Two young women oxy welding parts of ammunition boxes 1943 via the State Library of South Australia

Craftsmen vs. Crafts[wo]men

At Meandering Design we believe very strongly that anyone can make stuff and find their place within the handmade movement. The fact that the word 'craftsman' is used so much, and yet so many men shy away from making "crafts" is difficult for us to understand. 

Blogs post and books written by 'craftsmen' continuously point out that men are finding a place within the crafting world; the term to describe them, which is used often and excludes women from the world which men seem to be 'reclaiming' and/or to be wanting to be part of, is 'craftsmen'.

We want men, as well as women, to be members of this world of craft, art, making and doing. What is problematic though is that:
  1. Crafts have male-centric terms such as 'craftsmen' and 'craftsmanship'
  2. Often when the word 'crafts' is used it refers to the stuff that women make, which are often seen as 'less than' say stuff that men are supposed to make (e.g. a knitted sweater vs a table)
  3. Men are 'reclaiming' and even explaining how they have always been part of crafting, which is something that some of their fellow men see as well, 'women's work'.
Let's talk about the ridiculously sexist side of the word 'craftsmanship'. Craftsmanship describes something that is made really well, with attention to detail, and with the level of skill that only a 'craftsman' can achieve. Where does this leave women who are artisans, 'craftsmen' and makers. 

What about the difference, if any, between a dressmaker/seamstress and a tailor? Maybe we'll leave that discussion for another time...

Some of these books and blogs make it sound like men who want to be crafts people have to fight for that right. Their fight seems to be similar to women fighting for the right to vote and/or to be counted as one whole person. One of the books, "Knitting with Balls," even went into the history and contributions that men made to knitting (mostly by designing and building machines). That's cool, that's great, but just flipping knit yourself a pair of socks and maybe a pair for your b/g-friend and stop griping about it!

Is it that men feel like they have to explain themselves to other men so that they are still seen as manly? There are a lot of references to soldiers knitting socks and gloves for themselves and male doctors knitting to stretch their fingers. Yet, when we insist on this gendered dichotomy society loses out on its makers and entrepreneurs. 

Women have been trying to prove that the world of crafts is more than doilies and grandma-made stuff (as if there is something wrong with the crafts of our grandma's era). Do we have to give it a diy/maker spin to make it as important as something a 'craftsman' made? Describe crocheting a scarf like we would how to build a book shelfif we talk about it as constructing usable stuff, then the fact that is constructed like the stuff that "men" construct/build, then would it be more worthy or more accepted?

We realize that some of the statements we have made here are generalizations and that there are many men and women within the diy/maker/art world who are passionate about their art and create/make regardless of society's expectations. What we would like is to start a conversation about the larger issues that impact the handmade movement and draw attention to the inherent sexism in the language that we use.


Originally published 6/19/13

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