UPDATE: Bust didn't take the comment very well either, and wrote a response, penned by knitting/crocheting déesse Debbie Stoller. Another blogger posted an honest "WTF?" in the Feministing community, which then reposted Jessica's response that she left in the comments at Bust. While I appreciate the "whoops my bad," I still think "me and crafy don't mix, sadly" is a poor representation of the way craftiness and those who don't directly participate can mix as I outlined below.
Jessica Valenti, no! Seems like "making things out of yarn" is one of those phrases that's only okay when we say it (re: blog title). Is it just me, or were you also a little put off by her dismissive attitude towards Bust's craftiness and towards knitting (crocheting, et al.) as activities in general? Do I have to get all oh-no-she-didn't on the Internet's greatest voice of feminism? Yes? Okay I will.
First off, she may have meant nothing by this. In fact, she probably just thought it was a cute joke to make, about her own clumsiness and inability to craft, etc. But by making it out to be some sort of silly thing to laugh at, she's adding to the perception that women's hobbies are something to be dismissed, petty, insignificant, nothing else.
"I'm not a D.I.Y feminist," she says in the interview. "Why not?" was my reaction to that. Knitting (and crocheting, etc. which I'm getting back into by the way, new scarf to be posted soon) are often critiqued as being too expensive, more expensive than just going out and buying a sweater from Wal-Mart. It's only middle class people who can afford to do this. Rightfully so, I say, to make a nice, solid, hand knit sweater you're gonna have to drop at least $50 or more on yarn. But you know what? I know whose labor went into making it--my own, plus the hands of the woman (usually) who handspun my yarn, shorn from the sheep/goats that she and her husband raised at their farm in Minnesota or Wisconsin or wherever. Even when I buy yarn from a shop, I know the middle (wo)man. I'm supporting a small business; there is only one Bella Lana, only one Depth of Field. When I go into those shops, the women there know me. They run their fingers along the hat or scarf I'm wearing, compliment my work, ask me about the pattern I used, inquire about what I'm going to make with my purchase. They give me deals when I come in and say I've had a bad day. This sort of emotional and physical closeness never happens in a Wal-Mart.
Furthermore, there's the (and this one is great, considering it's assumed I'm middle class since I'm in college, an unexamined bias which contributes to the culture of assimilation for working class students in university) argument of "Only middle class people have time/money/energy to devote to buying yarn/learning to knit/knitting up their own clothes. It's a paternalistic "save the poor" mentality, that, frankly, people can shove up their asses. Learn a little bit about the working class, please, before speaking about what kind of time we have. Most people in working class jobs have free time. They even have money to buy clothes (*gasp!* what? we're not all homeless??!!) Here is why these activities don't appeal to them:
1. Free time: As I said, working class people have free time. Problem is, American culture defines "free time" as being parked in front of a television, being sedated into complacency because at least you made it home in time to watch "Dancing with the Stars". This is the sort of isolationist mentality that is sold to working class people as "what it means to be American". Learning to knit would require, for most, entering a yarn shop, asking for help (and if the blue collar disdain for welfare programs says anything, it's that my people want to show we don't need help from anyone), showing that you don't know something and then spending time in a community with others to learn a new skill. But...what happens when you spend your time watching TV? Well, inevitably, you're going to run into a few commercials which tell you to what? SHOP! of course! Which leads me to...
2. Money. Truly, unquestionably, it is cheaper to buy clothes pre-made than to make them yourself. Fact is, the argument of "no one has time to make all their own clothes" is 100% spot on in our society. Middle class people included (Christ it's not like the working class are the only people who work) do not have time to make all the clothes necessary to get by. But that's the problem--the definition of the word "necessary" here. In America, you can't wear the same outfit more than once a week (hell, in some circles it will be noticed if you wear the same thing within a 2 week or more period). It's a sign that, you know, you can't afford nice things. Additionally, our fashion trends are always changing to let people know when you aren't being a good consumer/American and keeping up with the trends...you look dated and, well, poor. (The "Story of Stuff" has a good breakdown of how the fashion industry keeps us in check as consumers). So, on that note, what it means to me to be a D.I.Y. feminist is...
3. Fashion! There are really no options for the socially minded among us when it comes to the clothing industry. Either our clothes are manufactured by children/underpaid foreign women or they're manufactured by some douche bag "American only" brand (here's looking at you American Apparel) which capitalizes on that social consciousness, but doesn't really do much for American industry (or women, look at their ads) and we all know American garment workers aren't much better off (see: Real Women Have Curves or the Forever 21 Boycott.)
So what do I do? Well, for one, I knit. I spend all the money I would spend on clothes (I have budgeted a saintly $50 a month for yarn, which, full disclosure of privilege here, I can afford due to my dirt cheap deal on rent, which may not last me past July, but I'm enjoying now). Why? Because I HAVE ENOUGH FUCKING CLOTHES. I have so many clothes. People buy me clothes! I have clothes I bought from years ago. And, fuck it, I don't need to keep up with some corporations stupid definition of what it means to be "well dressed" or "in style."And then what do I do with those clothes? I wear them the fuck out. That's right. I wear clothes until I have ripped jeans, until my shirts are too stained for me to handle it. Clothes (again, see "Story of Stuff") are among the 90% of items manufactured that are not in use six months later. And why? Why throw out perfectly good items?
Ah, you say, but perhaps we don't all have all the clothes we need. This is true for some, and a beautiful, wonderful solution exists--second hand stores. One (wo)man's trash is another (wo)man's treasure. These items need not go to waste. Sure, I don't look particularly stylish (although, Christ, you'd be amazed at what you can find if you don't mind hanging out with the poor for awhile in a second hand shop, which I don't at all). But here's the beauty of it all--since I knit, no one pays any fucking attention to what I wear. They're too distracted by that sweet-ass scarf I've got around my neck, as my defining accessory. They're too busy ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the wild hat I knit with my own hands.
I am simultaneously subverting normative fashion, while reappropriating and re-valuing women's work (art) of the past. To be a consumer in our society is not to do anything yourself. Consumption implies service, something must be done for you not by you. Yes, this requires a huge shift in attitude--we really, really must get over this stupid following fashion bullshit. Create your own fashion, I guarantee you will find something at the thrift store that sets you apart. If you can't, get down and dirty with a sewing machine or some knitting needles (another note on second hand: almost every one I know knows someone with knitting needles or a sewing machine they're not using because of this shift away from hand-made...reclaim them! That's how I got my needle collection and how my friend got her sewing machine). The internet is an incredible, incredible resource (as are public libraries) for those who want to learn. Or, you know, the communities out there ready to teach.
So why, Ms. Valenti, is "making things out of yarn" not a worthy goal? Why give up on your scarf after 15 minutes? That's all the time you devoted? It astounds me how our corporate society has convinced us that you, educated, with your Master's degree, cannot make something for yourself...and then outsources the work to poor, illiterate children? Even if all of this sounds distasteful or not-quite-your-thing (that is, second hand shopping, knitting, crocheting, or sewing) there are people out there ready to do those services for you. They'll talk to you like a human being, not like a cost-benefit analysis in process. They'll labor over making something special for you just because you want it that way. You may not be a D.I.Y. feminist, but you can certainly support those who are. Of course, though, it requires getting over the mentality that we must consume what we are offered and define ourselves by how many outfits we can wear in a week, rather than what we can create for ourselves out of the raw materials others can (personally, not corporately) offer us.