Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Language matters

I have a long term interest in the way we all use language both to reflect and to shape the world around us. In choosing the words we use we not only let people know what we are thinking, but often also how we feel about what we are thinking. Just lately I've been concerned (yet again) by some words that are used among knitters. Those of you who know me can probably guess what's coming next - this is not something about which I've been silent in the past.

I become very uncomfortable when people - particularly when knitters - use such terms as 'granny knitting' or 'nana knitting'. These are not neutral terms. They're invariably used to describe a style of knitting that the person using the term doesn't like and thinks is inferior. Such terms are a short-hand way of describing knitting that is some or all of the following - old-fashioned; unaware of what current fashions are; knitted from cheap and/or synthetic yarn; knitted in a colour or combination of colours that is unsubtle/unfashionable/generally unattractive; knitted to display technique regardless of style or attractiveness; unadventurous...I could go on, but I don't need to. We all have an idea of what the term encompasses.

Of course, many of us find this kind of knitting unappealing and may wish to publicly judge it to be so. What I have difficulty with is that the words 'nana' or 'granny' are used as a summary of these characteristics. I don't need people to reassure me personally that I'm excluded from this category. I'm an older woman and a grandmother and I'm sufficiently confident of my taste or disregarding of others' judgments to knit what I choose and not care what others think about it.

However, by associating a group of people (grandmothers) with a negative characteristic (unfashionable knitting) such phrases contribute to the unthinking devaluing of older women in our society. Well, I hope it's unthinking, because otherwise such language use is both unjustifiable and unjust.

So, if you don't like a particular kind of knitting, please think about what it is that you don't like and find appropriate words to describe it - is it an inappropriate combination of yarn and style? is it mismatched technique and pattern? is it unfashionable? is it boring? do you just not like it?

I can't imagine that the real reason some things are disparaged is just because they've been knitted by grandmothers.

10 comments:

Lynne said...

As a brand new grandmother (of just five weeks duration) I certainly hope I never hear the term; even though my knitting occasionally falls into some of those descriptions!

Bells said...

oh yes, well said. It needs to be said. I was probably guilty of this sort of thinking early on but soon came to terms with the notion that without the grannies, we wouldn't be doing what we do now.

I was mortified a few years ago when I was playing a Joan Baez CD, from her later years, and a 25 year old visiting told me it was 'old lady music.' I put that moment in this category. Demeaning of older women.

Nicely said Lyn. We can say something is old fashioned or not to our tastes without being demeaning to an entire sector of the community

Caffeine Girl said...

Well put, Lyn! Age discrimination lives on -- and hurts women way more than men!

M-H said...

Well said. As you would imagine, I'm right behind you with this.

But you might be amused to learn that a rather stupid woman at work has been prattling on behind my back about my 'lesbian knitting" - specifically vests. Apparently only middle-aged lesbians make or wear these garments. The person who told me was laughing her head off. She had apparently replied to the 'joker' that if being a lesbian meant you would make as many lovely things as I do then she's was thinking she'd like to change her sexuality. And of course the next time I see this woman I will manage to get a dig in somehow. Possibly I will offer to make her a vest. :)

Sally said...

Hear, Hear Lyn. And to MH, "lesbian knitting"? I've never heard of that one. Incidentally, I think Vivienne Westwood is a grandmother. I bet nobody refers to her clothes as "granny's clothes".

Sel and Poivre said...

I couldn't agree more with the innate power of vocabulary to insinuate judgement. How we express things matters a lot. We should never loose sight of that!

missfee said...

I so agree Lyn, and M. Lesbian knitting that is new to me too - if the knitting you do is such I am jumping the fence right now.

drkknits said...

its like the way some stupid kids today call everything they dont like 'gay'. of course, thats a more deliberate choice than the often unthinking 'granny' - a term ive never used because as you say it implies all sorts of things. i would rather just talk about the things i dont like in the actual knitted item, rather than drag a whole generation into things! well said lyn, as always.

1funkyknitwit said...
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Probably Jane said...

It's thanks to my grandmother that I can knit at all and she also gave me the appreciation of good materials and technique. We always knitted with natural fibres at home even when money was tight and we bought cones of mill ends by mail order.I can only dream that my crochet will be as good as hers one day.