In the book Shop Class as Soulcraft, Matthew Crawford states what all of us already know: “The home economics of our grandmothers is suddenly cutting edge chic – why should this be?” He talks about the hard economic times and the wish for frugality – but also says that this frugality is a rationalization for something far deeper: “We want to feel that our world is intelligible so that we can be responsible for it.”
When I make a doll or a shirt, I feel an accoplishment that I do not get anywhere else. I am responsible for making something in this world that is useful, and it isn’t a mystery to me how I did it. I know how each piece of fabric combines to make the whole. This world of sewing is intelligible to me, and because it is, I can choose to make things – it gives me individual agency.
Crawford theorizes that “this poignant longing for responsibility that many people experience in their home lives may be (in part) a response to changes in the world of work, where the experience of individual agency has become elusive. Those who work in an office often feel that, despite the proliferation of contrived metrics they must meet, their job lacks objective standards of the sort provided by, for example, a carpenter’s level, and as a result there is something arbitrary in the dispensing of credit and blame.”
When a carpenter sets his level down on the item he is making and the bubble sits perfectly between the lines, he knows he done a good job. He can look at the finished product and feel proud. An office worker, however, only knows the height of the paper in his inbox. There is nothing to feel proud of – how does one take pride in making copies and punching numbers into a computer? The paper he pushes today will simply be replenished tomorrow. As a paper pusher for many years myself, I can testify that there is no satisfaction when I complete a pile of Veteran’s Information Sheets. As carpenters get scarcer, the desire to make something grows stronger.
If you look at statistics on women workers in particular, you’ll find that of the top twenty most prevalent occupations for women, there is only one job in which a worker actually makes something: cooks. There are many more opportunities for men to build something tangible in the workplace than there are for women. Carpentry and construction were still in the top ten jobs for men according to the 2000 census. The desire to build something with their hands would then drive many more women into the craft movement than men.