The other day, I was talking to somebody about my continuing (and often disappointing) quest to make my own clothes, whether through knitting or sewing. I was describing how I was making progress and asking my friend for her own advice when someone piped up. “But Steph, aren’t you a feminist? Why are you making your own clothes? It’s a bit… old fashioned housewife-y.” And, lo, a blogpost was born.
It was one of those moments where I wish I’d been quick and witty with an answer but alas, I wasn’t. However, the comment stayed with me for the rest of the day: was my attempt to make my own clothes a genuine feminist pursuit? There are undoubtedly some feminists who would say that I was a terrible feminist and that I’m subjugating myself to do traditional ‘women’s work’, that our predecessors managed to free us from.
But from my point of view, I believe making some of my clothes is a good thing:
- It frees me from what society ‘thinks’ I should wear and a shape it ‘thinks’ I should be. I am therefore liberating myself from a narrow arena when it comes to buying clothes.
- I know where my clothes have come from; I haven’t participated in the exploitation of workers in poorer parts of the world. In this vein, I am starting to seriously research where my raw materials- yarn and fabric- come from and how they are made. As well as being ethical, it’s also an environmental issue.
- I am not forced to do this, I choose to do this. Previous generations of women had no choice but to make clothes for their families in a bid to save money. I’m lucky that I’m not in the position where I HAVE to make stuff, but I CHOOSE to make stuff. (This is clearly a “check-my-privilege” moment.) I understand that not everybody has this luxury.
- In a funny way, I feel connected to my female ancestors: a lot of my family came from the wool mills and cotton factories of the north and these would have been prized skills. I feel like I’m learning what they did.
So, to the person who asked whether it was feminist to make my own clothes, I say yes- and that it’s fine if others think that it’s not. My feminist credentials are not affected by my ability with a knitting needle.