I am a big knitting fan. I discovered knitting in my early twenties when my peers were out rubbing cocaine into their eyeballs and networking with a bottle of Premier Cru. As a young graduate I was broke and constantly tired, so I took up knitting at the insistence of my best friend who said it revolutionised her life. After a few weeks of several hundred balls of inextricably tangled wool, a broken knitting needle, hand cramp, and half the neighbourhood cats chasing balls of wool around my living room, I mastered the art. The trick, it turns out, is a light but firm touch, a steady rhythm, and lots of practice. (No giggling at the back).
Knitting can be highly therapeutic, very relaxing and is not unlike meditation techniques - focusing one's consciousness on a calming and repetitive task, allowing your mind to relax and wander. Proponents of gardening, yoga or baking would probably say the same. However people's reactions to my hobby are often depressingly backwards:
- Aren't you a feminist?
- Aren't you in your twenties?
- You'll make a lovely mummy one day
- You'll make a lovely granny one day
- Its good to see women in their place
- Why are you licking my face?
Ok maybe not that last one. My point is - why can't I just do what I damn well please? Why does it bother people that I have a hobby that seems to them at odds with being a young, empowered woman? My boyfriend knits. My Dad used to knit rugs, until his fingers gave out with the ravages of arthritis. Traditionally, knitting was a male-only occupation. Studies have shown that knitting reduces stress, lowers blood pressure, helps to manage pain and strengthens the immune system.
This brings me to poor Julia Gillard, who just wants to get on with being Prime Minister, and keeps being reminded that she's a woman and is therefore inferior at everything. Julia is in Australian Women's Weekly this week, with a picture of her knitting a kangaroo for the royal baby. The internet, the opposition party, several news outlets and some knitting purists are up in arms because:
- Julia is being too feminine
- Julia is not feminine enough and this is too little too late
- Julia isn't a real knitter and this is a publicity stunt
- Julia is being pro-Republican by knitting for a royal
- Julia is playing the gender card
- That's the wrong kind of wool or something
The woman cannot win. Having recently been reduced to the size of her breasts on a Liberal party dinner menu, Gillard is no stranger to the sexism in politics. But it seems incredibly unfair that the woman who took went viral with her famous smackdown speech railing against misogyny from the opposition leader Tony Abbott should have to face yet more wearying sexism from the faction that brought her "your dad probably died of shame". If I'm ever wondering if something is sexist, I apply the trusty litmus test of "would someone say the same thing about a man". Well, no. If Francis Hollande appeared in Mens Health with a hunting rifle he might upset some animal rights activists but no one would ever accuse him of playing the gender card.
Knit on, Julia. We love you.