July 27, 2019

Straight men's fear of knitting


What a friend taught me about how we all play along to let the gender stereotypes govern our lives.

A month ago I posted a comment on my "real life" facebook account about similarities between Nordic knitting patterns and neolithic chevrons, wondering what they both expressed something about our subconscious minds.  (Yeah, I am a nerd. Deal with it ;-) )

I think it was the accompanying photo of a Norwegian sweater that made a friend add the following comment:
"So you have started knitting now?" 
I believe there was a smiley involved. I cannot remember.

That sentence got me thinking.

Friendly bullying


There are three possible interpretations:
  1. He genuinely wanted to know if I had started knitting, with no ulterior motive.
  2. He questioned my status as a real male, as I indicated an interest in womanly knitting.
  3. It was a man to man joke, where he acknowledge my "manhood", but he was teasing me for challenging the borders for proper male behavior.

If he had been a woman, I would have gone for alternative 1. But since he had shown no interest in tricotage before (or for any stereotypical "feminine" hobby for that manner), I doubt very much he was looking forward to discussing the sizes of knitting needles with me.


He is basically a good guy, so I doubt he was trying to harass me.

During the middle ages knitting was predominantly a male occupation. When the very first knitting union was established in Paris in 1527, no women were allowed. In some areas knitting was considered a typical male occupation all the way up tp to the early 20th century. This is a 1855 sketch of a shepherd knitting, while watching his flock. Needless to say, the act of knitting is in itself neither male nor female. It is the cultural context that defines it as one or the other.

Straight men's feminization fear and fascination 

This leaves us with the third option: This was a friendly joke, where he was making fun of my strange interest in knitting, but where he could not even contemplate the possibility that I had actually started knitting (which would have been be a real violation of the pact of masculine brotherhood).

This kind of man to man jokes are meant to affirm the male identity of the two men involved. It is the potential gender boundary violation that is supposed to make such jokes funny.

This tells me that straight, heteronormative guys are secretly drawn to gender boundary violations, so they need to relieve the accompanying nervous energy by laughing at what i would call SD2P  ("Sitting Down To Pee") jokes.

But what made his comment particularly interesting to me, is how the joke illustrates the subtle and implicit ways our culture disciplines and conditions boys and girls to live up to gender stereotypes and gender roles. Because even if he did not want to bully me, his words would have had the same effect as bullying if I was in fact knitting.

Remember that this kind of "friendly bullying" is present all the time in male communities. It is an essential part of male bonding. These jokes reinforce the misogyny and the fear of social exclusion found in these circles. And they hit those who truly are gender variant the hardest.

Transgender exclusion

In the discussion of transgender lives, there is a focus on the difference between those who act like their true gender in childhood and those who try to live up to their assigned gender, often referred to as "early onset" versus "late onset" transgender people.

Given the force the cultural gender conditioning has, the real mystery is not the trans women who join the Navy Seals before giving up their male lives. The true mystery is the ones who manage – against all odds – to express their true gender in face of all the jokes and the harassment.


The offensive photos of Marius sweaters from Norway. Note that the woman would get away with wearing the blue model (which is the normal one). I am not sure the man would get away with wearing the white, fitted one. The secret gender police is everywhere!

Top photo: monstArrr_ Bottom photo: Sandnes Garn and Nordic Working.

8 comments:

  1. I'd ask @Lynne_Kelly about similarities between Nordic knitting patterns and neolithic chevrons...

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  2. During the French Revolution, those women attending political meetings were called tricoteuses, because they wouldn't waste all that time!

    https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tricoteuses

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  3. A fourth alternative might be that he is a closeted knitter, looking for an opportunity to come out to you. If so, in reference to your "I doubt very much he was looking forward to discussing the sizes of knitting needles with me," he may have actually wanted to declare that his were bigger (because, of course, that's what men do - right?) ;-)

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  4. @Adrian

    "I'd ask @Lynne_Kelly about similarities between Nordic knitting patterns and neolithic chevrons..."

    Oh yes, do that!

    @Orlanda

    Actually, until recently this was a common argument made for knitting everywhere and at all times in Norway, as well!

    @Connie

    That would be coming out in a very masculine way, yes ;) Using the biggest needles would limit his repertoire, somewhat, though.

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  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=os7bOBlre5E

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  6. As always, Jack, very interesting article. Thank you! A couple of comments:

    "In the discussion of transgender lives, there is a focus on the difference between those who act like their true gender in childhood and those who try to live up to their assigned gender, often referred to as "early onset" versus "late onset" transgender people."

    My impression (which may very well be inaccurate) is that 'onset' refers to approximately when an individual becomes aware of discomfort with their birth gender. Thus, 'early' means preprubertal childhood, and 'late' seems to include everything after puberty but certainly also directed at those later in life (middle age?). I've sometimes wondered if "late onset" is used by those who would tell us that to be transgender is some sort of choice.

    "Given the force the cultural gender conditioning has, the real mystery is not the trans women who join the Navy Seals before giving up their male lives. The true mystery is the ones who manage – against all odds – to express their true gender in face of all the jokes and the harassment."

    I agree wholeheartedly. When I was in high school I wondered if I should join the armed forces to have my inner conflicts drummed out. I wonder if the Navy Seals members you're referring to had been driven by those thoughts. Thankfully, I didn't choose that path.

    Regardless, the community of men often make misogynistic "jokes" among themselves for various reasons that they argue are largely good natured but cross the line. I always felt the hairs rise on my neck when hearing them but, acting the part, I chuckled along with them. I'm not proud of that.

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    Replies
    1. My early onset was soon followed by an offset. That is, I realized that I couldn't be accepted as a girl by my family or anyone else, so I worked hard to fit the mold that was expected of me, but I never gave up on believing that I was a girl. I did muster up the fortitude to suppress my desire to live life as a woman on my seventeenth birthday, and managed to keep that up for another seventeen years. The fact that I had expressed myself and grown into a young woman in my spare (and private) time, against the power of the testosterone that was ravaging my mind and body, actually scared me into that suppression.

      I, too, almost joined the armed forces. My lottery number for the draft was 122, and I thought it was inevitable that I would be drafted. Somehow, though, I was never called up, but it all ended just past 122, anyway. I always figured that I would have been such a good soldier, all "gung ho" in my usual overcompensation, that I would have also ended up a dead soldier.

      Anyway, you can't hold a good girl down! My transition may have been late-onset, but I knew of the girl I was born to be when I was four-years-old. I think this is true for many of us of our generation.

      Making a joke about gender stereotypes is fine with me, but I draw the line at making them personal. I can throw them with the best of 'em - even if one might say that I throw like a girl. :-)

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    2. Thank you for sharing this, Connie. I am so glad you were able to become yourself!

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