Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Textile arts are traditionally women's work. Historically, women have done most of the domestic sewing, spinning, embroidery, and weaving. There are numerous references in Egyptian, Norse, and Classical works to women employed in these occupations. Men tended to enter into these occupations when textile production left the realm of the domestic and entered into trade and industry. Men would then become weavers and tailors, but women still spun, embroidered, and sewed or knit items for the home and to sell in a cottage industry kind of setting. These are broad generalizations spanning thousands of years, but it is difficult to find historical references to men engaging in spinning or embroidery. If you find any, let me know.
There are those who would suggest that women have been oppressed by this division of labor. Perhaps in some cases this is true, but there's a part of me that's deeply offended by the suggestion that because women have traditionally been masters of the spindle and needle, we should cast aside these things as symbols of oppression. I say, to Hel with that. Brynhild, described as the greatest of great women in the Volsungas Saga, was as likely to pick up a sword as a needle. The same goes for Gudrun in the same saga. In the Nyals saga, the Valkyrie are depicted weaving on a loom using men's heads to weight the warp threads, a sword as a shed, and entrails for the warp and weft. Athena was born fully armored and carries the Aegis as her shield. She's not only the goddess of tactical warfare, but the goddess of weaving. Artemis, as skilled an archer as her brother, was the Queen of the Nymphs whose primary occupation was spinning. Maidens of Delos would bring spindles bound with their hair to the tomb at the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus.
So, if goddesses and heroines aren't fettered by their "women's work," why should we be? There is no reason to cast off the needle in exchange for the pen (or keyboard) when we can do both. There is no reason to put less value on the skill and industry of what is traditionally women's work because we now do work that was traditionally set aside for men. We can be doctors and knitters, lawyers and quilters, scientists and spinners. I am proud of the women's work that I do. I am proud that I can make thread with my own hands and then make that thread into something. I can make dresses one hour and work on my car the next. I can read academic papers and write on almost any subject one hour and embroider or knit the next hour. I can make lace, compose songs, and wield a hammer or screwdriver.
A modern woman's value is placed upon her ability to juggle children and an occupation outside the home. But to me, that is only a different sort of enslavement. A woman's value or virtue does not lie so narrowly, but rather in her kindness, her industriousness, her adaptability, and her strength of spirit and will. I would put the same values and virtues upon men.

Long story short, I don't care who you are or what your gender may be. More people should join me in my fabric and fiber goodness.
You will be assimilated.

(x-posted to Siamese cat, Zen Jail)
Feminist article that started this tirade:
King, Kathryn R. "Of Needles and Pens and Women's Work." Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature. v.14 no.1 (Spring, 1995) pp 77-93.
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