So as you may have gathered from my “favourite tweets” post of late, I had kind of a weird thing happen. One of my tweets went viral for the first time ever.
Read a comment this morning stating that Maker culture is 80% male and had to laugh. Only if you discount the millions of women sewing, knitting, weaving, and more. But oh right, they're just "crafters." That artificial distinction enrages me. 😡
— Kris Howard 🌈 ❤️ (@web_goddess) November 11, 2017
It all started when a friend from Singapore shared a link on Facebook to this blog post. It’s about a recent controversy where the CEO of Make magazine accused a Chinese maker named Naomi Wu of being “fake.” He endorsed an anonymous and sexist rumour that she was merely a front for a group. He’s since apologised, but the damage was done and Naomi is seeing the fallout amongst sponsors and advertisers. The blog post is an attempt to objectively talk about some of the biases at play in the community that led to this situation.
In the comments — and I know, you should never read comments — I read this one from some MRA activist defending Dougherty and smearing Wu. Part of it reads:
4) From Make’s own numbers, 80% of their audience are men. The “lack of diversity” that is complained about here, which we often hear about in STEM in general, is seen as axiomatic, despite now several decades of gender equal policy. Women do not seem as interested, even if nothing is stopping them from being interested. This is the myopic ideology of diversity uber alles, which ignores factual realities of the kind that got James Damore fired from Google.
No. Just… no. Plenty of women are interested in engineering and fabrication and creating cool stuff, just as plenty of them are interested in technology and programming. They’re just not interested in putting up with the techbro bullshit that goes along with a lot of that. And 80%? In what universe? Only going by the narrowest possible definition of “maker.” What about the millions of women (and non-cis men and non-binary folks) sewing and knitting and embroidering and crocheting and cooking? Why don’t they count too?
I actually attended a panel that Dougherty was on during Maker Faire Singapore back in July. It was a small event just aimed at educators primarily, but they had an open Q&A at the end. I couldn’t resist directing a question at Dougherty. I said that I was personally uncomfortable claiming the term “maker,” because I came from a long line of women crafters. Why did he feel the need to come up with a new name for just doing what they’ve been doing for generations? To me, I said, it felt gendered, a way for men to distance themselves from “girly” pursuits. He smiled politely and answered that the “maker” umbrella was very large, and that knitters and sewers and everyone else I’d mentioned were all official makers too. He tried to spin it as inclusivity. But I wasn’t asking to be admitted to his club; I was trying to get him to admit why he didn’t want to be part of mine. He was very nice though. We connected on LinkedIn afterwards, where I messaged him about my motivations in asking the question. He sent a short response that he appreciated where I wanted to go with the question and wished me luck.
So, anyway. I read that stupid comment on Sunday morning and it made me see red. So I dashed off an annoyed tweet, as I’ve done any number of times, and then got to work on my latest sewing project. The tweet got a couple responses from friends, and I noticed throughout the day that more and more notifications started coming through. By 5pm I’d hit 1000 likes, more than I’d ever gotten before. By the time I went to bed, it had topped 2000 and seemed to be picking up steam. I noticed happily that Ysolda Teague (a big name in the knitting world) had retweeted it:
— Ysolda Teague (@ysolda) November 12, 2017
I woke up Monday morning to 10K+ likes and 440 unread Twitter replies. Some sort of critical mass had been reached and it just kept going and going. Several people thought they were being helpful by tagging Adam Savage, asking him to retweet or send a reply. By this point I’d also had a handful of responses from trolls though, and I started to get worried what would happen if it got more visibility. (Sadly, this is a reality of being a woman on the Internet.)
Dear people who keep trying to get Adam Savage to share my tweet: Thanks, but please stop. I suspect that firehose would tip this over from "fun" to "scary."
— Kris Howard 🌈 ❤️ (@web_goddess) November 12, 2017
By Monday afternoon it was over 20K likes and 5K retweets. Cory Doctorow retweeted it, which is the closest I’ve ever gotten to Boing Boing. I was amused to see Andy Richter had retweeted it too. (Quoth the Snook: “Are you sure it wasn’t one of his brothers?” 😂) Twitter Analytics told me that it had had over 1M impressions (aka views). I had several hundred new followers. A few of my friends who had replied early were getting tagged in heaps of replies as people read down the thread and chimed in. (Sorry Jane and Lindsay!)
Many, many folks helpfully told me about Jacquard looms and how textiles had inspired programming. Yes, I KNOW. I pointed them to the various talks I’ve done that actually cover that. Many other folks expressed their support for including textile arts and traditional crafts under the “maker” umbrella, pointing out that their local makerspace has a sewing machine or proudly proclaiming that “knitters and quilters are makers too.” (Again, not really what I was going for, but I appreciate the sentiment.) A few folks connected the dots to the Make controversy and weighed in on that topic. Mostly it was hundreds of people saying, “Yes, this. Language matters.” in various forms. It turns out that a lot of us suspect the “maker” label only became popular as a way to market to men. My favourite hot takes:
Making is to crafting as action figure is to doll
— stephencass (@stephencass) November 12, 2017
Someone once pointed out that "life hacks" used to be called "household hints" and it changed my life tbh https://t.co/T4NCA08L8y
— Pumpkin Spice Owen (@derspiny) November 13, 2017
There were only a handful of people who responded negatively – I’d say less than 25 overall. One guy thought I was clearly just jealous of men who programmed and were DISRUPTING THE WORLD with their COOL APPS and stuff. (He stopped responding when I pointed out I’d also been working in tech for 20 years.) Others were insistent that making and crafting were different, but none of them agreed on what the difference was. Making involves ENGINEERING and TECH, you see. Or crafting involves LOVE. Or it had something to with a level of craftsmanship. Maybe we should look up the definition from William Morris? And why was I trying to foment some sort of gender war anyway? Couldn’t we just embrace both terms, separate but equal? One guy insisted over and over that we needed both terms because how else would people know to direct their enquiries to him (a maker) or his wife (a crafter)? 🙄
Replies have continued to trickle in over the past two days. One of my favourites came from David New, the son of noted knitter Debbie New:
My mother made me a cellular automaton sweater once. She also knitted a theremin, but that included actual electronics so I guess would qualify her as a Maker anyway. pic.twitter.com/PA7RYOwfeP
— David New (@David__New) November 13, 2017
72 hours after the original post, things seem to finally be getting back to normal. Activity has died down enough that my mentions on Twitter are usable again. I’ve picked up about 800 new followers so far. The tweet has been viewed more than 1.7M times, liked 28K times, received 500 replies, and been retweeted 8500 times. I’ve been invited to appear on a podcast about the topic in a few months. That’s all pretty cool! A lot of folks have sent me lovely comments about my knitting talk videos, and I especially liked when crafters would send me photos of their own projects. The whole thing’s been quite a ride!