Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The politics of craft

Photo via weheartit

A throwaway comment in an email - “For a feminist you have incredibly 'girly' hobbies: baking, sewing and buying flowery dresses” - got me thinking about the politics of my craft.  Without wanting to generalise, my personal experience suggests that most of the young women who are passionate about creating (whether it be baking cakes, sewing clothes or knitting scarves) are also educated, career-minded and, in many cases, feminists.  Which leads to something of a disconnect: how does one reconcile feminist views with wearing a flower-print pinny while potting homemade jams?

Rewind 50 years and baking, sewing and knitting were seen as women's work and a wife's duty.  During the 80s, as more women entered the workforce, household income rose, and consumer goods declined in price, crafts started to be seen as old-fashioned pastimes, perhaps only indulged in by a few grey-haired WI members.  However the last few years have seen a resurgence of interest in 'making and doing'.  As incomes have fallen and the country has plunged into economic gloom, many people have rediscovered the joy of crafts.  However, these hobbies have almost entirely been taken up by women: my craft club is all women; the local knitting circle has one token man.  Why is craft still 'women's work'?  And does it make me a 'bad feminist' if I spend my free time in the kitchen or sewing room?

After a childhood spent almost constantly baking (and leaving the kitchen in a state, cleaning never having been a strength of mine), sewing or cutting and sticking, I abandoned crafts almost entirely throughout my teens and twenties.  However, much of those years were spent involved in the fanzine scene, which had sprung out of Riot Grrrl in the early 90s and was shot throught with a DIY ethos.  My interest in crafts was reignited by the monthly 'She's Crafty' columns in American feminist magazine Bust, which reminded me that making things could be fun and even empowering.  The pleasure and pride one can get from creating something by hand is incredible.  Women now have the freedom to choose whether or not to spend time cooking; baking; sewing, and if your choice is to make something, then the thrill of creation, of sewing yourself a new tote rather than buying a sweatshopped bag, or cooking a meal from scratch instead of bunging something in the microwave, is second to none.  Craftivist and writer Betsy Greer sums it up in her book Knitting For Good: "I'm not alone in wanting to literally 'craft my life,' instead of letting it craft me". 

Sitting down to read and write about this subject has been fascinating and I still have all sorts of interesting musings buzzing around my brain.  I'd be interested to hear what other people think about the craft renaissance and gender...

Monday, 30 January 2012

Music Monday: Ryan Adams

My usual weekend recap never got written yesterday, because I was enjoying snuggling by the fire, reading and listening to Ryan Adams, too much to fetch my laptop.  I have become obsessed with his music lately, particularly 2001's Gold and recent release Ashes & Fire, and am listening to one or the other every day, so last week I was very excited to get tickets (albeit rubbish seats) for his tour in April.

I was quite torn as to which song to choose for music Monday.  Come Pick Me Up from the Heartbreaker album and Answering Bell and When The Stars Go Blue, both from Gold, are favourites, but this track, Come Home (from his new album)  just won out, partly for the beautiful slide guitar effects and partly for the lovely backing vocals sung by his wife, Mandy Moore.  I'm a sucker for a bit of romance in a song, and when they sing "Nobody has to hide/The way that they feel...I will be here for you/Standing by your side" in harmony, I defy the hardest of hearts not to feel moved.  Up top is the original album version, and below is a lovely video of Adams singing the song acoustically.  I'm not sure which I prefer.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Books: Pandaemonium by Christopher Brookmyre

I'm a big fan of Brookmyre's writing, particularly his Jack Parlabane series, which walks the line between political satire and crime thriller.  This, his thirteenth novel, is a standalone title which ventures into the realm of fantasy while still keeping the laughs coming. 

The novel switches between two settings and groups of characters.  Firstly, an American military base deep under a mountain in the Scottish Highlands, which, for reasons that quickly become horribly clear, is home not just to the soldiers but also to a famous physicist, an MoD biologist and a Cardinal from the Vatican.  Not far away, a group of sixth formers, their teachers and school chaplain, are at an outward bound centre for a retreat, the pupils having witnessed the murder of one their friends by another student.  An 'accident' at the base on the same night as the school disco soon proves to have far-reaching consequences for all on the trip.

One of my favourite things about the novel was the extent to which the teenage characters feel realistic: sometimes sympathetic, sometimes sweet, sometimes irrational, sometimes foul.  However the reader would be well served to not get too close to any one character, as this is a book where no-one is safe.  There is plenty of gore in Pandaemonium but it's of the cartoonish variety, where a horrific death often comes accompanied by a belly laugh.

It's also genuinely thought-provoking stuff, posing questions about the nature of civilisation and of evil, along with Brookmyre's familiarly skeptical take on religion.  Any novel which namechecks scientist Michio Kaku and devotes a fair amount of page space to discussions of various physics theories (the 'Many Worlds' interpretation[1]  being particularly important to the plot) is ok with me, as I'm somewhat of a physics geek.  In fact, this is a book designed for geeks: the music fans catered to by mention of the playlist at the school disco which culminates in Mogwai Fear Satan; gamers having plenty to enjoy in the frequent references to multi-player shoot 'em ups and quest games.

Pandaemonium is vintage Brookmyre: clever, funny, chaotic, bloody, bloody-minded and irreverant.  I heartily recommend you take a look.

[1] First formulated by Hugh Everett, who was Mark Everett off of Eels’ dad, fact fans.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Music Monday: Vampire Weekend

Most of my music Monday posts are about songs that I love passionately, but Vampire Weekend are, I find, hard to feel passionate about.  Their music is nice, fine, pleasant even, but I don't think those are adjectives any musician would fancy having attached to their work.  I do like the video for this song, Oxford Comma, which is directed by Richard Ayoade of The I.T Crowd fame, but what I really feel passionately about is the Oxford comma itself...

Having spent today languishing in bed with a migraine I was feeling utterly bereft of inspiration for today's post.  And then, lo!  An email appeared (with the cartoon below attached) that, were I and the sender not avowed athiests, I would attribute to divine intervention.  Suddenly the question of what to write about was solved.  Because actually, Vampire Weekend, I give a fuck about the Oxford comma.

I've done my best to find out where this comes from so I can credit the artist, but no luck.  Whoever it is, I think I might love and hate them in equal measure.  Oxford comma: good.  Lower case proper nouns: bad.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Music Monday: Karima Francis

As I mentioned yesterday, I went to a spectacular gig by Karima Francis on Friday evening and this song, Glory Days, was a highlight of her set.  She is a singer who inspires passion and devotion: this is the third gig we've been to in as many months, driving to Birmingham, Manchester and Nottingham for the opportunity to hear her.  Most of this devotion is down to her incredible voice but a lot is also down to her very funny but self-effacing stage presence.  Karima is playing Nottingham Glee Club on 21st January and Camden Jazz Cafe on 10th February.  I would urge you to go and see her.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Music Monday: Tura Satana

In my late teens, after years of listening to winsome indie, my music tastes underwent an huge change.  Beginning work in an alternative club which played mostly rock and metal, my cutesy plastic hairslides were exchanged for black lipstick, and Belle & Sebastian were supplanted by Marilyn Manson and Korn.  Not that I ever stopped loving indie music, but for a good few years I was more interested in rock. 

Tura Satana were my biggest passion, mainly because of the raw power of lead vocalist Tarrie B's anguished lyrics and delivery.  Throwing the word "whore" around like it was going out of fashion (this was, of course, the era of riot grrrl, where writing "slut" on your arm in eyeliner was a feminist statement); singing lines like "got a right to dress sexy when and where I want/ without being harrassed for it/ or being told that I asked for this" (Victim); displaying a lyrical obsession with blood, pain, sickness, love, sex and Catholic iconography, all to a backdrop of thrashing guitars and heavy basslines, Tarrie B was my nineteen year old-self's version of the perfect woman, someone I aspired to be like.  My ambition in life was to be as glamorously fucked up and as articulately angry as Tarrie and it was through reading her interviews in Kerrang and poring over Tura Satana's lyrics that I started to build an idea of how a feminist woman in rock might look and sound.  She taught me how to protect myself in a mosh pit, how to have a pithy comeback ready for the men who leered at me over the bar I worked in, or felt it was their right to cop a feel on the dance floor. 

I was walking into Leicester last week, feeling full of pent-up energy and frustration, when this Tura Satana track shuffled onto my iPod and reminded me of their brilliance.  It's incredibly different to anything else I've ever posted for Music Monday, and no doubt won't be to a lot of people's tastes.  But oh, the nineteen year old deep inside me - who wonders is she will ever grow up, who thinks saying "fuck" in a song makes it way rock and roll - still glories in the screamed lines at the end of Relapse: "Don't tell me that I can't be myself, that I can't be...".