Another Gender Question

Thanks to everyone who commented on the boys vs. men issue. Since the consensus appears to be that it’s really no big deal, I won’t be making any changes to my line of buttons. It’s not like I’m trying to make a ton of money of these things anyway. Now I’ve got another issue for you to consider.

As a regular mass-transit rider, I have many opportunities during my week to squeeze in a half-hour of reading or knitting. If I can get a seat, it’s knitting (unless I just got the latest issue of Harper’s). My wife often does the same thing, and although we don’t take the train at the same time, we do get the opportunity to compare notes at the end of the day. Recently, those notes contained the observation that almost no one on the train ever engages her in conversation about her knitting, while I can’t knit a single public stitch without someone chatting me up about it.

Most of the time, this is just fine. I love talking about knitting, and having a conversation helps me tune out the five, six, or ten cell phone conversations within my earshot. I’m also a glutton for attention, and knitting in public is a great way to show off. But when I’ve had a long day, and I’m tired, and my stutter is giving me a particularly hard time, and all I want to do is get home to be with my wife and my cats, the last thing I want is to be stuck in a random conversation with a stranger. I’ve tried warding people off with my iPod headphones, but that doesn’t work against the most persistent folks. Sometimes I’ll opt out of knitting, even though it’s what I really want to be doing.

Our culture has social barriers against talking to strangers, and we only step over them under a few circumstances: shared inconvenience, like being stuck in an elevator together, or a perceived shared interest, like when someone is reading the same book as you. Those barriers are different heights, depending on gender. A woman chatting up a woman comes across as pretty harmless, but a man chatting up a woman is a different story. Not too many other knitters on the train are talking to my wife about her knitting—so what is it about being a male knitter that lowers the threshold for public conversation? What goes through your mind when you see a guy knitting out in public? What’s different about approaching a man about his knitting, versus approaching a woman?

Comments, comments, comments! Tell me what you think!


  • elinore says:

    I think it’s the factor of novelty. I’ve noticed that as more people have taken up knitting (including in public) strangers talk to me less about my own knitting (I’ve been knitting in public for some time now). They still do talk to me, though, especially if I’m knitting something particularly weird, if they are knitting, if they are small children or old ladies, etc. Almost all these stranges appear to be women.

  • pella says:

    personally i’d say that it just makes you more appealing. if a man is knitting in public it says that he is not afraid of gender barriers, he is more likely to be open minded and interesting. a woman knitting is cool, but much more common. especially since it’s such a fad right now.

  • Zoe says:

    I pretty much want to run up and squeeze every knitter I see, especially in the soul-free confines of a commuter train, and with the exception of anyone knitting with eyelash yarn.

  • wenders says:

    I’d talk to the guy to see if it were you or any other male knitting blogger, frankly. And besides, there’s a braveness in male knitting that is appealing!

  • rachel says:

    I knit on my bus everyday, I’m female and every day someone talks to me about my knitting, possibly becaus emostly I’m knitting socks on 4 needles which fascinates them – especially kids who watch in fascinated astonishment!

  • Miss Bliss says:

    I’m inclined to think it’s the novelty aspect too. Though I have to say since I’ve never seen anyone knitting with four needles I would probably say something to that person regardless of their gender, because I too would be struck with fascinated astonishment!

  • Emily says:

    I agree about the novelty factor. Think about the last time you were in public doing/wearing anything novel, and you probably were an attention magnet. Knitting is not so odd as to scare people away in fact it is the opposite as you have discovered time and again, possibly because it feels maternal to folks who haven’t known male knitters, and they want to cozy right up to you and your warm, reminiscent activity.
    I especially enjoy your likening the different barriers to having different heights! Hang in there. Maybe a fake nose/mustache/glasses would help scare people away on those trips home when you “Vant to be alone!” We’ll just call you Greta Garbo, and understand!

  • Yarn Boy says:

    The novelty thing is definitely true, but I don’t think that’s it by itself. We get to see a lot of novelty on public transportation, but very little of it encourages us to strike up conversations.

    I think pipandtom is on to something with the “safe” thing. A male knitter is unusual, and the usual resistance we’d have to approaching a man in public is neutralized by the “safety” of knitting.

    How strong is that safety? If I wore a motorcycle jacket and a spiked dog collar, would the “safe” factor overcome the “initimidating” factor?

  • Zoe says:

    The knitting negates the menace of a spiked dog collar. The only thing that would make you an ‘unsafe’ male knitter would be brandishing the needles as weapons, shouting nonsense, and smelling like pee. You know, like all the other ‘novel’ types on MUNI.

  • pipandtom says:

    You fascinate people. A man knitting on a bus is still unusual in our society. You stick out like a sore thumb. I mean, heck, it was a big thing 8 years ago for women to be ‘knitting in public’. There was a big movement and everything. You add a whole new level to that.

    Perhaps you seem less intimidating? Safe?

    Bottom line, there are a whole bag of stereotypes (especially gender) that come along with the knitting craft. We all have to break em.

  • Ajay says:

    You should definitely dress up as menacing or “punk” as you can and knit on the bus/subway to see if people are less likely to talk to you and then tell us about it. Maybe do a whole study, dress gothy, dress emo, i can’t think of any more stereotypes, but then see which one nets you the least amount of conversation. That would be interesting to read about.

  • Kristina says:

    I’m still laughing at the smelling like pee business, Zoe.
    I agree with the idea of it being a sort of novelty and with there being a certain level of safety involved, but I also like what Pella said: not just any man (even a regular knitter) would knit on the public transit. Which is too bad, really, but it DOES say something positive about who you are as a person, and I think people are responding to that also.
    Like Ajay, I’d be interested to hear if you got any differing reactions based on varied attire.

  • Yarn Boy says:

    The clothing study is definitely one worth undertaking. Unfortunately, it would require a significant financial investment in my wardrobe. Right now, the most bad-ass things I own are my Doc Martens and a couple of black t-shirts.

  • Noah says:

    eau de pee

    -guarantees a seat on the train, maybe even a whole car if you wear enough.
    -better than an ipod at deflecting unwanted attention.
    -ecologically preferable to commercially available scents.
    -limitless, free supply.

  • Sandy says:

    My husband says I have something wrong with me because I will talk to anyone, anywhere. I can always find something to talk about. I tell him it’s a disease, I call it friendliness! But, I too am approached by well meaning people everytime I am knitting in public. Some even ask what I am Crocheting. 🙁 I don’t mind talking with them as long as they dont expect me to look at them. I just keep knitting. I think you are adorable by your pictures, and a man knitting in public would be a big “warm fuzzy”! You would look harmless and possibly wise, and “safe”. It’s a compliment for sure. If you are feeling like you want to knit and not be bothered i say put the ipod on and pretend you dont hear them. After awhile they give up. Works with my husband and my kids at times! Have a great day Knitboy! Oh, I have been a boring stay home mom for 25 years, got a question for you. Would most 20 year old college boys (very smart, loves to read) like Harper’s? Got a great son turning 20 and he’s a University scholar at KU. Maybe he would like it?

  • cheri says:

    In the (cough, cough) 36 or so years I’ve been knitting (hey I started when I was little!) I’ve never seen a man knitting except once at the yarn shop, and he was a crabby employee. I live in a very small town with no real public transportation so I see people knit at the doctors office, library, at the Y while waiting for kids. They may or may not strike up a conversation depending upon what I’m knitting (socks on 5 needles always gets a comment, or lace). I had one boy and his dad ask me about my knitting while waiting for a karate class. If I were to see you knitting, I might ask you what it is you’re working on if it interested me, but if you looked like you were busy and didn’t want to be bothered I’d leave you alone.

  • dan says:

    I, too, take public transportation to work and I will often knit while riding. I have only been approached (conversationally speaking) by three of four different people (women) in the year or so that I’ve started bringing my knitting with me and those conversations have only started after several trips (these are the regulars during the morning rush hour), and only if we’ve ended up sitting near each other. I think seeing a guy knitting is enough of a novelty that unless you knit yourself you may see it as somewhat strange. And, to make my point, the people who have all talked to me have also knit, and usually working on a project at home, so it is familiar to them.

  • It may suck, but by knitting in public, you become the “unusually warm fuzzy” of the public eye. Girls knittting may be “warm and fuzzy”, but a guy–! I don’t know any guys who knit, so if I saw someone out in public, I’d probably say something too. That is, unless he looked like he was trying really hard to avoid conversation. =)

  • Kellie says:

    Do more women or men approach you when you are knitting? Because 1)you are handsome; and 2)you knit. If my husband were a knitter (and believe me, I have suggested he try it), I’d probably have to threaten a few women with my double points.

  • kat says:

    You know, if you’re looking for interesting apparel to be caught knitting in, Teva Durham’s book “Loop-d-loop” (likely available at a library near you) has a great kilt pattern in it.

    C’mon, yarn boy, show us those legs!

  • Steve says:

    I think people are excited to see someone breaking out of the gender-based stereotype! Sadly, many men and women want to try something ‘untraditional’ but are afraid to.
    It may be a pain in the arse to you, but I say keep it up! You are providing a public service to your community!

  • Tina Shaddoz says:

    I notice that when I knit in public, I get a few comments but when my son knits in public, EVERYONE has to comment. Perhaps it is his age but I think it is most likely his gender. When my kids were babies and I would be out in public with them, I was always amazed at how people will chat up the dad who is out with his one small child, bending over backwards to help him in the supermarket, but they will completly ignore the mom with three small kids who looks on the verge of tears… People are funny critters…

  • tllgrrl says:

    i have yet to see a man knitting in public, but if i ever did, i think the first thing i’d do is ask him what he’s making and what yarn he’s using.
    just like i’d do if i saw another woman knitting.

  • Tallguy says:

    If I see someone knitting, I would observe them very carefully to see if I can learn something. But you know, … I don’t think I would start talking to them!

    You see, a male striking up a conversation with a woman knitter on a bus might not go over very well! If I had some knitting, then we can compare notes, offer suggestions, laugh about knitting in public. But why should this be so? I could always say something about how great it is to see younger people knitting, and that my mother used to knit socks and mitts for us….

    But I do find that most people tend to look the other way when I knit or spin in public. It’s funny to see how they pretend not to look, but I can tell they are curious as hell to know what I am doing! hehehe– well, a guy’s gotta have some fun!

  • Marita says:

    I occaisionally gets comments when I knit in public. And I try to talk to other people I see doing it if they look friendly, because I like meeting people with similar interests to mine. I especially like to meet men who have interests similar to mine, because I’m a young single hetero woman. As you look pretty atractive in your pictures, it doesn’t surprise me at all that people try to talk to you, especially when you’re doing something interesting and unusual.

  • Ken says:

    I think it has to do with the very social barriers you touched on. Once you announce that you are a person for whom social taboos are unimportant (and really, as a male knitter you’re broadcasting this), the subconscious perception is that *all* social taboos are unimportant to you, including the unspoken injunction against talking to strangers. Another possiblity is that it’s a novel enough prospect that it moves you from the realm of “transit peer” to that of “transit entertainer”. Everyone knows that entertainers have no right to privacy…

  • Erin says:

    I find male knitters to be as rare as seeing an albino squirrel. When I see them I am amazed, in awe, and just want to take pictures. The same goes for male knitters. Now that I live in a bigger city I see it more often and it still brings a smile to my face. To see men being creative in a field that seems to be dominated by females is great! Females are always trying to break the gender roles so I think seein a man do it (even if its just with knitting) is inspiring!

  • Lorena says:

    If I do see a man knitting, I will ask what he’s knitting, and if I like it, where he got the pattern from. I’m constantly looking for sharp-looking items to make for my hubby (and they are hard to find, unless I just don’t know where to look…) So on that note- if anyone reading this post has any suggestions, drop me a line!!!

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  • Mary says:

    I realize I’m late to the party and that I’m not directly answering your question.

    But I would be so tempted to turn to the person and say “I’m sorry but I don’t want to talk now.” Then I’d turn away from them and resume knitting. Surely with your stutter, they’d have a heart and give you some peace! You think??

    I wish I knew the answer to your question – maybe they just can’t contain their curiosity?

  • Shahry says:

    Wow! how cute! when I first saw this I thought they were for liltte newborn babies and imagined a roomful of liltte ones wearing them together, hehe. btw, is this really considered a small batch? You’ve made so many!

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