Real men knit, says Ann Morneau – and it is redefining masculinity.
“When people think of knitting, they think of it as a little old lady thing to do – an undesirable, feminine thing to do that’s old school. But it’s coming back,” says Morneau, a graduate student in the Pauline Jewett Institute of Women’s and Gender studies.
As a knitter, she decided to pursue her master’s thesis on her passion for the hobby and her interest in ideas of masculinity – igniting excitement within her department, as well as the public.
Morneau recently won first place in the Carleton 3MT (three minute thesis) competition for her presentation Knitting Takes Balls, including $1,000 and an additional $250 for winning People’s Choice Award. Next, she will be sharing her findings at the provincial championships in London, Ont. on April 23.
As part of her research, Morneau wanted to talk to everyday men who knit – a demographic that expanded from men in their late 20s to late 70s.
“I wanted to find out how men were negotiating their masculinity while engaging in an activity that’s female,” she says. “I was curious – are there any men who knit, and if so, who are these guys?”
She found a Facebook group called Real Men Knit, and reached out to members for interviews.
Two men particularly made an impact on her, and she focused on their stories for her 3MT presentation.
One man had gone to a knitting retreat in the United States, she says – adding that he was one of the only heterosexual in a room of homosexual males.
“He realized their lives aren’t that different,” Morneau says. “It’s pretty significant – all literature written on masculinity says that masculinity and heterosexuality go hand-in-hand. And all of a sudden, we’re starting to realize that maybe it doesn’t.”
Another man told a story about how he wanted a role in his daughter’s wedding, and he knitted a blue shawl for her “something blue.”
“It’s pretty cool you can have a dad sort of say, ‘I’m doing this for my daughter,’ and the role he has doesn’t have to be hardened and masculine,” she says.
While she doesn’t know if the number of men who knit is increasing, she says that men made up two per cent of four million on the social knitting website, Ravelry.
But Morneau says she did find through her research that ideas of masculinity are changing.
“Men are no longer living in fear of being associated with homosexuality based on different activities. When that fear goes away, cool stuff starts to happen,” she says.
She says she never expected to win the 3MT competition, but is happy to have raised the profile of her department.
Morneau adds that she hopes her research gets people excited about feminism.
“(Feminism) is about everyone and benefits everybody,” she says. “In general, I’m hoping people can come away with new ideas of what it means to be a man, and it doesn’t have to look like what the media says it should look like.”
The 3MT competition’s winners also included Sahil Dhawan from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, whose topic Biofiltration – A Sustainable Water Treatment Technology earned him second place.
Janna Klostermann, from the School of Linguistics and Language Studies, came in third place for her presentation Cubicles for Artists.