Amy Fox

Writer. Editor. Feminist knitting designer.


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Reviewing Emer O’Toole’s Girls Will Be Girls

One of my new year’s resolutions this year was to grow out and reshape my eyebrows and let me tell you, it has been a struggle. I plucked them so thin over the years – and from above which is a mortal eyebrow sin – that it has now been two months and they still look patchy and weird. I long for the day, around two weeks from now, that I will finally get them professionally shaped. I’m quite literally having dreams about it.

Anyway. Thanks to my wonderful housemate Hattie I managed to get an advanced copy of Emer O’Toole’s Girls Will Be Girls, and I knew straight away that I wanted to review it for Abstract. It’s all about the identity theory of performativity, which changed the way I think about a lot of different things when I first encountered it at my second year of university. But it’s often written about in such overly verbose academic language that it can be difficult to share with people. Girls Will Be Girls is the book I wish I could have written, because it not only explains the theory in a language that is accessible, but it is also hilarious and entertaining at the same time.

And because I have spent so much time thinking about my eyebrows over the last two months, I couldn’t help but talk about them too. You can read the review here.

Side note: we’re relaunching Abstract for our first anniversary on 12 March, so we’ve had some amazing new content coming in. There has been some particularly great lifestyle pieces: check out Kate Duckney on male feminists on Twitter, Bethan Williams on believing she will win the lottery (IN HER BONES) and Maura Flatley on moving to Spain.

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Introducing Solidarity (the knitting pattern)

Solidarity hat Katie

The beautiful, smart and funny journalist Katie Davies, rocking the hat over Christmas.

I’m so excited to announce that my very first *official* feminist knitting pattern is now on sale at LoveKnitting.com – and that I will be donating half the profits to Women’s Aid. Check it out here!

The Solidarity hat was inspired by two things. Firstly, as with so many designs, it was all in the yarn. Mirasol Miski a beautiful 100% baby llama in a soft green which I instantly knew I wanted to pair with a snowy cream (the two together remind me a little of my grandmother’s wallpaper from the 1970s).

Secondly, it was the 2014 Feminism in London conference, in which there was a lot of talk about how feminism is not just individual to each person, but a movement of togetherness – of women joining together to make change, much like the craftivists who attended and spoke at the event.

It was this idea which inspired the interlinked Venus symbols which make up the body of the hat’s Fair Isle pattern. They don’t just represent craftivists or even just feminists, but all women – the women in my own family and friendship circles, who are constantly inspiring me; the women of the past who were saved from poverty by their ability to make a living from their knitting; the millions of women around the world who feel like they are fighting a losing battle against oppression. If we don’t stand together and support each other, how can we possibly hope for change?

One of my oldest and most wonderful friends Phanida, who is months away from becoming an actual medical doctor. Bow down.

One of my oldest and most wonderful friends, Phanida Fung, who is months away from becoming an actual medical doctor. Also she looks super cute here.

And with all that in mind, I am so happy to be donating half the profits from the Solidarity hat to Women’s Aid, to help end domestic violence against women in children (unfortunately the other half is still needed for the “helping Amy pay her rent” fund – one day we may all live in a post-capitalist society in which I can afford to give away my patterns for free, but sadly today is not that day).

With thanks to Katie Davies and Phanida Fung, my two brilliant models and friends; the wonderful designer Jane Burns for her excellent advice, friendship and pattern-checking skills; and Loveknitting.com for helping independent designers to navigate the murky waters of VATMOSS.

Detailed shot of the Fair Isle pattern.

Detailed shot of the Fair Isle pattern.


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What is a feminist knitting designer?

Yarn and business cards

When I decided to go freelance last year, the first thing I got excited about was the business cards. I instantly knew what I wanted my tagline to be:

writer – editor – feminist knitting designer

“Are you sure?” asked my father, looking at the design. “Don’t you want it to be a bit more… professional?”

“It’s memorable,” was my reply. “People will see it and they’ll just have to ask me about it. And then when they actually need a writer or an editor, they’ll remember me!”

So… what does it mean to be a feminist knitting designer?

Well, it’s simple, really. It means that I’m a feminist and I’m a knitting designer, and that I sometimes try to combine the two.

Outside of the crafts world, there can sometimes be a bit of a tendency to look down on knitters and stitchers and cupcake bakers as being un-feminist. Germaine Greer famously said that “women have frittered their lives away stitching things for which there is no demand.” After all, didn’t we leave that kind of thing behind in the 1950s? Aren’t we just perpetuating unhelpful stereotypes of essential femininity? And so on.

Well… no. For me, there’s something very feminist about making things with your own hands and reconnecting with your creativity and your past. It doesn’t have to be expensive – you can pick up balls of yarn for little more than a quid – and it’s a skill that has been passed down through mothers and daughters for generations. My own mother taught me to knit when I was about 13, and my great-grandmother was a professional knitter; I still use her old needles from time to time. When my family traced back our family tree a few years ago, we also found at least one male ancestor who was a framework knitter in Leicester, my hometown.

And while that personal connection is not always the case for many people nowadays, all it takes is a quick google search to find hundreds of workshops, blogs and YouTube videos – predominantly by women – which are passing on that knowledge too.*

Knitting is not a closely guarded secret. It’s a thing that makes people happy, that they love to share with others. There’s no snobbery or nastiness – your first wobbly scarf will be celebrated with as much enthusiasm as your second bit of proper Fair Isle, or your twelfth patchwork blanket.

For me, feminism has always been about celebrating women’s achievements as well as fighting gender inequality – because part of that inequality is that women are conditioned not to celebrate their own achievements. We’re not supposed to boast when we’re good at something or agree when we’re complimented – just to sit quietly, humbly waving away any praise bestowed on us.

Not so in the world of knitting. When I’ve gone to craft shows I have found them full of women and men praising each other’s work without jealousy or bitterness, excited to show off their latest designs and ideas, encouraging each other to try something new. There’s a release and a satisfaction in an environment which is about supporting each other. It’s peaceful. It’s often environmentally friendly. It’s the kind of safe, warm, creative world that, as a feminist, I would love to become more universal.

And, on the flip side, knitting and other crafts can be thrillingly subversive when they’re used politically. Let’s not forget the many feminist crafters who are doing incredible, important work around the world: the brilliant Wool Against Weapons activists protested Trident last year by knitting a seven-mile long scarf to stretch between two atomic weapons sites in Berkshire, then repurposed the scarf into blankets for people in need; charities like Knit for Peace distribute handknitted items to those who need them most; Stitch n Bitch groups are bringing women together; projects like Significant Seams support vulnerable people in the community. And you know the suffragettes LOVED a hand-stitched banner back in the day.

It was these women, and more, of whom I was thinking when I designed my first official feminist knitting pattern. Stay tuned, guys, it won’t be long now.

*Before you start, of course there is room for men too, and of course eradicating the gender stereotypes around knitting is a thing that would benefit everyone. But at the same time, I get fuzzy feelings about an industry that is full of women working together in relative harmony. What can I say? It’s a paradox that I’m willing to live with for now.


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The best songs of 2014

The year is coming to a close, and when looking back on it, there are a few significant themes. The launch of abstractmag.com with friends from university is something that I am very proud of – it gave me space to be inspired again, to meet new writers and help them find a voice, and to practise writing the sort of pieces that I enjoy most (“Will One Direction survive in a socialist utopia?” is my personal favourite headline of the year).

2014 was also a great year for women in pop music. Not only are more and more celebrities embracing feminism but their music is reflecting that too. From Beyonce’s foot phone to Taylor Swift standing on a horse, women finally seemed to get bored of spending their music videos looking suggestively (or sleepily) into the camera. Instead, they just started doing whatever the hell they want.

So it’s no surprise that when I came to write a “top 10 songs of the year” list for Abstract, the top five were all by women. You can read the countdown (and my musings on what counts as “good” music) here.

Happy new year!


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Could Taylor Swift be my next feminist hero?

With the release of Taylor Swift’s fifth album, Amy Adams celebrates the feminist awakening of one of the world’s biggest popstars.

Taylor Swift on the Speak Now tour in 2012. Photo: Flickr/Eva Rinaldi

Taylor Swift on the Speak Now tour in 2012. Photo: Flickr/Eva Rinaldi

With her fifth album releasing today, there has been a notable shift in Taylor Swift’s message. In the press she is known mostly for her songs about famous exes, and a couple of years ago the non-Swifty media had reached almost dizzying heights of speculation. Just how many men has she dated and what were the age differences? How do the exes feel? Straight guys must be terrified of going near her lest they become no more than a catchy chorus in her next single!

There was a time when Taylor Swift couldn’t even be seen making eye contact with a man without it appearing all over the media. As the rumours stacked up, the “maybe SHE’S the one with the problem!” vibe grew ever stronger. (God forbid that a woman play the field, ditch the men she doesn’t see a future with, and then sing about it. After all, it’s not like men have ever written scathing songs about their exes, have they Ed Sheeran?)

But in a world where the narratives of Taylor Swift’s relationships are seen as public property, I’m proud to be a fan of a woman who reclaims control of those stories through her music. No matter how much they are spun out of all recognition, she is determined to have the final word. So even before she self-defined as a feminist, I was still happy to put her in the “empowering female musicians” category and listen to 22 on repeat for days on end.

But things have changed between her last album, Red, and now. The most obvious is that Tay-Tay hasn’t been dating anyone at all for well over a year and a half. “I feel like watching my dating life has become a bit of a national pastime,” she told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “And I’m just not comfortable providing that kind of entertainment anymore.” Instead, she’s made more female friends, moved to New York, openly identified as a feminist for the first time, and bought another cat.

Of course, every right-minded single lady in her 20s is morally obligated to love cats, but it’s the feminist awakening that I care about most. Since befriending Lena Dunham, she has been regularly talking about feminism in interviews and calling out sexism wherever she sees it. Significantly, part of that discussion has involved admitting that she didn’t always understand what the term meant, and that she held many of the same assumptions and prejudices that continue to make feminism a dirty word amongst the “why not rebrand it as equalism” crowd.

But as more and more female celebrities come out in favour of the movement, there’s a lot of talk about how they’re not doing the work of “real” feminism. All this standing in front of a giant neon sign is just detracting from the difficult, dangerous and uncomfortable work of ending violence against women and fighting economic inequality. Now, I don’t want to say that this opinion is invalid, because of course those are very, very different and important goals. Improving the lives of women should remain central to feminism, and I’m not saying that 21st-century feminist debate begins with Beyoncé and ends with Emma Watson.

However, I don’t think that this makes their contributions any less worthy or exciting. The fact that these highly influential women are speaking up at all is a shift that could sway the opinions of millions of people who are starting their own feminist journey.

It’s a step. They’re all steps. But when individuals take steps together, society begins to move. Gateway celebrity feminism isn’t taking away from more serious feminist activism. It’s just that: a gateway. And once we’re through, there should be room for everyone, doing lots of different kinds of work, united by a common belief that all genders should be treated with the same amount of respect.

Taylor Swift has been called the “voice of a generation” for years. But the 16 year olds who were once dreaming of a love story are now in their early 20s, and they’ve survived an economic downfall, political unrest, and a world that seems intent on tearing itself to pieces.

Taylor Swift is not the same girl who wrote a homophobic lyric in Picture to Burn, one of her earliest singles. She’s not even the same girl who subsequently changed that lyric in her music video, and stopped singing it in concert. In fact, she’s come so far that she’s now started actively queering her own lyrics on stage.

Of course, anyone who noted the the cultural appropriation in her video for Shake It Off will also know that she still has a lot more to learn. I’d like to see a feminist who hasn’t.

We’re all on a journey, and we can’t expect every new feminist to instantly know how to change the world – but we can welcome them into the fold, forgive them for their mistakes, and help them to grow.


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A good girl and you know it: the 21st-century Madonna-Whore complex

Pop music seems obsessed with good girls, but what does that really say about how male singers view women?

Drake

Do you wanna roll with a good girl? Because Drake certainly seems to. Photo: NRK P3/Flickr

You’re a good girl and you know it
You act so different around me
You’re a good girl and you know it
I know exactly who you could be

Let’s talk about good girls. I’m willing to bet that most of the women reading this have, in their lifetimes, been described as either a good or a bad girl. Personally, I used to fit so neatly into the good girl category that my friends would refer to me as “the perfect granddaughter” – and this is while I was university, where us teacher’s pet types are obliged to try on the bad girl costume while vomiting out of a taxi window at least once.

But what does being a good girl actually mean? It’s a phrase that is so culturally ingrained that it’s difficult to listen to music without hearing some guy crooning to a fictitious good girl about how he knows, underneath, that she’s actually bad. Naturally, he’s the one to help her embrace this side of her – with his penis.

In Blurred Lines, Robin Thicke is so sure that his good girl is actually bad, he’s willing to forgo asking for her consent altogether. He knows she wants it – she’s an animal – it’s in her nature.

Meanwhile, Drake is so obsessed with good girls that it wasn’t enough to just make them the hook of his biggest single, he had to get the idea into Beyoncé’s eponymous album too.

And just when I thought I was safe with 2014’s favourite breakout boyband, 5 Seconds of Summer, there it was again. There’s a whole album track about how “good girls are bad girls that haven’t been caught”, a line so unoriginal that it’s probably been lifted from one of their mum’s fridge magnets. And how does the hero of the song know that good girls are just pretending? Because he catches a straight-A student sneaking out to see her boyfriend, and she decides to let him in on the secret.

Good girls, according to popstars, are all hiding their bad girl nature underneath a veneer of good grades and coy smiles. All it takes is a man to bring out their true, sexy core.

And sex is always the line that they cross. In these songs, good girls don’t become bad girls by beating someone up, or selling drugs, or robbing a bank. They just have to fuck someone.

But where is the line? Sure, a one night stand is classic bad girl behaviour, but apparently so is having a boyfriend. What if you’re engaged? What if you wait until marriage, but you and your husband enjoy a little BDSM? And what about lesbians? Does their disregard of the status quo make them inherently bad, or can they still keep their halo intact somehow?

The truth is, this is a question that society has been battling with for thousands of years – since biblical times at the very least. The Madonna-whore dichotomy is an age-old way of understanding women. They are either motherly saints who should be protected from the world’s evils, or sluts who deserve everything they get. It’s an idea so deeply embedded in our culture that it manifests itself as a psychological condition, first named by Freud, which can keep men from seeing any women as real human beings.

You only have to glance at a tabloid to compare how they treat good girls like the “elegant” Kate Middleton to the more controversial figures such as “wannabe” Josie Cunningham. Bad girls are torn apart by the media – just look what happened to Tulisa – whilst simultaneously sexualised and lusted after.

The few good girls that manage to jump through enough hoops are then held on such a high pedestal that it’s almost enough to make the rest of us give up altogether. And while it’s easy for a woman to fall from grace (hey there, Miley), it’s impossible to climb back up again.

Let’s destroy the lot. Bad girls are only useful as sex objects, and good girls are actually all bad girls anyway. So what’s the point? In 1931, Virginia Woolf said that we have to “kill the angel in the house” in order to get anything done. Let’s kill the good girl along with her; she’s just holding real women back. Women who make mistakes; who like sex but don’t have to be defined by it; who have far more important things to do than worry about whether they’re living up to Robin Thicke’s lecherous standards.

“Good girl!” is praise that we give to toddlers when they count to 10 correctly, or puppies when they manage not to piss on the floor. It’s not an accurate description of adult women.


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The top five things I love about myself: why every woman deserves a list

Learning to get past your insecurities and love yourself is a long and difficult process, but the rewards when you succeed make it all worthwhile.

"Loving myself isn't arrogance or self-importance – it's the only way I know how to keep going." Photo: Amy Adams

“Loving myself isn’t arrogance or self-importance – it’s the only way I know how to keep going.” Photo: Amy Adams

“I don’t understand why I suddenly had a crisis about fancying women,” I was telling my housemate Ollie about a particularly weird night out. “I mean, fancying women is one of my top five things about myself.”

This – admittedly slightly outlandish – statement was met with confusion. “Top five things? Is that normal?” he asked.

“Yeah,” my other housemate Hattie chipped in. “Mine are like, four personality quirks, and then either my butt or my boobs, depending on the time of the month.”

“EXACTLY.”

It wasn’t always like this. I’ve only recently had a list, and I’ve only had the capacity to make a list for a little longer than that.

I was constantly told that I was a beautiful child, but like all women in the UK, by the time I was older I had been raised in a society which simultaneously told me I was too unimportant to speak, and too boring if I didn’t.

By 13, my nose had grown quicker than the rest of me, and one of the cool kids told me that if I sat on the back seat of a bus, I could drive it with my face.

It’s stupid – of COURSE it’s stupid – it’s a story I love to tell after a lot of wine when I’m laughing about how far I’ve come since school. But when I was sitting at that table at that age, I felt hurt and humiliated and I couldn’t tell anyone about it later because I knew the only normal reaction to such a ridiculous statement was more ridicule.

Those experiences continued, and when you’re young it’s hard to separate the idea that you’re ugly from the idea that the rest of you is worth nothing as a result. Our appearance is so tied up with our self-worth, that being a good person can feel pointless if you’re not beautiful too. It took years to unlearn the lesson that I was ugly and uncool and I didn’t matter. I had to move to university; I had to have my heart broken and survive stronger than before; I had to buy a killer red lipstick.

Loving myself isn’t arrogance or self-importance – or at least not entirely – it’s the only way I know how to keep going, and it didn’t come easily. The first time you look in the mirror and tell yourself you look hot, it seems like a joke. But you have to keep kidding yourself until it starts to feel true. Most people can find something they like about themselves, even if it’s just their favourite outfit, so there’s always somewhere to start.

And once your confidence is built up, other areas of your life might start to make sense too. When your own insecurities begin to fade, it’s harder to let people treat you badly, because you know you deserve better. It’s also easier to forgive and have sympathy for the mistakes of others, which are so often caused by insecurities. After all, you’ve been there. Now that you’ve got some distance from that mindset, you can fully appreciate how toxic it can be. And of course there’s no need to explain the difference that a little extra confidence can make in a job interview or on a first date.

“I know” has become my standard reply to a colleague saying how great my outfit is. But after a while, it became more than just self-affirmation. It became a mantra. I don’t just love myself, I love the idea of loving myself, and so should every other woman who’s ever been made to feel small. When I snapchat my face with the words “look how hot I am!” I’m not just showing off, I’m trying to set an example. I can never get annoyed by girls taking selfies because I just want to give them a standing ovation.

Women, wear that cute dress if it makes you feel great. After all, Christina said it best – you ARE beautiful. And the sooner you know it, the better.