It's Complicated: Finding Empowerment Through Domestic Activities

Is it complicated to find empowerment from traditionally domestic activities if you're a feminist?
Photo by Thomas William.

I recently read an article about how a young woman rediscovered sewing, and by proxy, empowerment.

On one hand, I get it: mastering sewing (or any practical, making-things skill) is super empowering on a basic level. You go from being at the mercy of what other people have made for you to being able to make whatever you want, out of nothing. Okay, not nothing, but raw materials.

If making something for yourself, just the way you want it, isn't empowerment, then what is?

On the other hand, has anyone else noticed how many women seem to be finding power through "reclaiming" traditionally feminine activities? Knitting, sewing, crocheting, cooking, and even housework are cropping up all around me as my female friends rediscover the joy and satisfaction that can come from them. Sometimes it feels like it's not a coincidence that, before feminists got too far with things, we wound up sitting at home with knitting needles in our hands and cookies in the oven all over again.

I know that it's different when it's your choice. We are, for the most part, no longer taught the domestic arts as a suite of skills needed to accomplish the vital life tasks of finding a husband and raising a family. Yet the external result of a woman who chooses domestic activities for fun looks pretty similar to the one who had it foisted on her: more time spent inside, taking care of the home and its residents, and less time spent out in the world, where the traditionally masculine activities live.

It is worth noting that I live right in the centre of this: I love making things and get great satisfaction from creating and customizing clothes and crafts. I would consider an evening spent inside, reorganizing a closet, a legitimately excellent night. This year, my partner and I are including my homemade jam, apple butter, and candles in our Christmas giving. I have brewed a vat of domestic kool-aid and I am swimming in its sense of accomplishment.

Perhaps I am just creating a conflict where there is none. If someone gets great satisfaction out of sewing, who am I to suggest they question it?

Obviously, the least feminist thing I could do is tell anyone what they should do for fun or where their sense of accomplishment or empowerment should come from. When an activity lives on such a stark gender divide, however, I can't help but notice it. After all, you don't see many men out there discovering the joys of darning their partner's socks.


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