breasts to be better warriors, and I can’t help but wonder by what twisted standard brutal self mutilation provides a positive role model?

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Quite. Very narrow…

      Amazons???? Oh for goodness’ sake – dur, haven’t the education dept of that museum read any of the Horrible Histories? cinuwiuwcybb Sorry, just banged head on keyboard…

      I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, as an archaeologist. Despairing, possibly. (Bet if those staff were asked about their attitudes to FGM they wouldn’t think about promoting it…)

      Reply
  5. Mary M.

    Outstanding! Good on you for recognizing International Woman’s Day this way! I wish I could get in front of that supposed ‘feminist’ that criticized your knitting a few years ago and ask her what she thinks of teaching a boy to knit or spin – both of which my very boyish, soldier-playing, lego-building son LOVES to do! (We just knit a matching hat set for him and his favorite ‘companion’ named Mr. Snowman.) I am going to proudly think of your article as I head out this morning to my 2nd Saturday of the Month Spinning Circle at my local yarn store!

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Thanks – and what a brilliant day to have your spinning circle!

      I think your son will be a great example – we have men in our spinning group, and it’s always good to watch people reacting positively. I’ve certainly noticed that whenever I take my wheel out in public, it’s always the boys who are the first to some over and ask if they can have a try. In fact one small boy at WWSiP last year had a really good go, and left asking his dad if he could have a spinning wheel… unfortunately I didn’t hear the answer, but I do hope it was ‘yes’ or even ‘we’ll see’. Certainly his dad was interested…

      Reply
    1. opusanglicanum

      Most textile guilds were dominated by men, historically, but it didn’t mean they did the work. In the Middle Ages they had to learn the trade during apprenticeship, but then once they became masters much of their work was farmed out to women. Similar things happened in traditionally male crafts as well, there was a c16th goldsmith from Shrewsbury who applied to enter the almshouse because his wife had died- he’d been blind for years and shed been doing all his work

      Reply
      1. kate Post author

        Interesting – I knew about the drapers traditionally using female workers for many tasks (dyeing seems to have been largely male in many places though – maybe it’s the mess, smell and the association with pee), but the goldsmith is a fascinating instance of cover being blown. I wonder how many more hidden women had significant economic roles that we know nothing of?

        Reply
    2. kate Post author

      They did indeed – there’s a huge history of male knitters around me in Snowdonia, though as a cottage industry rather than a guild-regulated one. And many sailors have traditionally knitted, too. My Dad learned when he was in the RNVR towards the end of WW2, said it gave him something to do on cold mid-Atlantic watches…

      Reply
  6. starproms

    I really enjoyed looking at your pictures today and I marvelled at your writing. Can that really be true? Did someone actually have a go at you because you were letting the side down by knitting? Amazing! I am not a feminist, although there are some things about it that I agree with, like equal pay for instance. Like all these things, it can be taken too far.
    I’d like to know what happened when you got to the coffee day? Did anyone else have a go at you? or did it go off peacefully? Well done for sticking up for yourself in any case 🙂

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Glad you enjoyed it… All I can say in sort-of defence of Mad Feminist Woman is that it was the 1980s and things were different. Ish – I suspect they’re still like that in some circles. Certainly some of the women I should have been meeting adopt an air of amused superiority when confronting my craft.

      That’s ‘should have been meeting‘ because I got stuck in the most godawful traffic jams, once for a motorbike accident (ah, holiday season in Sonowdonia) and once – for 25 minutes! – in roadworks near Dolgellau. At least I had my knitting and some nice people to chat to in the car behind me, and one woman was another knitter…

      Reply
        1. kate Post author

          Hee hee – though that traffic name was quite boring. Just goes to show how I’ve adapted to life back in the country – in London, 25 mins would have been normal…

  7. Erin

    As a mid-30s American woman new to the wonders of the fiber world, I find your posts simply fascinating. In fact, I store every email notification in a folder entitled ‘ To Remember’ in the likely event I want to spend time in your words again. 🙂

    Thank you, thank you for crafting a new source of history tailor-made for me.

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      I’m glad you’re enjoying my wurblings, and welcome to a life of fluff everywhere. I’ve just found some cached behind the pans – be warned, this just happens… Personally, I think it’s the faeries.

      Reply
  8. Jo

    Love this post! I’ve met so many women who are running their own businesses, supporting themselves, perhaps a family, contributing money as well as creative endeavour: all through pattern writing, yarn-making, dyeing etc. It would be a brave person who decided to call them anti-feminist just because it’s knitting!

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Thanks Jo – and you are so right, absolutely. I think some people just have hangups – who knows, maybe they once tried to knit and found they couldn’t get the hang of it (ho ho)…

      Reply
  9. caveofcraftedwonders

    I just found your blog and am so glad you wrote this post! You are completely right, I also see feminism as meaning (among other things) that I have a CHOICE to do whatever I want to do. Yes, you should always be aware of your reasons for doing something, but as long as you’re doing something because it’s what you want to be doing and it’s not hurting anybody else then surely that’s a powerful thing?

    On the flip side of this, a colleague told me the other day that knitting was a fine hobby ‘for ladies’. I may have got a little bit irate when asking him what it was about his male anatomy which prevented him from being able to make cool stuff with yarn… I regret nothing!

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Yo, yo and thrice YO! Well, quite – definitely how I’d define it (and adding being paid the same as a man for doing the same job).

      Your unreconstructed colleague seems a little bit rash – knitting + irate woman + sharp implements = silly time to make sexist remarks. While we do have a couple of male spinners who come to our spinning group, we’ve yet to attract a male knitter to the Knit and Natter. I did have a friend who was interested but he said he was worried everyone would think he was gay (?). I pointed out that he was gay, out and proud and inclined to wear a sarong at times, but that wasn’t quite what he meant…

      Reply
  10. knitsofacto

    I wanted to follow my Dad into the RAF and become a pilot but was told at a careers fair back then that my female anatomy wouldn’t cope with the G-forces and that flight suits weren’t made to accommodate boobs, I could however become a RAF cook if I liked, or a dog handler.

    Great post Kate 🙂

    Reply
  11. Murray Foote

    I enjoyed the post but my comment here is way off topic because you don’t give an email and may not see my recent post on the WordPress Image Editor downgrade thread.

    I’ve just discovered, one of the many bugs in the new image editor, that my utilities only work because I always include a caption, often just “.” as a quick way of generating a border. If you don’t have a caption, changing image sizes by typing values in the code does not work (!) (Not for me anyway, it all seems very inconsistent).

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Don’t worry about being way off topic – this whole image thing is driving me insane and is the reason why there hasn’t been a more up-to-date post on this blog. I cannot see why they had to mess with what worked just fine. Even my mates who blog on tablets are complaining, and some of us thought that might have been the reason for the changes – to make the process more tablet-friendly. If so, boy were they wrong!

      Reply
      1. Murray Foote

        I was a public service systems developer before I retired (though my qualifications are actually in economic history). They clearly don’t understand their product or their customers, they haven’t done effective usability testing or even reliability testing and their downgrade is also riddled with bugs. Hopefully they already realise they have made a catastrophic mistake and will rectify it quickly. Otherwise, the complaints are just going to keep mounting.

        Reply
        1. kate Post author

          I get the impression that they are finally beginning to realise this – there’s no sign of this going away from our POV as disgruntled bloggers…

      1. Murray Foote

        So if you don’t use captions, that only leaves resizing through Edit Image/ Scale Image. In that case, you can still use the Excel utility to work out what to scale it to for constant areas.

        Reply
  12. Jill O

    I was referred to your blog by a friend, and I’m so glad! Very relevant for me right now as I’m working on a blog post about knitting in public and the reactions that I’ve received as a 30-something female who knits. It’s so great when teenaged girls approach me and ask what I’m doing so I can share my love of the craft. Thanks for a fantastic post!

    Reply
    1. kate Post author

      Glad you found it useful and GO KNITTING! I’ve had all sorts of odd reactions over the years, but all I can say is try spinning in public…!

      (I saw a spinning wheel cover which had a slogan written on it in explanation: ‘Spinning. As if knitting wasn’t mad enough.’

      Reply

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