In the last couple months, we’ve seen gender in quilting discussed in several places, and after following the conversations I feel a need to add my voice.
I’ll attempt to pull some threads together for you here (and these are just the ones I know of – please send me others you might think are important to this conversation and I’ll add them):
- Abby Glassenberg interviewed Luke Haynes on her podcast and asked him about gender in quilting
- Luke Haynes wrote about being asked “the gender question”
- Stephanie Boon wrote about why the gender question matters to her
- Stephanie Forsyth added her thoughts about men and quilting
- Molli Sparkles added his response (yes, his… Molli is the quilting persona of Joshua Helms)
And so here’s mine (and in just to clear up any confusion that my name, Sam, might generate, I am a white woman):
WE NEED TO KEEP HAVING THIS CONVERSATION.
Women have not achieved equality. So many people think the fight was fought and won in the 70s and 80s, but it is not won, at all. We still, on average, make around 75% of male salaries. Our bodies are governed by restrictive laws made in general by white men. Western politics are driven mostly by white men. Western religions are driven mostly by white men.
OUR HISTORIES ARE BEING MOSTLY DICTATED AND FRAMED BY WHITE MEN
This country (USA) came closer to passing a constitutional amendment banning flag burning than it did the Equal Rights Amendment, an amendment that says were are to be treated equally, all men and women, all races and creeds. If you add the number of women in this country (all races) and all the non-white men, their majority far outweighs the white men, yet the power of the white male politics kept this amendment from passing. Think about it. Flag burning might be provocative, but it’s about an inanimate object, and ultimately about freedom of speech (which is protected). The ERA is about PEOPLE. It’s about our fellow humans. And it failed.
If we, as women, do not keep speaking up when we disagree our histories will be dictated and defined by voices that are not OURS. And we need the discourse, the discussions, the passionately fed-up rants and the well-argued dissenting opinions. We need ALL of these conversations to help broaden EVERYONE’S views, and to expose people to ideas they’ve never considered.
Both men and women need to stop trying to silence each other when they disagree, and instead, welcome the conversation. And men, you need to stop using the “you’re not being nice” style of shaming language to shut women up. Here’s an excerpt of a conversation that I endured on Facebook a year ago, when a man jumped into a conversation a female friend and I were having about an exhibition at the Craft and Folk Art Museum of quilts made by men (emphasis mine):
Man: Male quilters are a deviation from the norm, and not-normal grabs more attention. That said these men all are talented and deserve a show, at this museum or elsewhere. Taking more than that from this exhibit is, to me, not fair and doesn’t give the artists in this exhibit the benefit of the doubt.
Me: I concur that these men are talented. I concur that their “deviation from the norm” makes it easy to show their work as a collective. All that said, I get to have my opinion, as you obviously do yours. There is no way an exhibition of the fiber works of men will not create discussion in this industry. And for you to attempt to silence my opinion by telling me I’m not being “nice” by having any opinion that isn’t a flat out politically correct “rah, rah” cheer isn’t giving me the benefit of the doubt either. I will attempt to see this show. I will form opinions about the work and its makers, and about the politics of it (because you can’t discuss gender without politics, especially in fiber). And I will use my intellect and hard fought MFA (in fiber) to have a well reasoned opinion about it that is MINE. Dude, I’m not trying to pick a fight, but don’t tell me how I’m supposed to think about this thing. Women are ALWAYS being hold how to frame stuff. If you think there could be an all male show without discourse, you’re being naive.
Man: I’m not exactly sure how I was trying to silence you. The second comment on this thread is basically saying the artists in this exhibit are getting this attention because they have a penis [note, this was a comment made by the friend that sent me the article]. My first comment was me trying to be slightly funny-hurt. There’s a big difference between having a discussion and me trying to silence you. And if you can’t see that distinction then you’re being to (sic) reactive.
Me: I am reacting to “Taking more than that from this exhibit is, to me, not fair and doesn’t give the artists in this exhibit the benefit of the doubt.” Which I interpret as “So if you take more than that, it’s not fair to the guys, which isn’t nice, so be fair.” Which isn’t really encouraging me to have any discussion that doesn’t align with the “not fair” part.
So first I’m not being fair (or nice) and then when I defend my right to have an opinion, I’m being reactive. And the thing is, I don’t think this man could see how his language is silencing… it’s so prevalent in our culture that it just isn’t recognized, and it IS the product of privilege. This goes on EVERY DAY in the lives of most women. And often at the hands of other women, which NEEDS TO STOP TOO.
So in the spirit of not being silent, here are my responses to some of the ideas that are in the links above:
- On men being tired of being treated like minorities in the quilting world: Yes, you might be presumed to be the husband in a quilt store. I’m tempted to say, “Get over it. Welcome to the Land of Having Assumptions Made About You Based on Your Gender.” But not because I want men to “feel my pain” (wouldn’t it be lovely if this pain ceased to exist for ALL), but because I want men to understand how it feels, and thereby be galvanized to be at the forefront of teaching other men not to make those types of assumptions about women. And to the women in fabric stores – knock it off; teach more inclusivity by example.
- On men reacting to (whining about?) negative comment/commentary: Men need to get past the idea that their privilege dictates everyone agree with them, especially women. And I hope the men recognize the unequal safety of their pulpits… they don’t risk the death, mutilation, and rape threats women get as standard business practice just for speaking their opinions. And these threats silence us… we’re so scared to risk our safety, families, and businesses that we sit here mutely.
- On men getting professional opportunities: In the professional realm where women are dominant, like quilting, men get more opportunities because they stand out. When white men are the minority, the white male privilege upends the usual paradigm of minorities NOT getting increased professional opportunities. As Viola Davis said in her beautiful Emmy acceptance speech, “The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.” Women can’t get the exhibition opportunities that are not offered to them. What would happen if men asked the venue to stop making their exhibitions based on gender parity, and refused to participate unless the show was open to all? And venues: seek to make these shows of parity.
- On the intersection of fine art and craft: The fine art world is also run by a white male establishment. When fine art engages craft, the first rules of engagement follow that traditional structure, one of white male power which marginalizes women and people of color, and pays them poorly. The Guerrillla Girls have been illuminating this disparity for years, most recently on Stephen Colbert’s show. We still need to keep fighting it.
- On the title of the “No Girls Allowed” quilt exhibition coming up: Really? That title? I know this language was considered funny and cute in the 1940s with Spanky and Our Gang, but really? There is a LOT of language from that time we no longer consider acceptable. Why is this OK, and why is protesting about it not OK? The men might call their quilting group that (“But it’s tongue in cheek, it’s just a joke!”) but why on earth is the museum perpetuating it? We are not girls, we are women. (And as an aside, do we ever suffer for there not being a female word equivalent to “guy.” I made this art about that.)
- On men writing what they think is the history of women in quilting: Do your research, dammit. Before you carpetbag in with your ideas, study our history, and use us as primary resources. And be very careful… your privilege as a man will make you blind to nuances that are daily freight for women. The same goes for women: as a white woman, I think it naively presumptuous to assume I understand half of what it means to be a woman of color in quilting.
- On women being fairly compensated (compared to men): While the people doing the paying need to knock it off, women also need to step it up. We need to not wait politely to be handed our opportunities, but we need to go out there and ask for them, MAKE them, and negotiate to be paid well for them. We need to take a leaf out of Jennifer Lawrence’s book when she found out she was underpaid:
“When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with dicks, I didn’t get mad at Sony. I got mad at myself. I failed as a negotiator because I gave up early.”
- On being nice women: We have been so cultured to play nice and fair. SO cultured. And we are losing ground because of it. Back to Jennifer Lawrence again (really, just go read the whole thing):
“But if I’m honest with myself, I would be lying if I didn’t say there was an element of wanting to be liked that influenced my decision to close the deal without a real fight. I didn’t want to seem “difficult” or “spoiled.” At the time, that seemed like a fine idea, until I saw the payroll on the Internet and realized every man I was working with definitely didn’t worry about being “difficult” or “spoiled.” This could be a young-person thing. It could be a personality thing. I’m sure it’s both. But this is an element of my personality that I’ve been working against for years, and based on the statistics, I don’t think I’m the only woman with this issue. Are we socially conditioned to behave this way? We’ve only been able to vote for what, 90 years? I’m seriously asking… Could there still be a lingering habit of trying to express our opinions in a certain way that doesn’t “offend” or “scare” men?
Absolutely YES, Ms. Lawrence. We are still tip-toeing.
We still have a long way to go. Women still need to do more for our own equality, and men need to help out by advocating for us, too. WE NEED TO KEEP HAVING THIS CONVERSATION until the points are no longer true.
I welcome your comments below. Especially if they’re not threatening.
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