Because Feminism? It hates your DIY. Or something.

I suppose I wasn’t really minding my own business, since I was reading the newspaper. But I was reading a nice Statesman article by Jean Scheidnes on the Austin Craft Mafia and their TV show on DIY, when all of a sudden:

The dialogue assumes a fair amount of viewer knowledge about sewing, of which I have none, but the hosts’ cuteness is enough to make me want to learn. I can’t even do simple mending; I usually take it home to my mommy. A lot of my friends are the same way. I guess the reason for this is the same reason a lot of us can barely cook. Anything falling under the rubric of home economics was stamped out of our education by feminism.

I’m sorry, what?

I’m grateful for the feminist movement, obviously, because it made all kinds of skills, careers and achievements available to women. But it’s time we stopped denying ourselves these other valuable skills.

Where do I even start?

I’ll admit that I have no idea when and why Home Economics may or may not be offered in schools any longer. My coworker’s high school son is taking it right now, and that’s all I know.

I have paid more attention to feminism than I do to school curricula. I don’t remember feminism saying “Make sure we don’t teach girls how to sew and cook!” I do remember something about “Make sure women have the skills and opportunities to support themselves.”

But when was it true that people primarily learned how to cook and sew during their formal education? Since when was Home Economics 101 the sole reason that Americans didn’t starve or freeze to death?

Here’s what I do know: the price of store-bought clothing has declined greatly over the last couple of decades, and it now makes little economic sense to make clothes. Many, many women had developed sewing skills in previous generations because that’s how they could afford to clothe their families. When clothing got cheaper to buy than to make, why would parents have insisted that their children learn to make clothing?

A lot of women, like my grandmother, didn’t like sewing at all. So if a bunch of people in their 20’s and 30’s don’t have sewing skills, maybe it’s because sewing has become a hobby, and hobby skills are less widespread in the population than survival skills. And why would schools put a lot of time into teaching students to sew?

A similar trend is true in food and cooking. There is a wide variety of high-quality prepared food, affordable to the middle class, that simply was not available when I was a young child. If people can feed themselves reasonably decent (or at least reasonably tasty) food without cooking, more people are going to opt out. People who enjoy it will do it, and people who don’t will do something else.

And for those people who do enjoy it or who are interested, and who never learned at home or in school, have we not noticed the explosion of craft and cooking books, kits, websites, television shows, DVDs, trends, blogs, etc.? Where is all of this denial?

Ms. Scheidnes, if you’re interested, learn. I welcome you to the world of craft if you choose to pursue it. No one’s stopping you. They’re bending over backwards to help you. I promise that the lack of a Home Economics class in high school is not an obstacle, and feminists won’t try to prevent you from buying a sewing maching.

4 thoughts on “Because Feminism? It hates your DIY. Or something.

  1. Januari

    So are you going to send this in as a response letter? I think you should. And for the record, I can cook it up, and enjoy doing so, but I can’t even thread a needle. I take it home to my mommy, also. Thanks for making me feel less bad about it.

  2. stormierbones

    Yeh. That’s enough blaming Feminism for everything women are UNhappy about. I’ll trade sewing for a PHD and the right to vote and control my own destiny anyday. And then, I’ll learn to sew, as that will be an option given the I Control My Destiny. Sew on sister-woman.

  3. prematurely grey

    You’re right to question the assumptions made in the Statesman article. While I agree with your analysis of the economics of home ec, sewing, and cooking, I think we should look even deeper into the ramifications of Scheidnes big gun statement:

    “Anything falling under the rubric of home economics was stamped out of our education by feminism.” Once again, it’s time to take out feminism and tie it to the whipping post. In this case, that’s both too easy and misses the mark.

    The difficult fallout of second wave feminism is one of the two basic themes of my life and my writing. I think there is a connection between the “loss” of skills and the women’s movement (which is what I think Schneidnes means by feminism). Part of it is economic, as you describe well in your post. Part is related to the fact that when women went to work, they didn’t have the time to devote to teaching their children how to do these things (or to do them themselves). And part is the negative association of certain activities with old-fashioned, non-feminist women among many second wave feminists.

    The real question for me is what to make of craft in the era of third wave feminism. Irony pervades much of the work I’ve seen from the Craft Mafia. At times, it seems as though irony substitutes for respect for and appreciation of the mastery of the craft’s skills. In my own work, I am aware of my limitations and seek the direction of true masters who teach and inspire me.

    Clearly, I could go on and on. Thanks for your interesting response and making it onto Austinist’s list of best blog entries of the week, so I could find someone else out there (not in my knitting/embroidery/quilting circles) who’s thinking about all this.

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