I Am A Feminist

southwest eyeblinder dress 8

I am a feminist. It is a title that I wear with pride, and I wish that all women (and men too) wore the title with pride. I’ve been very sad to see feminism be a word that is vilified from within my community – I’ve seen other caring, creative, supportive, smart female sewists be ashamed to be called feminists and shame others who call themselves feminists. As Rebecca West said “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.” I personally love Caitlin Moran‘s “5 Rules of Feminism: 1) Women are equal to men. 2) Don’t be a dick. 3) That’s all.”

Feminism is something that I have thought a lot about in the last few years. I was raised by a self-described feminist mom who taught me that I could do whatever I wanted to do and that my gender shouldn’t get in the way. I eventually went to graduate school in biochemistry where most of my labmates, most of my professors, my mentor, and all of my thesis committee were men – and there were definitely times when I saw and experienced women being treated differently. I did what I could to fight it and others clearly saw me as a feminist.

And now I design sewing patterns for a living and often get the opposite reaction. I’ve been shamed for leaving science for a “womanly” career – as if, because I have “real” career experience it is my duty as a feminist to stay in that career path. As if sewing is easy and designing patterns doesn’t take math, engineering, spatial abilities, and so many other “masculine” skills because it is something traditionally associated with women. As if you can’t like pretty clothes and wear makeup and be a feminist. As if you can’t cook, and clean, and knit, and sew, and run a home, and have a family and be a feminist.

I strongly believe that sewing in 2015 is a feminist act. I sew because I choose to sew, not because it is expected of me. I am equal to a man whether I am a sewist or a scientist. I am here right now to stand tall and say: I am a woman. I am a sewist. I am a feminist. #IAmAWIP

What does feminism mean to you? Do you call yourself a feminist? Do you think sewing is a feminist act?

*I know this is a sensitive topic. I welcome you to share your opinions, even if they differ from mine. But please, whatever your opinions are, share them with respect.*

Each week this year I’m going to reflect on an aspect of myself and how it affects me as a sewist, crafter, or blogger. It may get deep, it may get emotional, it may get totally silly. It may be something I’m proud of, it may be something I cringe at, it may be something I aspire to. I may say a lot, I may say a little, I may ask questions, I may not answer them. I don’t quite know where the project will take me, but I’m excited about the journey. I’d be honored to have you join me on this journey. Chime in any time this year in my blog comments, on Twitter, Instagram, or your own blog. Join me in my theme for the week or make up your own.

Comments 15

  1. I am very definitely a feminist, and proud of it. And for me, yes, sewing is a feminist act. Feminism is, in part at least, about each of us making our own choices, and choosing what to wear is a part of that. We are judged, so much and so harshly, based on what we wear; if we make an effort to look good, we’re vain and shallow, and if we don’t, we’re letting ourselves go; if we look sexy we’re slutty, and if we don’t we’re fat and ugly. Our clothes are supposed to be alluring but not too revealing, classy but not boring, attractive but without trying to hard. And at the same time, the clothes we’re offered in the stores are often badly made, and designed to fit just one body type; anyone who doesn’t fit that exact template is doomed to badly-fitting clothes, in a limited range of styles and colours.
    By making my own clothes, I have more choices; I can make trousers that fit my hips _and_ my waist, shirts that don’t strain across the bust, but don’t drown me in excess fabric; necklines and hemlines as high, or as low, as I feel comfortable in, regardless of what happens to be fashionable. And for me, dressmaking means I’m making the clothes _I_ want, rather than what other people think I should be wearing, which feels very liberating; I’m more comfortable with my own body since I started dressmaking, in part because I’d spent years feeling like maybe I was the wrong shape or size for nice clothes, but now I recognise that _I’m_ not the wrong shape or size, the clothes were; it is their purpose to fit our bodies, not our bodies’ job to fit the clothes!
    I’m also cutting out one way in which women (and men too, but largely women) are exploited. OK, many of my clothes are made in a windowless basement in the small hours of the night for no pay, but since it was me that made them I figure they’re still ethical! (Having said that, I don’t know how ethical much of my fabric is…)

    1. Post

      What great words. I completely agree that there are so many empowering things about sewing my own clothe, including how it helps me to feel more comfortable in my own skin and the fact that I can dress myself exactly as I want, regardless of what fashion is dictating at the moment. Or I can even sew for myself what is at the height of fashion, but I can know that nobody was exploited in the sewing of that fast fashion.

      You do raise an interesting point about the ethicality of fabric – I think there is a burgeoning interest in organic and ethical fabric in the quilting industry and I hope that it soon spreads more to garment fabric.

  2. As an Elementary teacher, I work in a female-dominate environment… but I”ll be glad when the gender gap evens out and dealing with children isn’t seen as “women’s work”! Hell yes to sewing as a feminist statement, and to seeing sewing as equal parts art and science!

  3. Such a fantastic post and so true that the notion of being a feminist seems somehow divorced from being able to be feminine. It’s a term I struggle with and I don’t know why. Yet I absolutely agree with Caitlin Moran too. It can be that simple to define but for some reason elicits vehemently opposing reactions. I’ve just written a post about my dislike for the term ‘selfish sewing’ and I think this might have been what I was trying to get at – ‘selfish sewing’ brings sewing straight back to the ‘little woman’ idea, it seems to negate feminism – why do we as sewers feel we have to put others needs before our own? I’m not sure twhat I’ve written makes any sense but in short brilliant post!

  4. I’ve always shied away from calling myself a feminist because of all the flak I often catch from those quarters. I feel like I”m always saying, “Yes, I stay home with my kids. Yes, OF COURSE I believe that women are equal to men! What in the world are you talking about?!” I like your rules of feminism a lot :)

  5. Thank you for this post! I agree sewing is definitely a feminist act! I think that anytime a woman decides to take control of something in her life (or in the lives of those she loves) and its direction, it’s a step towards equality. Does that make sense? I think what I’m trying to say is Amen sister!

  6. I am a feminist. I was raised by a father who saw girls as ‘less than’ and treated women with disrespect and condescension. At a very early age I understood how deeply gender distinction hurt, and I set a goal for myself: never ever allow being female to prohibit me from doing what I am good at, what I enjoy, or what is right for me. I taught myself to work on cars, to sew, to cook, to remodel my home, to do both stereotypically male and female things. I have changed a thermostat in a coworkers car while wearing a silk skirt and heels. I embrace my true self, and to me that is the very definition of being a feminist: I define me.

    1. Post

      I’m so sorry about what you had to struggle through to be where you are today. I can totally relate to teaching yourself stereotypical male and female things – in fact my college roommate and I would make a point of putting on makeup and doing our hair before going into the theatre shop to work with power tools. I really like your definition of feminism – defining your own self.

  7. What a wonderful post that just made me so happy. And now I’ll have to apologize because this is going to be one long comment because it got me so excited.

    I remember my first role model for feminism was Virginia Slims. Really. When I was in middle school, they included a calendar with an ad campaign, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” It was eye-opening to my 13-year-old self, especially raised in a family that did not see the genders as equal. This was despite having a mother who always worked. I kept that calendar well into my college years and often wish I still had it. Oh, and I’ve never smoked — except clove cigarettes while in bars as part of my poseur 80s self.

    Besides cigarette ads, I’ve been lucky to have some incredibly strong role models. I won’t go into all of them, but while working on my graduate degree in communications, I had a professor who also sewed. In some ways, she may have helped nudge me into sewing. She’s a published feminist who used to come into class with these wonderfully funky clothes she sewed herself. She said that reclaiming a traditional female craft is a feminist act. As women, we are free to choose the woman we want to become.

    But it is interesting how feminism can be viewed, and especially by other women. I once had dinner with a well-known feminist, who mentioned a number of times that she’s close friends with Gloria Steinem. She said a number of unkind things to me, as I have chosen to focus on my family rather than a career. Although I was shocked because she was supposed to be my kind of people, I also believe that this is what some older generations of feminists believe and that if we are not in the metaphorical trenches, we are betraying the cause.

    I agree that we should all embrace feminism and what it really means — equality. And along with equality, the ability to make our own decisions in the person we are and will become. In many ways I think that this is embraced by popular culture. Right now, Caitlan Moran, a very strong feminist, has written several books that have climbed to the top of the booksellers’ list.

    So, Erin, go do whatever makes you happy. Because for the first time in history, we as women get to choose. How remarkable is that? And after having followed you for a while now, I believe that whatever you choose to do you will make a difference.

    1. Post

      How interesting that a Virginia Slims ad was your first example of feminism. I’ve not heard that before!

      I really appreciate you sharing your story and the similarities in what you have gone through. I am touched by your kind words and very much appreciate your support. Thank you!

  8. You’re so right, I love this! I’m a feminist too. It doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy all the things typically associated with women like sewing, makeup, and crafts! It’s disheartening when I hear comments such as “don’t say that, he’ll think you’re a feminist!”

  9. grrrr……imo a lot of the ‘anti woman’s work’ backlash is simply because it’s woman’s work and is thus discounted. Drives me nuts. Have to go to the endocrinologist but wanted to add a ‘go girl!’.

  10. Its funny, I catch a lot of crap at work for the way I dress. I work at as a professor at a university. I tend to wear dresses and skirts. I tend to wear dark colors. Men tell me I’d be prettier if I would smile. Women tell me its not feminist to wear dresses and skirts and makeup.
    I have a couple of female colleagues whose attitude is more, “wear what makes you happy and comfortable”. We’re a small group fighting against a lot of people.

    I think feminism is about choices. What do we *want* to do vs. pressures from everything?

    Also, anyone who thinks they have a right to an opinion on what you do with your life should take a hike. You choose your career and life path. End of discussion. Okay, fine, you’re married and your husband probably gets to weigh in, but not make final decisions. It would be just as wrong for you to make decisions about his life.

    I choose dresses and makeup at work. I choose pjs and ponytails at home. Choices are all!!

  11. I really liked this post. As another feminist applied scientist, I do not see any contradiction between being in the sciences – or any academia, or any ‘male’ field – and being passionate about sewing. I actually think sewing helped keep me sane while writing my thesis, as when I got stuck or discouraged or felt I was never going to finish I could sit down at my machine and whip up a skirt and remind myself I am capable of something, and I will get this done. I was very fortunate to grow up with parents who are also scientists, so that element of feminism, that women can go into any field they want if they work for it, was basically instinctual for me as a child. I don’t think I really started to realise that there are people who think women can’t or shouldn’t do certain things simpy because of our gender until I was getting into me teens. By then I think my parents’ influence, as well as coming from a line of quite stubbornly independent and capable women (and men!) had ingrained feminism in me in ideas, if not in words until my 20s.
    With sewing, I don’t know that I’d really thought much about it as a feminist act. Honestly, it was originally because I didn’t want to pay high prices for clothes I was certain I’d be able to make myself (which was probably delusions of grandeur at the start). But over time, it became being able to make what I liked, in the colours I liked, rather than what was decided to be ‘in season’ this year. Which of course is all about self-definition, which is central to feminism. And reclaiming ‘women’s work’ as a valuable skill is important. If being able to do handyman jobs around the house is seen as a noble skill to have for men, why isn’t sewing seen the same way? In both cases our modern economy has outsourced most of this work to professionals, so reclaiming those skills should be viewed equally for all people, regardless of the particular skill or the person’s gender.
    Lastly, and on a more shallow and personal note, it’s just fun being the stereotypically fragile and young-looking little blonde girl in a self-made dress who can out-argue the I’m-so-manly-tough brigade.

    1. Post

      Thanks for sharing your story.
      I also certainly didn’t start sewing with any thought about its relationship to feminism. I really like how you state “If being able to do handyman jobs around the house is seen as a noble skill to have for men, why isn’t sewing seen the same way?”. Well put!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *