One of the skills that have served me well in my lengthy
knitting career has been a knack for being
'the only boy'. Although more men are trying
their hand(s) at knitting, it's still all
too often that I'm the sole male knitter
in the yarn store, at my workplace stitch'n'bitch,
or at the weekend knitting class.
This, I suppose,
dates back to my childhood. Boys, as a rule,
travel in packs and shun the company of
girls and women except when social obligations
or romantic intentions demand it. I, on
the other hand, loved it when my aunts visited
so I could sit among them and listen to
them bicker. I longed to go to baby showers,
with their dainties and their heart-shaped
deviled ham sandwiches and the countless
handmade gifts in the same colours as the
petit fours' marzipan frosting. I enjoyed
the visits from the Avon lady more than
my mother did. I wanted us to host a Tupperware
party, so I could join my mother and her
housewife friends in marveling at its ability
to 'seal in freshness'.
I was the only boy
in our family, and in our neighbourhood,
who was fascinated with jewellery and perfume
and spices. I was the only boy who wanted
to stay inside and read, even on a bright
sunny Saturday morning which practically
begged for youthful shouting and laughing
and running around, windows slamming shut
up and down the block against it all.
I was the only boy
who worked ahead in the textbook, who spent
his evenings at the library. Who watched
Bewitched for Endora, Serena and Uncle Arthur.
Who wanted to teach alongside Karen Valentine
in Room 222. Who wanted to be That Girl.
And who, at the first opportunity, became
the only boy to take Home Ec instead of
Shop -- cooking and sewing instead of carpentry
and auto mechanics.
never learned how to properly drive a nail,
saw in a straight line, check the oil or
change the car battery. I was, however,
the only boy who learned how to plan a menu,
how to shop in a supermarket and in what
order to wash the dishes. (That said, the
terry-cloth robe I made in Grade 11 was
an unqualified disaster. I don't think that
we could properly call that 'learning'.)
I was also the only
boy who tried to learn to listen to girls,
to ask what they thought and wanted, and
to not rush in with my opinions, my questions,
my pronouncements. (You'll note I say 'tried'
-- I can't claim that I've always succeeded.)
The result, years later, is that I'm sometimes
more at ease as the one guy in the room
than the women in the room are with me,
and that I sometimes my job is to help put
everyone else at ease as well.
It has to be acknowledged:
sometimes when you're 'the only boy', you're
an interloper. An uninvited guest. There
have not been many women-dominated public
spaces in our world, and even fewer where
women have been able to gather together
freely and constructively, as opposed to
being cloistered or shunned or shut away.
Any number of women relish the opportunity
to get away from the men and the boys in
their lives -- and you can see the surprise
and dismay when the door opens and there
When you're the
only boy, you can't take this personally,
but you should take it seriously. You'll
be in someone else's domain, a place that
is not naturally your own, and for a boy
that's an uncommon experience. As boys we're
raised to believe that the whole world belongs
to us, that there's nothing we can't do
and nowhere we can't go. Yet here's a place
where you're outnumbered, where you're looked
at with confusion or annoyance or amusement
or suspicion. "This is just what I
came here to get away from," some faces
will indicate as you pull up a chair. "He's
going to make this all about him."
Or "How much help is he going to need?"
Of course, it's not always this way -- I'm
consistently surprised and pleased at the
number of people who treat me as 'just another
knitter' -- but sometimes it is what it
is. You'll be faced with other people's
prejudices and assumptions, and all you
can be is yourself. Just like life.
I remember stepping
into a pleasant suburban yarn store with
my boyfriend to browse around; he had never
been in one before and, as we left a few
bags heavier, I asked him what he thought.
He said "Well, they were all very nice,
considering they thought we were going to
rob the place."
I say all this not
to discourage men, who are already likely
to face their share of discouragement as
they pursue a 'feminine' activity, nor to
criticize women, who should be able to create
spaces and share experiences that are uniquely
their own. My hope is that more and more
men will pursue knitting as a creative act
and as a subversive one -- as a way to step
outside of their traditional perspective
and see things from a different point of
view -- and that more and more women will
welcome them, teach them and travel alongside
them on what I've found to be a challenging
and rewarding journey.