On Wednesday, the second installment of my Q&A with Why Quilts Matter went live on their blog. It should be something that I am truly happy and excited about; I have long respected the work that everyone at WQM does, and I was truly honored to be asked to share some thoughts. But instead of overjoyed I find myself frustrated, saddened, and even a little bit angry. What was intended to be a part of an open discussion of quilts today and what I see as some of the pressing issues surrounding the practice has turned into a mini-referendum on gender, and by extension my gender.
As one half of an academic couple, there are few out there that are more sensitive to the issues surrounding gender and the professional world; I have always been acutely aware of the different issues that will always face my wife. That said, I cannot quite find the words to express how disappointed I was to see the first comment made on the second half of my Q&A. The fact that I’m a man apparently counts for more than anything I might have said; the motivations of WQM for involving men (accomplished, talented, experienced, and esteemed in their own right) are questioned.
This one comment profoundly changes the context of anything I’ve written in my Q&A, and anything I might possibly do with WQM in the future. My position with WQM has been tainted, and I have been marked as an outsider, an interloper, and distinctly a usurper of women’s position.
If this were an isolated event I might be able to let it go, but this has happened far too frequently. Everything I do is marked by the question of whether I received this or that opportunity because of my gender; hard work is reduced to a perk of novelty, and in crediting my difference for my accomplishment I am doubly marked as outsider.
And here is the thing; it is perpetually put upon me. Every interview and article comes around to the question of my gender, sometimes subtly, and others explicitly. For example, a recent interview with Webcents…
And I must say I give them a lot of credit for the way the question was asked and for printing my full answer; not everyone would have done so. Here’s the thing: I am every day reminded of my outsideness around here; I have actually taken to cutting ties with any organization that starts an email I am included on with “Hey ladies” or anything of the like. It may seem like a throwaway line, the sort of thing that is just how the way things are, but it serves as a perpetual reminder of my otherness, of a certain degree of not quite being welcome.
And in the end, that is what it eventually comes down to: I don’t know if I do feel welcome in this industry. For every warm embrace I have received a dozen skeptical looks. For every shop that treats me with courtesy when I come in to shop I have found a dozen who eye me suspiciously, ask if I am lost, or simply ignore me altogether.
I love quilts. I have come to love them profoundly and treasure the practice, the tradition, and its future. At the same time I am frustrated, and I am dismayed. Actually, I am just sad because I feel like something I was very proud of has been stolen from me. While I am perfectly happy to justify my work and my words (heck, I wish they were scrutinized more seriously) I cannot help but be angry that I once more have to justify my gender.