Thursday, January 26, 2006


Yesterday was another rough day at the office, so at lunch time I quickly ate the lunch my wife had packed for me and took my knitting and iPod down to the food court in the lower level of my building, where I bought a Cherry Pepsi and chose a table, fully intending to zone out, work on my sock and watch an episode of Desperate Housewives on the pod. Knitting, sugar, caffeine, and smutty television -- what more could I ask for?

But, to paraphrase Burns, the best laid plans of knitting men often go awry. Five times in 30 minutes I was interrupted...meaning I had to put down my knitting, pause the iPod, and remove my ear buds...just so I could face yet another in a long line of insulting or patronizing comments.

I would really like to know what it is about a man sitting alone, wearing headphones, watching a video screen, and knitting that screams "I WANT TO INTERACT WITH YOU! PLEASE! I WILL DIE IF YOU DON’T TALK TO ME!"

A woman yesterday interrupted my sock knitting to tell me that she teaches beginning knitting and asked if I would be interested in taking her class. Even though I've been knitting for 35 years, I managed to brush off the question without being rude, but when she said she had never knitted a sock before, her train of thought was obvious: “He’s doing something I’ve never tried, but he must be a novice because he has a penis.” What -- is the X chromosome the crafty one? So women must be twice as skilled at things with yarn, right?

Then there is the woman who interrupted my knitting (and a scene from Desperate Housewives where a lingerie-clad Eva Longoria was climbing on top of her sweaty gardener) to tell me “How great it is to see a man knitting.” OK, only a slightly annoying interruption. But then she proceeded to tell me how, in her day, “All the hunters and fishermen knit their own wool socks off-season.” To translate for the uninitiated, she really was saying “Not all men who knit are queer. Once upon a time manly men knit.”

Apparently there is an insuppressible fascination with the sexual activities of men who knit. There are, I am quite convinced, women who can’t sleep at night because they were unable to determine if that man on the bus likes boys.

Since wedding rings are no longer a decisive indicator, these women have had to develop new ways of bringing the conversation around to the “boys or girls” topic. My favorite of these is the leading question. “OH, what a lovely [sock, scarf, sweater, etc.]! Is that for your wife?”

I know what they really want me to say is either “Yes, it is.” Or “No, it’s for my oldest daughter.” Or “Oh, no. I’m not married. This is for my boyfriend’s drag ensemble. He does a wicked Judy Garland!” And while I am irresistibly in love with my wife and quite proud of having done my part towards the continuation of the species, I don’t think my private life is a topic to be discussed with total strangers. I usually just say “No, it’s for me.” Even if the knitted item in question is a shocking pink mohair twin set with crystal beading.

The interruptions were so numerous that I packed up my shit and went back to my floor where I finished up my lunch hour knitting in a chair in our storage area -- the only place I could think of where I wouldn't be interrupted.

Please don’t get me wrong. I like women. My best friends are women. I know it isn’t ALL women who behave this way, and that those who do behave this way are a small minority. But, while small, they are an assertive group. This doesn’t only happen to me. I’ve talked to other guys – they all know what I’m talking about. And, gay or straight, their reaction is the same as mine.

Why does a it matter so much to these people? I don’t know them, I don’t really ever see any reason I should ever come to know them, and yet they want to know intimate details of my life.

How would they like it if I asked if they’d ever faked an orgasm or used a vibrator? Or maybe they like girls?

Maybe next time I'll ask.


the fiddlin' fool said...

I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that we are breaking "traditional" gender roles by knitting. Many women are curious to know why we feel that we can "break the rules." Are we gay and used to defying "traditional" gender roles, or is there some other (i.e. less obvious) reason? I'm sorry to say that these women probably give less credit to male knitters who they believe are gay.

And if they are convinced you are straight, they start in with the whole "I know lots of macho men who knit and crochet. Take Rosie Greer..." in a weird sort of attempt to try to make me feel justified in what I am doing. Trust me, I feel completely justified in what I am doing, and I certainly don't need some stranger on the L to give me self-confidence. I obviously have enough to begin with.

That being said, my guess is that a lot of people just like to make conversation and can't think of anything better than, "Oh, a man knitting! How unusual!"

Wee Quantum Furball said...

I absolutely adore your blog. I've been lurking and reading for a while, now.

I don't know what it is about people knitting in public - male or female - that seems to make others feel they can come up to you and start talking to you about all sorts of things they would never talk about with others. As if, just by the act of knitting, you have become an instant conversation magnet....and most often not the brightest of conversations.

Personally, I never realized it was unusual for men to knit, crochet, cook, sew or whatever. My dad has done all these things and it's how I grew up. I find it humorous to watch the reaction of people when they realize my son (15) crochets like a demon and is a total whiz in the kitchen...and then I get annoyed because of the immediate sexuality issues that arise.

I don't know what's up with the world, but - really - 'tis not one bit of their business.

Rachel H said...

I'm sorry, but I couldn't stop myself giggling while reading this. I'm a bad, bad person. *snicker*

The more important question to my mind would be What sock yarn? What pattern? If I liked it enough, I would probably have interrupted Desperate Housewives to ask. Like I said though, I'm a bad person.

Elisabeth said...

Personally, I think it makes no sense to reassure men who are knitting right in front of you that it is "manly" to knit. Now, if a fellow is expressing an interest in the knitting, but can't seem to get past the "knitting is women's work factor," that's the time to start thowing out the names of manly men who knit. It's reverse gender discrimination. It's like watching a woman jogging past you and stopping her to say you think it's great to see a woman running and not to listen to those people who say that women can't be real athletes.

Frankly, knitting in public, while sometimes pleasant, can also be a pain even if you are a woman. If I'm feeling particularly a-social, I won't pull out my knitting on the bus because inevitably somebody will ask me what I'm making and start talking about how their great aunt Tilly used to churn out dishcloths like nobody's business.

Franklin said...

Happens to me, too. I could be working the last four stitches of an Alice Starmore, and I'd get asked "Oh, are you learning to knit?"

Of course, part of this - for men or women - is just that doing anything unusual (especially if it's creative) in public is going to draw attention. When I go out and shoot pictures with my pinhole camera (a rosewood and brass box on a tripod) I invariably have people walk over and *stand in front of it* while I'm exposing the film to ask what it is, what I'm doing, how does it work, etc.

One of the people who reads my blog one wrote that a friend of hers actually keeps a little tabletop sign in her knitting bag that says "Sorry! No knitting questions or comments today. Thank you."

Seems like it might be effective. I've been tempted.

Andy said...

As one of your fellow Stitches in Britches companions from Tuesday evening, I found today's post especially funny, as I actually took out the needles today on the 156 bus, and no one said a thing...I must be doing something wrong! But wait until that first comment...

Ted said...

Maybe it's a difference between Canadians and Americans, but when I knit in public I'm never asked what I'm working on or when I learned to knit. Truly: it's as if I'm not there.

However, last July I did a 3-hour stopover in the Detroit airport. I was spinning using a small high-whorl spindle, and it was fascinating watching people trying to not watch me. They would quickly avert their eyes if I made eye contact with them; they would walk facing str8 ahead but with their eyes looking at me as they went by. No-one stopped and watched; no-one asked what I was doing.

Maybe I put out some kind of vibe?

SpaceCase said...

As a knitter, when I see other knitters (male or female) I may pay closer attention to what they're doing just to satisfy my curiosity - but would never tap them on the shoulder and say "What are you working on?" For me, knitting on my lunch break is my "meditation" time, and wouldn't be at all pleased if someone interrupted it - do unto others, and all that.

SweetPeaknits said...

Ive just found your blog, and I think your hillarious. Great blog.

And, as for knitting in public - thats why I don't.

dag said...

this is so funny! thanks for making my day!!!

GAndyS said...

Happens every time I spindle or use a spinning wheel in public. And I'm female. They don't ask me if I'm making something for anyone else, though! They just ask me to tell them something, I'm supposed to teach? It's the gray hair. So maybe we are talking about "preconceptions" people have, its just more tantilizing to them if their preconception is sexual orientation than age!
I also get the other problem when working on my cars, which require a fair amount, sometimes roadside work (which is nearly a thing of the past what with the fuel-injection-revolution of the '80s. But I wander, sorry. Here I am at the side of the road under the car and a guy comes over and starts taking tools out of my hand! What?
Anyway it is, as they say, a wiggly world!

pamelamama said...

perhaps you are missing the inherent flattery -- the women might be fishing to see if you are in fact, a single/straight/available knitting man -- a single/straight/available knitting woman's secret desire. ha!

I put a few feelers out to my NU alum buddies on your Julie Pack. I graduated a bit earlier than she did, so it's not likely I'll find her, but you never know!

good luck!

Jen said...

Two things: 1. On the "men knitting" thing -- as we all know, there is a long standing tradition of men knitting, and I am glad you and other men are reversing the relatively recent sexism of knitting being "women's work". Although I don't fully love the Waldorf school philosophies, I do love the use of crafts like knitting and cooking to teach lots of cognitive skills like sequencing, planning, fine motor coordination, as well as the overarching skills of creativity and expression, and exploration of materials. I fully intend to teach my son Alec to knit, if he wants to!

2. On the knitting in public thing: I am of mixed opinion on this. Being one of those people who dresses in medieval clothes on the weekends, I personally love to demo and spread my enthusiasm for what I do. Part of why I knit in public is to interact with people and get appreciated and share what I do. So I'm not sure about resenting people for asking, I feel like I'm always prosletizing for Craft, in a low key way, like I'm always in a demo. But, I definitely understand being annoyed by the condescending nature of others' comments. I just think it's a setup to do something interesting and a little unusual in public and then be mad if people talk to you about it.

Aidan said...

Jen, dear. OK -- the SCA duds wiggin me out, but I'm an openminded person. It's not like you are a republican, or something.

I understand your point about doing something interesting in public invites comments. But I also think people need to read the context. A person sitting alone, with earphones, watching a video monitor...regardless of what their hands are not inviting social interactions with strangers.

I will try to play nicer with others. But they also have to know when is a play date, and when is not.

I'm glad you are here to challenge my crankiness.