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Bias and Gender

November 8, 2013

2013-11-07 16.52.32

Life lessons learned in the sewing studio…

Bias is a sewing term with a variety of usages.  To cut something on the bias means to align the vertical direction of the item to be cut on a 45 degree angle to the lengthwise grain (warp threads) of woven fabric.  A garment that is draped on the bias is flattering as it hugs the body’s curves and has some forgiveness in how it stretches, creating comfort for the wearer.  Bias tape is a narrow strip of fabric cut on the 45 degree angle and is used to add strength and support to a garment.  It bends around curves to finish off the frayed edges of an armhole or a neck opening.  Woven fabric which is cut on the bias does not ravel the way it does when cut on the straight of the grain.  When the edge of fabric is trimmed using pinking shears it creates an edge with tiny bias cuts which keep the fabric edge clean and neat through wearing and washing.  Flexible, strong, forgiving and clean:  All pretty desirable qualities.

Bias in Life is another story.  In the last couple of weeks I have come across several articles in major news publications with stories regarding something a man or boy is doing that is outside the norm for male behavior.  Am I wrong to get irritated that in 2013 it is still newsworthy information to write about a man who knits?    And what about a boy who asks his mother for a Rainbow Loom so that he can weave rubber band bracelets?   We don’t blink when our 8 year old daughter wants to play soccer, but it is still worth talking about boys who want to learn to weave?  All it takes is a casual frown or a subtle hesitation for a child to get the idea that what they want to attempt is not seen as appropriate.   This type of bias is not flexible.  It is ugly, weak, unforgiving and exposes our human rough edges.

I’ve always thought of myself as a feminist.  I don’t want my daughter to be denied opportunities because she is a girl.  I also want equal opportunities available for my son.  The opportunities for women have come a long way, (baby).  Strangely however, I see a tightening up on what is deemed as appropriate behavior and options for our boys/men.   Do our boys and men need advocates to be treated equal?  And isn’t it still just a backhanded insult to women, belittling what is historically viewed as female behavior and actions when they are taken on by a male?  Or what about the opposite situation, when a pursuit is given more importance and respect because it is a man who has taken on a venture more often associated as a female endeavor?  We must question these reactions as they weaken the fabric of our society.  Imagine the strength of a society where every individual is supported in pursuing their interests and feel empowered to develop all of their unique skills and talents no matter what their gender.  Imagine what could be created, what problems could be solved.  Imagine all of us truly liberated.

As a textile artist I see these subtle gender prejudices quite frequently.   Yes, I am embarrassed to admit they sometimes come from within.  I don’t like these types of thoughts when they float through my head.  “…the quilter is a man, so he gets more attention and respect”  or “this sewing student is a 7 year old boy.  He will lose interest in this by the time he is 10” or “does this man who wants to take sewing or knitting lessons from me have an ulterior motive?”   It’s hard to quiet those voices. It takes conscious awareness when they strike to see them for what they are (outdated and biased stereotypes) and let them go, to not give voice or action to them.  I have even had female students come in at mid-life interested in learning to knit or sew because as a young women 30 to 40 years ago, those skills were not valued and were either not offered or were avoided.  At a time when women were struggling to be viewed as equal in the workplace there was a movement to stay away from traditional female roles, behaviors and even hobbies.  The resurgence in the popularity of sewing and knitting over the last couple of decades indicates that fortunately, many of us have gotten past this type of biased thought.  But we can’t stop there.

So I ask, what happened to Rosie Grier and his needlepoint?  Wasn’t he supposed to pave (stitch) the way for men to balance football with textile art way back in the 70”s?  How do we get more people to change their beliefs about liberating gender roles for men as well as women?  The columnist Mary Schmich in her Chicago Tribune article today, One by one, we’ve arrrived at a sweeping change states, “our understanding of gender identity and sexual orientation – of what it means to be male or female – continues to expand.”  She outlines how the minds and actions of just a few Illinois House members changed and how their votes for marriage equality made a change in our laws a reality this week.  Another step closer to civil rights for all.  This is why although it would not appear that as a textile art teacher I have much influence on social change, I do.  We all do.  One by one.  Whether your work takes you to the boardrooms, the legal chambers or the sewing studio, we all have a responsibility to question our thoughts on human equality in order to liberate us all.

Ask yourself, what type of bias are you stitching into your life?  Challenge yourself to catch these biased views as they reveal themselves and shift your thinking.  As we knit together a new narrative for our society these types of news stories will be something in our history that we chuckle and say “remember when?’ as we read them, much like the stories from the past about women wanting the right to vote or wear pants.

I now see myself as a humanist rather than a feminist, assisting all of my students to find and follow their own interests, abilities, talents and passions, whether boy, girl, man or woman.  Want to learn to sew or knit?  Well you’ve come to the right place.  I want to aid you in achieving your creative goals.  Because not only is it very helpful to aquire these life skills, they are relaxing and fun creative outlets no matter what your gender.

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