Dear Writers: Enough with Dissing Needlework

Okay, if you haven’t seen the trailer for the new Netflix series Enola Holmes, it’s worth watching. And the show looks great! Except for one thing. Go ahead and watch it. I’ll wait. You’ll know it when you see it.

Yeah. Enola is Not Like Other Girls. And how did the writers decide to show that? She doesn’t know how to embroider! That’s right. Just like another “action-oriented” and “interesting” female character who is Not Like Other Girls. *cough*Arya*cough

Could we dispense with this incredibly tired clichรฉ already? It’s as if writers are going “what is something old timey females did that’s really stupid and boring?” In other words, this device isn’t revealing the disdain of the character for traditionally female arts – it’s coming from the writers’ contempt for them.

I’m going to throw out there that, in both of my examples, the writers are male, which makes the assumption even more annoying – and even misogynistic. Yes, I’m sure there’s an image floating out there of old timey females sitting around in some parlor, primly doing needlework and gossiping like hens clucking. How dull! What ninnies they must be! Surely any sensible, action-oriented and interesting female worth her salt will repudiate such nonsense!

This attitude completely ignores the fact that many powerful people enjoy needlework and fiber arts of all kinds because they are both relaxing and allow the mind to focus on other activities. Listening to music or to someone reading aloud while doing needlework is immensely soothing. Handwork like this is meditative and allows for creative inspiration. Embroidery and similar arts are exacting crafts requiring concentration, dexterity, and the meticulous application of practice and talent. All those people complaining about smartphones ruining in-person socialization ought to appreciate that conversation is a worthwhile pursuit. It’s only when men dismiss women’s conversation as being worthless that it gets reduced to the level of gossip. It’s only contempt for arts that have been considered women’s work that makes it de rigeur for a heroine who’s Not Like Other Girls to shun needlework.

Let’s all roll our eyes at that.

And this photo? It’s a king-size wedding ring quilt I made for a friend’s wedding. I love quilting – but I had to give it up because it used too much of the same creative energy that writing does. I’m thinking about learning to knit, instead.

6 Replies to “Dear Writers: Enough with Dissing Needlework”

  1. Hear, hear!
    Thanks for this post. I want a heroine who kicks ass while wearing her own embroidery as she does so! And maybe stick that needle in some misogynistic jerk.

  2. I don’t think it’s so much because it’s looked down on, specifically, but because it’s *what all/only girls do* (and if girls do it, it must be lame, because girls are lame) So, when they want to show she’s “not like other girls” (which, yes, is it’s own problem), she’s got to shun crafting and hate pink (I do actually hate pink, but that’s besides the point) and dislike unicorns. What you really need are more male characters who do crafts, so it’s not a “girly” activity (well, and to not look down on “girly” things in the first place, of course). This is my (male) friend’s shop: https://www.thefiberists.com/ – Him and his husband spin and dye the yarn themselves, and use science-y stuff for their naming conventions/theme. Gary is currently learning to sew (I don’t know how). Have you ever written a male character that embroiders?

    All that aside, the show looks awesome.

  3. Those thinking of embroidery as something old-timey women used to do need to be reminded that young boys were also taught to do samplers in Colonial and Victorian times as an exercise in patience and precision, considered a prerequisite for careers in law, medicine or politics. Also as a necessary life skill, so they could mend their own clothes and mark their own linens before they gained a wife or while their occupations might require their being away from her. Sailors in particular were extraordinary embroiderers. How about a historical featuring a pirate who embroiders as a way of maintaining his anger issues so he can be impartial in controlling his crew?

    As a professional needlework designer for 30+ years, I can’t tell you the number of times men have complained to me that there aren’t enough male-oriented needlework patterns. I always try to keep in mind that there are as many men as women who enjoy the therapeutic emotional effect of stitching. This is one of the reasons I have many gender-neutral designs in my shop, and most of them are beginner-level, so men can feel comfortable trying their hand and have the immediate gratification of having a piece they can frame and show off. This gives them the self-confidence to carry on with needlework as a hobby.

    1. I didn’t know this about Colonial and Victorian traditions – that’s great to know! So interesting that it’s been so erased. I love this idea of the historical ๐Ÿ˜€ I love, too, that you have gender-neutral designs in your Etsy shop. How cool!

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