Friday, March 7, 2014

Gendered Quilting

modern quilt design paper shredder kevin kosbab
Quilt by Kevin Kostab courtesy Quilting Arts Magazine

Is it amusing or odd or different that men could quilt? Even though men have sewn for hundreds  of years and are well established as tailors and designers, how is it possible that quilting is considered a woman-only occupation?
Yet it must be so, because the interviewer asks the quilter::
Is there an automatic sense of community among men who sew? Have you had to overcome any prejudice from people who assume that you can't quilt well because you're a man?
Oh, Quilting Arts Magazine. Do you honestly expect your readers to believe that this quilter has encountered prejudice because he was a man? Most women are delighted when a man participates in their pastime.
Here is his polite yet also sexist reply:
K: Yeah, there's a sense of camaraderie among guys who quilt—even if it's because we share the experience of searching out the elusive men's bathroom at a quilt show
What a patronizing and mansplaining answer! Quilt shows aren't held in some weird other mirrored dimension inhabited by women only, but in convention centers, meeting halls and hotel conference rooms, where there are restrooms for all, yet paradoxically, always lines at the women’s restroom. I don’t know why he says the men’s rooms are rare. There are exactly the same number of restrooms.
I bring a different perspective to my quilts partly because I'm a man, but we male quilters all have our different styles, too. Maybe as men we don't feel that we have to make our quilts within the traditional categories, but who says a woman has to make a quilt a certain way either?
How about every person brings their own unique perspective to their art based on their own experiences, and it doesn't make any difference to art whether one is a man or a woman. Why is this even a question?
Occasionally I'll run into some prejudice—one cutting-counter attendant seemed to think I didn't know what a seam allowance was—but more often women will express that they're excited to see a man quilting. There does seem to be an undercurrent, though, of the idea that men have an easier time achieving success in quilting, however that's defined. It's probably true that being a novelty helps, but when I first started publishing designs, I also heard things like, “Oh, yes, men usually do better with that because they have more confidence.” I don't think I'm a hyper-confident macho man, (and I know a lot of women quilters who certainly aren't shrinking violets), and I'd like to think my designs have more to do with it than that. But I don't mind being a novelty if that's what it takes!
Kevin might be right when he says that men might have more confidence, but there is also a cultural factor. Studies have shown that men in traditionally female occupations often make more money starting out and rise to higher positions faster than women do. See BLS studies for comparisons of male versus female wages for the same jobs. (It has been amply documented that women get paid less than men for doing the same job.)
It’s not just the same job issue either; men get considered for promotion faster and rise more quickly than women who have equal experience. There are more male superintendents and principals, even though there are more female teachers. And at the higher levels there are more men with tenure at colleges than women and women report that they find it very difficult to get tenure, even with equal qualifications.
The lesson here is clear - if you are a man, you can succeed and thrive faster in a profession consisting mainly of women, because the way will be made clear for you. It’s not Kevin’s imagination. Quilting has long been considered the province of women, and even though quilts require a great deal of artistic ability and technique and skill, they have only fairly recently in their long history been recognized as an art form. It wasn't until a male art critic wrote about the beauty of the quilts of Gee’s Bend that quilting came to be considered an art at all by art critics. Before then it was just considered a nice womanly craft. Not an art form, because the mostly male gatekeepers of what is “art” had not yet  recognized that those quilts were art. (We'll know when it is considered art in its
own right, not just "quilt art" when quilts are hung side by side with Monets and Picassos in major museum collections, not just at Quilt Museums.)

In quilting as in all other “women’s crafts”  women don’t get the respect they deserve. It’s wonderful that Kevin says that women are delighted that a man is participating in quilting. It would be even nicer if men were equally delighted and welcoming to women doing jobs that are primarily done by men. We can make a deal. We’ll let them quilt all they want in exchange for equal pay and opportunity for all.


lw said...

Very thought-provoking post. I work in an nearly all male field-- engineering-- and by careful moving and choosing new jobs, I make as much as the men my age, or more. If I had stayed at my first job, I'd be lagging by about 30% compared to the men doing the same work.

It's wonderful to me that men quilt (I love having all of the perspectives and creativity that adds) and it's wonderful that quilting is recognised as an art form. I have noticed, though, that the art quilts rarely touch my heart the way a simple quilt, made by a family member and being dragged around by a toddler does.

badmomgoodmom said...

I agree with you about sexism.

But, the bathroom story is more complex as I explained here
in response to my naive remark here

I believe that the Long Beach convention center, like SF's Moscone center, also has movable partitions for bathrooms to change the stall allocation ratio depending on the convention population.

KC said...

Well said!