Thoughts on hobbies and gender, revisited

September 20, 2013 | gender, hobbies

It’s no secret or a surprise that knitting is a gendered hobby. Most knitters are women and there is nothing offensive or factually incorrect about that statement. While knitting as a hobby is growing and there are more men and boys participating in the craft, it is still primarily women that pick up the needles and work with yarn.

Issues of difference have always been very important and fascinating to me. I focused on studying prejudice and social norms during my psychology education in college, and specialized further in grad school within a Women’s Studies department. I focused on norms and how they related directly to sex/gender, race, sexuality, and religion and are represented in popular culture that primarily attracts a young, female audience. Now that I’m in a predominantly male field, gendered differences in the way people work and interact at work are more apparent to me than in previous jobs.

What does this have to do with hobbies? A lot. I was a bit overloaded on the academic world, and over-analyzing every aspect of my life with a gendered, racial, etc, etc lens was an emotionally exhausting task. To be honest, it hasn’t really been on my mind until lately – last Halloween was the first time that I had friends with kids old enough to state opinions about what they wanted to dress up as. One of them recently lamented to me that while her son could find action figures, books, and costumes, her daughter could either be Cat Woman or the Black Widow. And that was it. There weren’t any other superheroes, all of her other options were gender-neutral ghosts, ghouls, animals, and inanimate objects, or the time-honored princess. Even Brave’s Merida is a princess. Her daughter dressed up as Captain America last Halloween. This isn’t new: princesses are to little girls what Marvel and DC Comic characters are to little boys. They’re the majority of the gender-specific market share.

But it got me thinking about hobbies, and kids, and how parents connect with their children. When I was a little girl, I played on the boys’ t-ball team and on a co-ed soccer team. I painted, crocheted, read books, threw mud, and played around on my dad’s ancient computer. I also played with my brother’s chemistry set, and he played with my Barbie dolls (he also had dolls of his own). It is never as black-and-white in lived family lives as it appears to be in the pink-and-blue aisles of Target and Toys R Us. I connected most with my mom when we sat on the couch and read together, and most with my dad when we make cookies in the kitchen.

How am I going to connect with my kids? Obviously I’ll teach them how to knit and I will attempt to instill a love of programming in them as soon as they are young enough to possess the dexterity to do both. Like any good parent with an obsessive hobby, I’ll force it on them until they make me admit defeat, or until they learn to love it. If I have boys, I’ll knit with them, just like if I have girls. I’ll play video games with them, and while I hope that they will be gender-appropriate or gender-neutral games, they may not be, so I’ll reinforce gender equality in their day-to-day lives. I’ll bake with them, and walk the dog with them, and make sure they enjoy reading as much as I do.

I was lucky enough growing up that my parents were both aware of and occasionally challenged gender roles. My mom raised me to be an unapologetic badass, constantly questioning and trying to improve myself in every way that I could. She taught me to be proud of my smarts, to not be afraid to share things I knew with other people, and to remember to listen to everyone, not just the people who I thought were smarter than me. My dad raised me to be polite and kind, always thinking of others before thinking of myself. Hopefully I’ll be able to teach my kids that their gender doesn’t matter, even if someone else tries to convince them that it does.

Modified from the original post on feministy.com (November 2012).