Words, words, words

One thing I’ve found frustrating about the conversation around pattern pricing and affordability is that people are using loaded words that carry multiple meanings. That obviously means things get pretty emotional, and it becomes extremely hard to find common ground.

Let’s start with “privilege”. I touched on this in a comment on my previous post. There’s the everyday meaning – an advantage conferred on someone, or a group, but please note the verb “conferred” there. It’s not innate. Think of the sentence, “Education is a right, not a privilege.” We all understand that. Education should be available to all, not bestowed only on the rich or worthy.

But it also has a sociological definition, which is increasingly how it’s been used online: the advantages inherent to belonging to a particular group. In this sense, privilege (a mass noun, with no article) cannot be conferred or taken away: you either have it or you don’t, and most of the time there are multiple forms of privilege (or oppression) at work. Gender, race, class, sexuality – and education. See, suddenly education is privilege. How can this be true at the same time as the sentence above? Because of different meanings of the word!

So when people start talking about creative work being a “privilege”, no matter how badly paid, that’s colliding with the notion of the knitting and yarn industry being rife with “privilege”, in the sense of being dominated by members of a privileged class. (Remember that sociologically, a “privileged class” doesn’t mean rich and wealthy; it just means bearers of a particular kind of privilege. It’s perfectly possible, and common, to hold one privilege – say, being able-bodied or cisgendered – even while you lack others. Your “privilege” just means that you don’t have that problem on top of whatever other oppressions you experience.) Of course we keep talking past each other. Because seeing designing as a privilege comes into conflict with breaking down the privilege of the industry generally.* At least, it does if you follow the logical thread: designing is a privilege; therefore designers are privileged; therefore they should relinquish privilege (by not pursuing a decent return on their work). Ok, but then how do we make the industry more inclusive of less privileged (sociologically and economically) designers, who cannot afford to work on design if it doesn’t pay? One kind of privilege is being elided with another, and it’s not helpful.

I think the same thing is happening with the word “luxury”. As in: knitting is a luxury. Or, knitting should not be a luxury. I more or less agree with both of these statements, and maybe that means I fail at logic, but I think there’s just a conflict between the meaning of luxury as “not a necessity” or as “a luxurious experience”. There’s a huge gulf between those two. Knitting (or any other hobby) is a luxury in that it is not a basic life requirement. As much as we talk about the necessity of art (and yes, it’s super important to well-being), when it comes down to yarn or rent, rent is going to win. This goes double for patterns – given the free options available – so yeah, knitting patterns definitely are a luxury product.

But should knitting be a luxury? Comments on this tend to run quickly down the line of “It doesn’t have to be expensive, doesn’t have to be elitist, knitting is open to everybody.” Or, well, it doesn’t have to be luxurious. Very true! So no, knitting should not be a hobby that is beyond anyone’s grasp, assuming they already have the luxury of any hobby at all. But obviously, just the fact that hobbies require leisure time makes them a luxury.

Maybe we could get closer to consensus if we agreed that knitting, and creative work, are both “luxuries” but neither is inherently “privileged”. Ask why knitters and designers are being pitted against each other, rather than understood as people inhabiting the same creative community (or marketplace, sure, but they are literally the same people; designers are also customers). Why one form of luxury (the freedom to knit or crochet) is posited as more of a deserved “right” than another (the freedom to earn from knitting or crochet design, or yarn dyeing). There are plenty of complexities to be unpacked regardless, but carelessness with the words we use really isn’t helping.

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* And that’s leaving aside the whole question of whether it really is a privilege (or a luxury), which, as I hope I made clear previously, I really REALLY don’t agree with. For many in the industry it’s their only option. Doing underpaid work without any choice cannot reasonably be seen as a privilege.