Of course, now I’ve started thinking about crafting and feminism, I’m probably never going to stop…
When I was 17, my then boyfriend bought me a t-shirt which read “I have too many daydreams to be a housewife”. He interpreted this as “I have too many daydreams of being a housewife”. Ironically, given my love of both baking and feminism, both sentiments were equally appropriate.
Oceans of ink have been spilt worrying about whether the modern crafty/DIY revival – how we’re all into dressmaking and keeping chickens and canning our own homegrown heirloom tomatoes – is symptomatic of a more worrying nostalgia, for gender roles that are as restrictive as 50s undergarments.
For me, knowing how to make my own clothes is like knowing how to make my own dinner, put up a shelf, or grow courgettes: apart from the ethical issues involved in outsourcing all of those jobs, being able to handle them myself is a mark of competence, of adulthood. I grew up in a very DIY kind of family – we made our own bread, built our own greenhouse, grew our own veg, and, memorably, made our own play-doh. (The blue was really tasty.) So having a working knowledge of how to cover life’s basic needs – how to feed and clothe myself, as close to ‘from scratch’ as possible – is an ingrained part of my image of being a grown up.
This is not in any way to say that I think everyone should have the same hobbies as me – dressmaking isn’t exactly cheap to get started in, and it takes a long time to get cost effective; having the space to grow your own food is a huge luxury; not everyone has the time and energy to make their own pasta sauce. Plus lots of people find some or all of these deeply boring, and good for them: I’m not into policing how other people feed or clothe themselves. This is just a rumination on why I, a Strident and Shrill Feminist, choose to dedicate most of my spare time to domestic pursuits.
I made my first loaf of sourdough a couple of years ago. I remember the sense of utter awe when it came out of the oven: if you mix flour and water, you get glue. If you mix flour, water, and yeast, you get a miracle.
And then I thought: for hundreds of years, bread has been the staple food of English people. How is it that I made it to the age of twenty fucking eight without learning how to make it? How have we created a society where people know how to build a social media presence but would have no idea how to feed themselves if Hovis went out of business?
Unless I fancy freezing to death or getting lifted for indecent exposure, I need to wear clothes. Buying clothes which were made by women in the Global South who were paid shit wages, were subject to sexual harassment and faced getting fired if they fell pregnant, does not strike me as the more feminist approach.
I’m not arguing against any and all specialisation; I don’t know how to rewire a house or drive a train or do any of a thousand other jobs that other people do and on which I rely. I might know how to make a jumper from a couple of sticks and a ball of string, but if you gave me a sheep, I wouldn’t be able to turn it into yarn.
You have to draw a line somewhere. I get that. I just think the line has been drawn closer to the ‘outsourcing skills necessary for the continuation of life’ end of the spectrum than I’m personally comfortable with.
(Plus, I sometimes fantasise about how after the zombie apocalypse I’m gonna turn Finsbury Park into a communal farm, and knowing how to make clothes and can tomatoes will make me a pretty useful member of the survivors’ collective.)
So no, I don’t think we’re going to smash the patriarchy with the power of cross stitch, but that doesn’t mean that I’m capitulating to a regressive Betty Crocker vision of femininity every time I sit down at my sewing machine. An appreciation of 50s silhouettes does not have to go hand in hand with a yearning for the days when Men Were Men and Women Were Given No Legal Protection Against Being Raped By Their Husbands, you know?
More than anything, this smells like a moral panic to me: whatever women are doing, someone is going to write a Trend Piece worrying about What It All Means. Sexting! Cupcakes! Rainbow parties! Making jam! Vajazlling! Oh, the humanity!
If we’re wearing skinny jeans and taking selfies, we’re vapid and overly sexualised; if we’re wearing poodle skirts and baking scones, we’re spoiled “postfeminist” brats who don’t know how good we have it in the 21st century.
Whatever we do, we’re doing it wrong. So I’ll be over here, doing what feels right.