I'm concerned about conferences with serious gender imbalances, much like Kathy Sierra and Shelley Powers with their recent posts on ETech. However, it's not ETech I'm thinking of.
To put it bluntly, a knitting conference can be hostile to men. The interaction style is touchy-feely -- women walk right up to strangers and fondle their knitted garments, invading personal space. Although some have said that men aren't discouraged from attending and in fact receive positive attention for being there, this can be of the form of "How nice it is to have men attending", "Is this knitting book for your mother?" (ref) and "I'm sure your wife will love this yarn.
All the instructors at knitting conferences are female, and one wonders if the mostly-female program committee could have something to do with that. In the expos or markets, one finds patterns for shawls, purses and female garments. Although some of the market vendors are male, they are clearly there as "booth bunnies", to attract women to look at the yarn. Some of the male vendors are even pressured to wear demeaning and ridiculous knitted vests.
What can we do about it? Well, we can be more equal in our language, for a start. Articles like this, although mentioning a few knitting men, are given titles like "The yarn is flying as more women discover the joys of knitting." Vendors like Habu textiles are taking a step in the right direction, offering stainless steel yarn, which is sure to appeal to men. Joe, a male knitter, has some other great ideas, such as making the act of knitting into more of a competition.
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