The Dawn Chorus

Fresh Australian Feminism

I’m A DIY Cupcake Feminist

Posted by Cate on August 26, 2008

I quite enjoyed this article in The Guardian recently by Viv Groskop. It’s about the apparent ‘resurgence’ of feminine pastimes such as baking, knitting and sewing. The article details the ‘rise’ in retro and ’50s kitsch and pastimes traditionally enjoyed by stay at home mums such as tea parties, baking cakes and having a liking for tablecloths and aprons and debates whether this is a throw back to pinny imprisoned women of years past or an example of women spending time together engaging in ‘feminine’ crafts because they want to. I have divided opinions on this.

I should state my personal bias up front. I have always been crap at sports and elected to participate in all things crafty from an early age as a sanctuary from physical exertion. I run my own craft business and I run workshops on crafting. I’m in the middle of organizing a sewing bee making pads for women in Africa. But onto the article…

Firstly, the article offers numerous examples of ‘subversive’ crafting such as a cupcake drop, burlesque and naked afternoon teas and the like. Is there anything that can’t be made sexy? Sexing craft up doesn’t necessarily make it any more subversive an activity if the focus is still on the fetishised, sexualised women. But is it any better if the crafty burlesque is for a female audience? Is the wearer of those DIY nipple tassles a crafty crusader or does her presence serve to offer women yet another opportunity to compare their body to other women’s and find their sadly inadequate? But fear not readers, there’s a whole spectrum of subversive and radical crafts out there that you could do knitted or otherwise really (here’s a pattern for a knitted vagina if you feel the urge and you might enjoy this site whilst waiting for the GST on tampons to lift.

Secondly, there the issue of context as the author offers the typical contrast between second and third wave feminists. Is baking such great fun if you have to do all the cooking?.

According to a 2008 study by the [UK]Institute for Social and Economic Research, for instance, men do four to five hours of housework a week, compared with 12 hours for married women and live-in partners (single women do seven hours a week). And when it comes to cooking and washing-up, 2005 figures from the Office of National Statistics show that women spend double the amount of time in the kitchen that men do.

I can’t say this is my experience. My feminine crafting hardly extends to an immaculate house of my own efforts. Actually, my partner kindly vacuums up my dropped threads from the carpet and makes me cups of tea whilst I’m crafting. But I do agree that some crafts such as knitting and cross stitch can take a long time. I think that in some respects traditional female crafts are the luxury of middle class women who are meaningfully employed. With time to go and trawl the charity shops for their ‘reusable’ materials of course. Any woman who’s checked out the prices of Japanese or retro fabrics knows that it isn’t a cheap hobbby.

I would have liked the article to go a bit further into the ethical considerations of crafting. Is DIY baking and crafting still a valiant attempt to have a social conscience? Is it better to buy handmade if it is made from fabric woven in sweat shop factories? Are my labours as a crafter any more valued since I don’t have to sew to survive? (Perhaps not, judging by the masses of painstakingly cross stitched dollies residing in charity shops all over Australia).

I agree with Jazz D Holly statement that craft is about

”a chance to carve out their own space away from men, a place where they can gather to celebrate and enjoy traditionally female crafts”.

It can also be a good time to talk about your vaginas and plans for anti-beauty burlesque.


4 Responses to “I’m A DIY Cupcake Feminist”

  1. sassy said

    in a sense I guess I am a minor part of this ‘movement’ if you want to call it that – I knit and go to a knitting (and boozing) circle for one thing. and what I find curious about the discussion of crafts and tradition in this article is that the focus is on if and how it is ‘subversive’, and that element of subversion seems to be linked to a sense of irony in what you’re doing.

    for me the greatest statement in embracing craft is not to sex it up, or make it ironic, or consciously post-feminist, but to do it for the sheer joy of it.

    it may be kitschy, and seem old-fashioned, but maybe part of reviving traditional ‘women’s roles’ is to be able to say without shame that you bake, because you enjoy baking. that you knit, or crochet, or cross-stitch and think there’s no shame in it.

    take crafts out of that awful category of ‘the feminine’ – along with wearing pink and crying and cooking and cleaning – that has somehow come to mean ‘things we should be ashamed of ‘, whether we’re women or men.

    as the simplest of examples – if men don’t cook, or dust, surely it’s partly because they feel they don’t have to, and partly because they still feel it somehow emasculates them.

  2. mscate said

    Actually I look forward to a day when ‘craft’ is viewed on an equal footing with ‘art’. Then notions of feminity and gender are lessened.

  3. Ruby Murray said

    I think the distinction between ‘art’ and ‘craft’ is an interesting one.
    At first, it can appear a purely functional: the products of craft have a pure function while the products of art don’t.

    Historically, the distinction has often (although not exclusively) been used to separate the products of women’s creative work from those of men’s. Even when applied to men’s work, the distinction between craft-person and artist is a comment on the social position of the person producing the work.

    I was recently up in Alice Springs, and I went to the exhibitions at the Yaraluan cultural centre, where there were heaps more men’s works than women’s. And yet just down the road was a shop selling the Tjanpi basket weavers’ work, amazingly intricately died baskets and wall hangings etc made by women in remote areas outside Alice.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that we should be wary of the way we categorise these things, and question where the pesky, shifty border between ‘art’ and ‘craft’ lies, and how we separate the two out.

  4. sassy said

    ruby – that was really interesting. I had thought of the distinction between men’s art and women’s craft … but I hadn’t put any thought into why I still call something craft as a first impulse rather than art.

    I’m not sure if it’s as simple as Because That’s What It’s Always Been Called, or whether I have some internal prejudice about what’s art and what’s not.

    On the other hand I’m not sure if the word craft shouldn’t be a badge of honour – why is something beautiful less valuable if it’s functional too?

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