Friday, February 20, 2015

Lady Bountiful Syndrome

"Luckily, the homeless shelters will take everything..."
                          a knitter on Instagram

A knitter posted a picture on Instagram today of a hat that had turned out too small for her, then added the above comment. 


Unfortunately, I see suggestions of this kind of attitude all the time. On the one hand, many people very kindly put a lot of time and effort into making things for people in need, and that's wonderful. On the other hand, quite a few of those people make no bones of the fact that they are using their, shall we say, less desirable yarns to do so. Often, combining odd balls of yarn left over from other projects with no thought for aesthetics. Of course, not for nothing do they say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so maybe I should just shut up about that.

But here's the thing. I have noticed a dichotomy between knitted and crocheted items destined for cancer wards and old age homes, and those being sent to, for example, homeless shelters. Anyone might end up in either of the first two places, after all. But homeless shelters? Well, that's a whole different ball of wax. Or so these folks seem to think.

I don't even know if the people (like the knitter quoted above) even realize the implications behind what they are saying. I see it all the time. "Oh, they are / should be so grateful for anything they get."

This kind of attitude really pisses me off. I mean, REALLY pisses me off. I call it Lady Bountiful Syndrome (Lady Bountiful was a character in an 18th century play called The Beaux' Strategem, by George Farquhar. The term has come to be used to describe "an over-patronising woman, showing off her wealth by acts of overwhelming generosity"). I tend to use the term to describe people who take great pride in their "gracious assistance to poor unfortunates" (I put that in quotation marks because it seems to me that is exactly how they think of their actions, deep in their hearts).

Of course, not all people who knit, crochet, sew, or whatever for others think or feel that way! But I have to wonder if there isn't some sort of unconscious discrimination going on. People who are ill, or elderly, are somehow "better" than people who don't have a place to live. Every now and again, like today, I see something that makes me believe that, sadly, many people really do think that way (whether they realize it or not).

In a way, I think it is somewhat connected to whether one thinks of crafting for people in need to be charity, or not. Charity is a word that is used all the time, mostly with the best of intentions. I believe it has different connotations to different people, though. To me, it sounds a little condescending. In Hebrew, the word usually translated as "charity" - tzedaka - actually means righteousness or justice. In other words, doing the right thing. I tend to think of the knitted objects I send to various organizations not as charity, but as community knitting, because I am making things for people who are part of the community of the world, just as I am.

Your thoughts?