Women and Wool

Hello folks and apologies for the blogging hiatus – it’s been a busy week of (non-writing and knitting) work here at Golden Fleece HQ. The coastal rowing book that I’ve been working on with the University of St Andrews went to press on 6 March. StAnza poetry festival, where I chaired events and minded poets, took place from 1 – 5 March: a lovely literary whirlwind. lorimerOn 3 March we finally completed our house sale and picked up the keys to our new home. I did a little knitting whilst poet-minding, on one occasion in the stunning Robert Lorimer-designed Wayside House (window pictured left),  but otherwise the gansey had to take a back seat whilst I zoomed to the solicitors, began the transformation of the house to habitable dwelling, and mucked about with all things scull- and skiff-shaped.

Happily I’m now back behind the needles. Although the gansey is not yet finished, I’m keen to start research for March’s project. Hopefully it will be a much shorter knit than February’s! I’m looking forward to choosing wool, picking a pattern, and learning lots.

But before I get stuck in, I just want to celebrate the fact today is International Women’s Day. It was a woman who taught me to spin (Mum), to knit (best friend’s mum), and to share my love of fabric (a great friend from university). Of all the knitters I’ve met digitally and in person since starting this project, almost all of them have been women: Karen and Fiona who run my local yarn shop, The Woolly Brew; Penny Lister Hemingway at The Knitting Genealogist; Deb Gillanders at Propagansey. My wonderful literary agent Jenny Brown;  friends around the country who put me up and ferry me about for free to enable me to do this research on a shoestring – all women. My knitting group is women-only, not by design, but includes women from Brazil, Italy, Hungary, Finland and Britain. Gansey knitters? Almost exclusively women. I love being part of this worldwide sisterhood.

Going beyond the personal, the world of wool is all about women. Women who spin, knit and weave are legend: think of Homer’s Penelope, unravelling and reweaving her shroud as she waits for Odysseus’ return. Or Ariadne by the Cretan labyrinth, saving Theseus with a ball of yarn. Ancient Greece’s Fates, the Moirai, hold the mother thread of life – Clotho spins it, her sister Lachesis measures it, and Atropos clips it short. The Norns, Viking goddesses wielding shears and spindles, do likewise. The word spinster, used to describe a woman who spun wool to earn her livelihood, only becoming synonymous with ‘unmarried woman’ in the seventeenth century. Women with their spinning wheels are powerful agents for change and enchantment.

But you already know this, right? My concern is that men don’t. That they are not sure how to be positive for women, that they don’t recognise that women are treated differently and unequally to them. My point is this – we have IWD because:

  1. The Gender Pay Gap: women get paid less than men for doing the same work.
  2. Women make up nearly 51% of the world’s population. That is not a minority. Yet they hold fewer than 23% of parliamentary seats worldwide.
  3. Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate popuation are women. If you can’t read, you can’t get very far: try taking a train without seeing the platform numbers or destinations, working out the correct dose of medication to take from the bottle label, or taking part in an election where you have to mark your cross in a box next to the candidate’s name.
  4. Rape. Almost 99% of rapists are men, but 9 out of 10 rape victims are women. 97,000 people are raped in the UK alone each year. That’s a lot of women being punished and abused.

What do rape, education, pay and political representation have in comon? They are all ways of exerting power and control. And women are getting screwed, literally and figuratively, by these inequalities.

So, I want to ask all people to be positive about women today. Do something to pay back, support or celebrate the women in your life. Tweet a picture, share a story, send a text. Get political if you like. Go on – what’s the best that could happen?


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