The man in the seat ahead of me in the Pullman was knitting openly and shamelessly, as he might have read a newspaper or smoked a cigar. He slipped the first stitch, knit one, and purled two, as nonchalantly as if he were knocking billiard balls about the table or teeing his ball for a long drive. He slipped his stitches along the needle, — or ‘stick’ as one of his male observers remarked, — loosened his yarn, and proceeded, with a rhythm and a rapidity that it was quite a delight to watch. He was knitting a khaki sweater, with double yarn, and he counted his eighty stitches with a veteran’s assurance.
People passing to and fro from the dining-car stopped to watch him, winked at each other, and shook their heads, as if he were some curious freak.
Now, why should n’t a man knit? Men have always been more skillful than women in manual accomplishments. In all arts, the great artists with their fingers have in general been men. A moment’s thought and consideration will establish that fact, beyond dispute or discussion.
Women have in recent years flaunted their masculine accomplishments. Whatever they have done in athletics, in business, in the professions, or in the arts which have heretofore been generally recognized as manly, they have talked of with the swollen chest and have advertised widely. To such an extent has this been true, that men have been made to feel quite keenly at times that their own field of activity is gradually narrowing, that they will ultimately be pushed into the back row, or, changing the figure, wiped entirely off the map, which will then be the special property of women. We men have always had our little feminine accomplishments, but have felt obliged to practise them under the rose. They were for us considered no cause for pride or self-satisfaction. We have sewed on our own buttons, darned our own socks, — well, too, as many of us could easily demonstrate, — put on our own invisible patches, but secretly, in the privacy of our own chambers, with the blinds down, for fear we might be detected in our shame. The work was necessary, but for us not honorable. Many men, not tailors either, can make buttonholes better than their wives; but they never confess it outside of the family. I know a man — strong, husky, and athletic — who regularly makes for his wife the most beautiful embroidery and filet lace from his own original designs, but she does not give that fact away; people might think him weak and effeminate, she fears, if they knew that he possessed such skill. So she explains to the curious who inquire into the origin of her beautiful lace that a ‘friend’ made it for her.
Englishmen have been skillful in knitting for a long time, and have not been ashamed to demonstrate it publicly, either. A friend of mine, who has lived in India for many years, has told me that English officers there take their knitting with them to public events quite as unapologetically as women do.
Most American men have heretofore been limited in public places to one or both of two diversions — they could smoke or read the paper. Some men do not enjoy smoking, and the modern newspaper may in time be exhausted. Then we yawn and grow restless, like an active boy shut up in the house on a rainy day with nothing to do.
We have heard a great deal of late about the emancipation of woman and the part which the war will play in the speedy accomplishment of that result; but the war is going to do much, also, in the emancipation of man, who needs quite as much to be freed from some of the restrictions and conventions that have limited and handicapped him.
We shall come into our own. Ere long we shall take our knitting and our crocheting with us on the train, and practice these manual arts, with which we have long been secretly familiar, openly and without criticism. We shall sit in our easy chairs in our club-rooms, busy and contented, with our weekly darning and mending in our laps, sewing on our missing buttons while we discuss politics and war policies. Instead of rushing out between acts at the theatre to smoke a hasty cigar or to fill our stomachs with some unnecessary drink or refection, we shall knit a few rounds on a sock for Sammy, or crochet a little lace for the baby’s rompers.
The emancipation of man is in sight.