Now here’s a thing. This week I shared on my Facebook page Pathe footage of women doing linocuts. Alongside the footage on the original page there were a whole pile of comments, one from a bloke and dozens and dozens from women, all calling said bloke sexist. Why? Because his comment (and I paraphrase) was “It’s a shame that not many women know how to sew these days,”.
The women calling out this guy for his sexism were right. He was being sexist and staggeringly so. He even managed to compound the issue buy attempting to mansplain his way out of it for the duration of the debate. Thing is, when a man laments the fact that not many women sew these days what he’s really doing is inferring that sewing is a woman’s job. You see, he said it was, “a shame that not many women know how to sew these days,”. He didn’t say, “It’s a shame that no one knows how to sew these days,” and if he had he’d have saved himself a much deserved berating. And that’s where the sexism exploded like a dog’s arse after too much chocolate. By using the word ‘women’ he absolved his entire gender for any responsibility for an entire craft.
By weeping over this change in the status of women, this guy was really weeping over the fact that we women aren’t what we used to be, when we did what was expected of us. You know, the home sewing, the sock darning, the button fixing and I dare say, as a natural extension, the cooking and cleaning too.
Look at it this way: this guy was less concerned about the popularity of stitching as a creative form as he was about the fact that we women no longer do it. Because we should be doing it. Because it’s what we do, right? You see, sewing is traditionally something that wehave done in the home and it’s been part of our domestic range whether we’ve wanted it or not. The label sewing and button repairs are done by us along with the washing up and putting out the bins and it’s done at the convenience of everyone else in the family. No one else has to bother with a needle and thread when they can chuck at worn garment at the feet of their wife/ mother and expect it to be fixed and ready for work or school the next morning.
Now, this isn’t to say that women don’t want to sew. Lots of women do. God knows, I do, all day every day. But we do it from choice, not from domestic necessity. We choose to sew to make money, to be successful, to be creative, to be productive, to have a voice. We choose it over woodworking or crocheting and we chose it as a personal pursuit because we no longer have to do it as a chore. I men, how many of us leap out of bed in the morning because we can’t wait to sew our next piece of craftivism, our next piece of fashion or our next bag to sell to customers? Compare that to the number of us who leap out of bed because we can’t wait to fix the crotch of our husband’s trousers, because he can’t stop scratching his bollocks, and you get the picture.
If this guy was genuinely concerned about the loss of sewing as a skill he should have left ‘women’ well out of it. After all, sewing isn’t something that just benefits us women because – ta-dah! – men wear clothes too. And there is no just impediment to men sewing either. God alone knows, if you can put up a shelf/ change a plug you can run a bloody needle through a piece of fabric. Mr X Stitch does it every day and he does it fabulously, along with other men who are taking up the craft, but that didn’t fall into the agenda of our mansplaining protagonist here. They might just blow his mind.
I’d also be interested to know if the fears over women not sewing apply to all types of sewing. What I mean is, would the men who decry a woman’s interest in sewing be happy if women took up the craft simply to create strong pieces that protested domestic violence, rape, gender discrimination, climate change, poverty, unemployment or racism? Would they be thrilled to see the streets strewn with needlework demanding equal rights? Would that satisfy their urge to see the needle being picked up again? Or would that then be the wrong type of sewing? You know, what with ‘proper’ sewing revolving around the home.
Thing is, I might be making lots of assumptions here but in my 44 years of arguing with mansplainers and their barking defences of sexism I suspect I’m closer to the truth that I’d like to be. So, the guy who sparked this blog post, your comments are sexist. Deeply sexist. And if they are not? Then pick up a needle and start sewing. Otherwise what you are really saying is that a woman’s place is in the home and, in that case, you can simply button it.