Sometimes I'm immobilized when I try to reconcile my deep commitment to feminism and my intense attachment to things traditionally associated with domesticity. Both parenting and fiber crafts, as well as cooking and baking, have drawn me in despite the fact that I realize that they have all been places of oppression.
Certainly feminism contains divergent opinions about this. Some feminists posit that instead of fighting for equality, we should fight for increased visability and value of women's work. I agree up to a point. Valuing the traditions of my female ancestors is a way of respecting their lives rather than discarding them. It gives me a sense of connection rather than rupture. At the same time, latching on to traditional women's work reinforces the divisions between men and women. Feminists recognize that jobs and skills and hobbies that have been traditionally reserved for men are in no way more important than those belonging to women, even if we have treated them as if they were.
But if we stay within our gender boxes, we aren't actually getting anywhere. It is only through the disruption of traditional gender assumptions that we're going to change the world.
My personal answer to this has been to teach my male son and male partner to do the traditionally feminine, rather than stretching out myself to learn the traditionally masculine. I don't fiddle with electronics or use power tools or fix car engines or even watch sports.
Thinking about what these traditionally-female crafts meant to women in the past always renews my sense of commitment to them. Sitting down with knitting gave women a time for peace, just as it does for us now, even if they were knitting what was required to keep them warm through long winters. It was, as it is now, an outlet for the expression of creativity. "Women's work" was so often about the maintenance of the status quo. Dishes washed were just dirty again after the next meal, and laundry hung on the line would just need to be scrubbed again the next week. Tasks like those cannot easily make us feel fulfilled, partly because they are never done and partly because they require no bit of ourselves. Even the most ordinary handmade items were outward expressions of the intimate, public displays of the personal.
The objects that were made afforded warmth to those who used them, but they also offered comfort and pleasure to those making them. What a shame it would be to detatch all our everyday objects from the process of their creation. When we buy a blanket or shirt or scarf at Walmart, we've done just that. The consequence of this process of detachment seems to be that we care less and less about our world. We don't keep our things because it is cheaper to buy new ones than to care for the old ones. We don't care very much what goes into our things when the process of their production is hidden from us. We don't even care very much about what we do to the planet in the process.
Is the honoring of traditional craft one way to forestall this destruction?