"Women's (Art) Work"

Lee Kottner has a thought-provoking post today about, among other topics, the devaluation of crafts made by women at home. The entire post is well worth a look. Here's some of what Lee has to say:

"It's easy to dismiss handmade work as trivial or pointless activity in the machine age, especially when it's made by women. Crafts traditionally done by women have been undervalued and dismissed by patriarchal society for centuries. And I have to say it pisses me off to hear Old Guard feminists dissing other women's work this way. Doing so just plays into the false dichotomy men have always built between professional and home production: between the male chef and the woman who cooks equally well in her own home; between a male ceramicist with a commercial studio and a woman potter who makes her own dishes; between a male fashion designer (or even a tailor) and a woman who designs and sews her family's clothing; between male fabric designers and women who batik and silk-screen and weave their own fabric. Whatever men do in a professional setting is traditionally considered more important and harder and more respectable than the same job done by women in their own homes. Bullshit, I say. It was women cooking, weaving, sewing, and potting who started all these so-called arts that men elevated into some lofty category. It's not who does it, it's the quality of the work the matters.

"The article's author quotes Debbie Stoller, Bust's editor and founder of Stitch'n Bitch, as saying that those domestic crafts were casualties of the first wave of feminism. Don't you believe it. Women sewed from both necessity and out of boredom but it was, more than anything, the cheap availability of mass-produced goods that made women's handicrafts unnecessary. Women could not have moved into the workforce without cheap manufactured goods they formerly hand-produced: bedding, clothing, even food (butter churning?). In addition, advertising created a desire for the manufactured rather than the hand-made. But in poor families where mass-produced goods were still unaffordable, women still continue to sew, knit, and crochet. Same hand crafts like tatting and lace making fell by the wayside for cultural reasons unrelated to feminism. Who includes lace-embellished linens in their trousseau anymore? Who even has a trousseau? Mass production put the majority of independent cast ironworkers, glassblowers, and cabinetmakers out of business, too. These are traditionally male handcrafts (like printing), and nobody blames feminism for their demise. Yet they're as scarce as or possibly more scarce than women who sew, crochet, knit, or weave."


Anonymous said...

Hey! Thanks for the link! I'm glad you enjoyed the post. I think it's an issue worth thinking about if you're a woman crafter of any kind.

MadSilence said...

Interesting. My daughter's friends (women in their 20s) formed a Stitch'n Bitch group that meets weekly to work on craft projects. I've been reading Ellen Dissanayake's book, Homo Aestheticus: Where Art Comes From and Why. The author claims that humans are artistic creatures, that mechanized modern society separates us from our artistic nature, and that we need art in our lives to satisfy fundamental human needs. Growing interest in arts and crafts may reflect our recognition that something is missing, that artistic expression may aid us in understanding "how to live better, what it means to be human, to be male and female, to be alive and looking for peace."


Karen said...

Interesting post
ps how's coco?
Happy New Year

Anonymous said...

Thanks for drawing my attention to that! I am going to follow your link to the full post.

Clara said...

Thanks for the lead on the book, MadSilence. I think that the crafts resurgence also has to do with our interest in getting back to the more personal and hangmade, in an age of impersonality and technology.

Karen, Coco is doing well. She and her "older brother," Twiggy are getting along, although Twiggy is much more patient than I would be if my pesty little sister kept biting my ears!

Lee, thanks for a thought-provoking post.