Craft and Privilege, Part 3: Looking at our Legacy.

If you haven’t already read them, I suggest reading Craft and Privilege Part 1 and Part 2 before reading this post.

Funnily enough, I didn’t intend on making this a 3-part blog post when I first wrote about Craft and Privilege last week. However, it opened so many cans of worms, that I felt like there was more to add.

First off, as asked in a comment to the first post, I want to talk a little bit about class privilege. The type of privilege I am addressing here. Of course, not every crafter in the whole world is privileged; however, those most represented and known on the crafternet are. We’re the type of crafter that can afford to buy $80 a sweater for yarn and not have to worry about how we’re going to eat and/or pay the electricity bill that month. And because of that reality, we have a privilege that a lot of people don’t have. And since people tend to have friends that are similar to themselves, it’s entirely possible you don’t even think you’re privileged because everyone in your world is just like you. Does that mean that this is applicable to everyone? Heck no. But it’s applicable to many people.

If you’ve ever heard me speak or read any of my essays, it won’t come as a surprise that I think that Riot Grrrl had a lot to do with setting the stage for the craft resurgence to happen. It allowed many of us to realize that we could do anything we wanted, and was incredibly important for many women, as it allowed us to hear, see, and understand, some of us for the first time, the power of our own voices. (For more about my position on Riot Grrrl, go look over here (2005) and here (2015), two posts about RG written a decade apart.

However, Riot Grrrl’s importance and legacy was tainted by the fact that people viewed it as something only applicable to privileged white girls. I mean, it’s such a negative part of it that people have written papers on it. According to that last link, even Corin Tucker criticized Riot Grrrl, a movement that she was earlier involved with:

Corin Tucker’s song “White Girl” addresses her own privilege and disgust with the Riot Grrrl movement but envisions a solution: one that suggests change will only occur once criticism could be directed inward at the movement’s inherent lack of inclusion.

And with all the blog posts about making all the pretty things and $80-yarn sweaters and items that in 2001 would have been DIYed and been imperfectly perfect are done professionally by teams hired to churn out blog content, we are heading down that road. Meaning that the craft movement will not be seen as helpful and exciting and freeing and post-third wave (feminism), it will be seen as privileged and boring and perfectly milquetoast.

By buying into the idea that we have to be perfect, we are becoming a microcosm of what the Industrial Revolution brought us. We are becoming enemies of our imperfections in order to get more likes and shares and blog hits. And yes, some of our handcrafted goods have had all the “good” sucked out of them because we’re reaching for a perfected conflation of our very selves.

And that the craft resurgence could be seen as anything less amazing and powerful and strong breaks my fucking heart. In two. Because in the beginning (2000-2002), it was about curiosity and being proud of yourself because you could make things and about reclaiming something that a lot of us were taught to avoid given what the second wave taught us. It was about reclaiming our power, not about privilege. The more we go astray from that sense of power and wonder that the craft resurgence was fucking founded on, the more we teeter on the edge of possible whitewashing the whole thing.

Because craft, true honest craft, was about utilitarianism and learning new things and providing yourself (and loved ones) with things that were made just how you wanted. It was not about money or competition or likes. It wasn’t about stress or working yourself into the ground. It was about everyone (every color, gender, age, income) making things.

And around the beginning of this century, craft was fun. And reclaiming it meant we were at a point where we could make things and pay our own bills. But now, everyone has professionalized things to a point where there is no room for play. Or making a mistake. Or deep, honest, fucking visceral authenticity. And I’m beginning to feel like Corin Tucker, you guys. And my heart is in pieces. So here, to the handful of you that read this on my newly-resurrected blog, I ask you, to making craft fun again for you. For us. For our legacy.

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7 Responses to Craft and Privilege, Part 3: Looking at our Legacy.

  1. Jessika April 16, 2015 at 8:21 pm #

    Yes! My heart has been breaking along these lines for awhile & I miss our playfulness and sense of being a more inclusive, creative community. So thank you for all three parts to this first for making me feel less alone and second for being an important voice to raise this from your perspective – I was waiting for this last piece to see where you were headed and hoping, hoping, hoping it might be addressing prejudice or race. I apologize for what might be dumping in your comments…

    It is hard not to feel frustrated or tired at the tone of much discussion around handmade, Etsy, and craft culture lately, it all seems very defeatist, exclusive, and ripe with privilege instead of possibility at all we are capable of or what legacy we are crafting together. I’ve been offering peer support to the handmade community via OMHG since 2011 and am increasingly worried at how poorly we care for and support parents, those who live with illness or disability, and people without support. One friend who I’ve known online for 3 years is 38 weeks pregnant with twins, works as a full time designer trying to feed a family of 4, has been trying to build her handmade letterpress biz at night, and still can’t afford maternity leave or ever get a break. Why aren’t we taking care of women like her if most crafters truly can buy $80 yarn and it won’t mean someone in their house goes hungry? How can we change the world if we can’t even pitch in a few bucks to help someone in our community? http://bit.ly/1IiB9Mx

    These are topics I’ve been raising in the handmade community pretty steadily but more loudly since my Black, Native, Jewish mom with complex PTSD ended up in the ICU and then struggled to find safe, supportive housing. I am also the primary source of income for my family of 4, support for my mom, my labourer partner was laid off again after a brutal rural winter, and I went to the yarn store today to just enjoy the space and use their ball winder but without money to spend (but with gifted yarn from a friend – which is better!). It would be easy to just get a good job and let handmade go – it hasn’t never been stable income for me compared to my earlier work in community organizing and cooperative development.

    For me the brilliance and hope of handmade for me has always been revolutionary and subversive, a belief that we could remake a more human and humane system with our own hands + hearts + heads by doing the work. Lately I’m not seeing us do the work as a community, especially online. I see more energy invested in being disappointed with Etsy then in working cooperatively to hold them accountable or using their growth as a tool to impact public policy + local communities. We argue over resellers and overseas goods instead of educating and raising the standards of factory workers in Cambodia and Bangladesh. Things are not the happy collaborative place they were 10+ years ago when I started this journey and it seems we prefer being competitive to supporting women like my friend or making a community that is prioritizing stories like these 9 http://bit.ly/1C0VO8Y.

    There are so many wonderful possibilities for us if we buckle down and really work together. We need diverse and inclusive, warm, playful spaces on + offline to remember why handmade matters and who can benefit most from it then direct our energy there. We still don’t even have a well marketed event for the handmade community that offers childcare. We could be building unions, advocating for policy change, improving the lives of makers globally – and yarnbombing trees + welcoming babies + building businesses + being awesome. And we are – just maybe not as quickly as I hope sometimes :)

    I’m sorry for exploding words all over the place – it was just such a relief to read this series & think about it over the last two weeks! I’d love to collaborate and make things or make things happen with you any time.

    • Betsy April 17, 2015 at 10:54 am #

      Thanks SO SO SO much for your comment, Jessika! And I agree totally! I think that a lot of problems stem from the fact that many of the problems we all face seem SO HUGE and crazy and big. So, we come back to our stitching, drawing, writing, painting and recenter and come back to a center of stasis again. And through those activities realize how important handmade truly is.

      There are so many good points in your comment, which I don’t have time to answer right now, but plan to in the future.

      But quickly, re Etsy, as we both tweeted about the other week, this initiative, their Craft Entrepreneurship Program is helping some individuals in underserved communities, which is a great step! However, no one seems to want to talk about that. It’s not the hot topic.

      And re factory workers in other countries (I spent over 4 years working with an org that aided them get their rights), I think the way forward can come from the handmade community by getting people to understand what it takes to make a garment and then having them see why they/we shouldn’t be paying $10 for them.

      So much more to say on this, so thanks so much for sharing your viewpoints!!

  2. wfih April 22, 2015 at 12:31 am #

    Thanks for this post and also the input from Jessika. I’m right with you on this. We have a movement, let’s keep the momentum.

    • Betsy April 22, 2015 at 9:25 am #

      Yes, let’s!

  3. Cinnamon Cooper April 30, 2015 at 12:38 am #

    Oh my! I’ve put off reading the 2nd and 3rd installments of this series, because I was left with so many feelings that I was worried I wouldn’t know what to do with them. So, I sit here crying, with tears on my cheeks, and realize that you and Jessika have just lightly tapped on this sore spot on my soul that I hadn’t even let myself realize was there. Thank you, thank you both. You have both given me much to think about. And, as always, I’m grateful to you for doing so, Betsy.

    • Betsy April 30, 2015 at 4:29 pm #

      Thanks, Cinnamon! I’m so glad to hear it resonated. Jessika was spot on with her comment, wasn’t she?!

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  1. Craft and Privilege, Part 1 - April 29, 2015

    […] ETA: I decided to write more about this issue; therefore, you can see Part 2 here and Part 3 here. […]

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