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An Unexpected Divide: How Modern Politics Turned Knitting Upside Down

The knitting community is approaching something of a crossroads. After all, discourse has been tumultuous for the last few months. At the height of one of the most divisive administrations in American history, perhaps that’s to be expected. 

It all came to a breaking point in June. Ravelry, knitting’s leading online community, actually did it. Projects and discussions that promote the Donald Trump administration are effectively banned from the community. 

This didn’t come from nowhere. Although no one knows for sure if a specific project or creator prompted this decision, the company cites RPGnet’s similar policy as inspiration. This brings up a larger point. Divisiveness has infiltrated practically all subcultures: video games, comic books, anime, literature, TV shows, movies, tabletop gaming… and so on. 

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In this respect, knitting was probably due for its own political moment. But I believe there’s something deeper going on here. 

Young knitters are growing up, and fast. 

Most non-knitters are still in the mindset that knitting consists of older women. But there’s a whole new generation that’s rising up — a generation that’s passionate, largely progressive, and angry. 

That’s not to say that there aren’t progressive senior knitters. There are many wonderful older members of the community, regardless of politics. Likewise, there are young conservative knitters, too. But by and large, these two generations are coming to a clash. The New York Times put it like this. 

“But in the era of Instagram and Etsy, the craft, historically practiced by older women, has also experienced a clash of cultures as it finds a new following among a younger demographic.”

This quote got me curious. What exactly is the demographic makeup of our hobby? The Association For Creative Industries (AFCI) gives some good statistics on this hobby. 

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  • For age, 71% of surveyed knitters identified as female, while 29% identified as male. 
  • Interestingly, the age ranges are very close percentage wise. 
    • Ages 35-54 make up the biggest chunk at 36%. 
    • The young 18-34-year-olds sat at 34%. 
    • And the 55+ crowd made up 30% of the pool (the highest number compared to the other crafters surveyed).  
  • And if you were wondering, 83% of knitters identified as white, while 11% are black. 

Do any of these results surprise you? One thing is for sure, it helps paint a picture of the diverse demographics in our hobby. I definitely recommend you check out the full document for more interesting statistics. 

Keep in mind that this study was conducted in 2016. So it’s fairly recent, but a lot has happened since that infamous election year. I wanted to know more, particularly political views (which weren’t covered in the story).

Even though I don’t have the resources to conduct a scientific study, I still thought it would be a good exercise to conduct a straw poll for my readers. To spread this poll, I’ve tried to share this with influential creators. But still, take the results with a grain of salt. I’ll revisit this in a future article. 

But for now, if you want to participate, I would greatly appreciate it. 🙂

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Regardless of the results, it’s important to note that these issues go beyond whether you’re conservative or liberal. I mean, politics isn’t exactly a casual debate of whether you prefer Pepsi or Coke. These are fundamental differences in worldview. And Ravelry took it a step further by equating Trump support to white supremacy. 

This sort of language shows that Ravelry is taking a drastic measure. From their perspective, it’s irresponsible to harbor hate on their platform. Online communities are an easy way for hate groups to communicate, grow, and become normalized. We see this time and time again, whether it’s on 4Chan, Reddit, Twitter, YouTube, and many others. 

And like clockwork, we see the weekly complaints. “So and so conservative commentator was banned from Twitter.” Or, “Such and such community was quarantined on Reddit.” Many have correctly pointed out that this isn’t even close to government censorship. But there’s something else that sometimes gets overlooked: deplatforming works

The non-profit research institute Data & Society have said that extremist groups don’t stay connected after they’re banned from a social media platform. Instead, they lose contact with each other, become scattered, and eventually lose interest. Most encouragingly, a lot of them end up finding new hobbies and interests all together.

It’s interesting to see certain companies come down hard on extremist groups. Now, more than ever, corporations are becoming more openly political, even if it alienates a small portion of their audience. Isn’t that some sort of contradiction? If you want to maximize profits, surely you would want to be as apolitical as possible. 

Well, for many companies, that’s not what’s happening. We’ve entered a strange time where companies are taking a moral stance on hot-button issues. Nike is probably the most infamous example when it comes to their partnership with Colin Kaepernick and his protest against racist injustice. Is it all an act to get brownie points (and money) from progressives? Maybe. But that doesn’t change the fact the corporate liberalism is in full force. 

And so with all that said, it makes sense why Ravelry would distance themselves from extremist groups. What would have seemed like a drastic move 10 years ago seems almost normal today. 

What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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