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?


purrl3 said...

You don't want to get me started on this, Amy.

I will say that most people who donate what we call "in-kind" (material) goods are very generous people, there are others who simply aren't. They use charitable outlets to get rid of things that should have been landfilled, costing the charily time, energy, and often money (we pay to have our garbage hauled-most people don't know that)!

So, if you wouldn't feed it to your family, wear it yourself, or offer it to you pickiest sister in law, don't donate it!

Joansie said...

I need to reread this post carefully. I work for a cancer center and I think they probably get more scarf donations because they are better at "marketing" than probably someone in charge of my local homeless shelter. Often one doesn't know where to donate to these shelters because the addresses are not commonly known (especially domestic/battering shelters). As for the word "charity", I find absolutely nothing degrading by that word and just view it as a nice identifier for someone who needs help. Sometimes I think we are so busy rewording everything that it becomes like the "tower of Babel" and no one knows what the other is talking about. But, like I said, I need to reread this post.

nancy blanchong said...

Thank you,Amy for saying this!
I have my own thoughts and you could not have said it better. I feel that the homeless need a BIGGER, tighter HUG that only the handmade items can give, therefore they need to be BETTER than anything anyone else gets.

Stefanie said...

Whenever I see a homeless person in the city, I am so thankful at what we're able to have and especially for Eric. I always wonder what is the person's story. That individual you mentioned was tactless and that was a total low class comment. Shame on her.

captainhook said...

So true. My experience is similar. I always want to give something heirloom quality to someone in need, they deserve the best we can give.

Diva Crudites said...

Thanks so much for expressing your thoughts as I share the same sentiments. I knit from the view point of tzedaka. The unconscious discrimination between illness and homeless recipients is very “real”. Unfortunately, even the craftsmanship is sometimes compromised. I’m firm on doing my BEST work with quality yarns for everyone regardless of their circumstance. The end result I trust is love…

Stitchy Mc Floss said...

After reading your posts I was shouting at the screen, "Amen, Sister, Amen!". :)

I believe what we give to others should come from our hearts as a gift of love and be our very best. Why would you ever give a gift that was not the best it could be?

Now I get that some charities ask for things to be from washable yarn, and that is understandable, because not everyone will be able to hand wash, or even want to. But there are some really nice washable yarns out there...and some that are, well, a little itchy. My motto is simple. If you would not give it to your Mom, then don't give it to anyone else.

I just "discovered" your blog today and I look forward to reading more of your posts. :)