Saturday, September 26, 2009

saying pimp doesn't make you sound cool.....

though this piece is the one that started my recent spate of political pieces, and is one that i've been planning since at least january, and am very proud of, it's also the hardest one to blog about.

i love the craft and DIY movement/community. i really do. but that doesn't mean that i don't see problems in it, that i approve of everything that people do and say and make. people who prefer not to think about problems and unfairness and mistreatment and oppression accuse those of us who do, lefties, socialists, etc, of always picking things apart and complaining about minor issues. it's easier to label things minor than it is to admit how they relate to the bigger picture. and i think we DO pick things apart, and complain about smaller parts of the whole, but honestly, we do it out of love. we do it BECAUSE we care, because we can see how things can be improved, how the world that we love can be even better, how those small things are indicative of larger problems.

i have always believed that crafting is inherently political. that's the whole point of the DIY movement, isn't it? (at least, the original DIY movement, maybe not so much the new commercialized version!) crafting is about not being like everyone else, by creating one of a kind items, about creating with your own two hands, about opting out of the capitalist shopping malls, about valuing work that has traditionally been done by those whose labour hasn't been valued, about celebrating your vision, about getting your message out in a creative way.

as the crafting movement becomes bigger and more mainstream, we start to lose the politics of it, and that's disturbing. but what i find even more disturbing, when you take away the craft aspect of it, is the number of people who care so little about the world around them. even if you don't see crafting as political, what about your responsibility as a human being, a global citizen, whatever? what about being a decent person?

i really worried that people would feel that this piece was targeting them. while i can see how some people may feel that, it's really in response to a growing trend. i see the word pimp used entirely too often in our community. members organize "pimp your ________" swaps all the time, etsy users "pimp" their shops, there's a craft business and blog with the word pimp in their name, major craft blogs use the term pimp, and when readers comment that it's not an appropriate word to use, they respond with the definition has changed, such a 'pimp my ride'. frankly, i'm not sure when we started looking to MTV as an ethical guide in our lives!

so as much as i was concerned about hurt feelings by posting this publicly, at the same time, i think the old slogan is pretty damn accurate -

if you feel attacked by feminism (or this embroidery piece), it's probably a counter attack!

now you're saying, but amy, what about reclaiming words? aren't you all about that? and I AM! i've posted about that before, with my queer cross stitch piece, and the fabulous fat bag.

while i'm all for reclaiming words that have historically been used in a negative way against you, the word pimp is NOT a word that has historically been used against an oppressed group.

words have power. words are SO freaking powerful. remember as kids "sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me"? what about "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can break my heart"? changing your language is an incredibly powerful political act. refusing to use or promote oppressive language, THINKING about what the words you say mean, those things lead to so much more. your language is something that YOU can control, regardless of what laws are passed, what funding is unavailable, what stupid thing a politician did, regardless of how much time or money you have available to volunteer and get involved. your language affects your thoughts, and those of the people around you. it's a small thing, but something that can have a huge impact throughout your life.

and that's why it disturbs me so much to see oppressive words celebrated in our community.

pimp is a word used to DESCRIBE the oppression and mistreatment of (mostly) female sex workers. it is a word that reeks of misogyny and hatred, that calls to mind physical, emotional and sexual abuse. it refers to a system of sex work in western culture that perpetrates abuse and murder of underprivileged people, that consistently devalues the labour of sex workers, that takes away the freedom and self worth of human beings, that traps people who are engaging in survival sex in endless loops, that encourages the control of "lower class" citizens.

and it has some seriously fucked up racial issues too. when you hear the word pimp, especially this time of year, what image comes to mind? if you google image search the word, what comes up? racialized stereotypical images of men of colour, dressed in fur coats with lots of "bling" and huge afros. or, white guys dressed up as black guys, with absolutely no thought to how gross it is to dress that way.

when people talk about advertising their etsy shops, about decorating their cubicles at work, about an embroidery pattern, about crafting in general, there's no place for the word pimp. really, there's not.

and i know there are going to be folks who say, oh, but the etymology! pimp is believed to have stemmed from the French infinitive pimper meaning to dress up elegantly and from the present participle pimpant meaning alluring in dress seductive.

so what!?

there are, unfortunately, words and images which take on negative connotations that cannot be removed. the swastika was once used as a christian cross, but now has the connotation of Nazism.

we CANNOT decide to remove the hateful connotations from words and images simply because we don't like them. that's not how the world works.

and thus, this piece.


completely off the political topic, and onto the embroidery itself....

this piece uses stem stitch, back stitch, french knots, and chain stitch.

as i was doing the french knots, i was asking myself whatever possessed me to chose them... and thanking myself for choosing to use them on the shortest word!

i wrote out the phrase in a word file, choosing different fonts for each part.

the orange stem stitched words are "tall paul", pimp is "curlz mt", cool is arnprior, and ignorant is "goudy stout".


Emily said...

I never thought about the word that way until I heard you mention it a few years ago (which is crazy, because something like a "Pimps and Hos" party is so obviously wrong, but I never thought about it in the crafty world), but I think you're totally right, and think you've expressed yourself beautifully on the topic.

romham a bear said...

so. true.
as well as this: "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can break my heart"

a correction on the history of the swastika though. It didnt originate "as a christian cross", but had been used for a great many years before that:
i know wiki aint the be all end all, but its a start for folks looking for more in depth info on the topic.

thank you for this post though.

amy dame said...

thanks emily! and thanks for the awesome example of how one person's commitment to not using oppressive language can totally affect others!

romham, you're so right! as soon as i read your comment, a lightbulb went off in my head. thank you for the correction, i was so focused on pimp that i forgot to do my research on the rest of the post! i've edited the post a bit.

i think i need to do a sampler with "sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can break my heart" it's so powerful.

Brook said...

great stitching!

Bex said...

Hi! Saw your photo on Flickr through the Phat Quarter group. As I was reading your post, my initial thoughts were "hey I just stitch, nothing political is going on here." And then I thought about it. Wait, yeah, I AM expressing something political when I stitch. Most of my cross stitch is comprised of swear words, naughty body parts or phrases and images that are Geek-speak. Not all of that has a political message but when I stitch something subversive, I feel like I'm daring someone to be offended. This is how I express myself, so go ahead and just TRY to silence me!

I also realized that my first embroidery project had a very political message. I felt that people "whore" themselves out on the internet a lot to get attention by posting nudes or semi-nudes. Post something really amazing on Flickr and you are lucky to get 10 hits on your image unless you have some skin showing.

Anyways, your post really made me think and I thank you for it. Well done!

Ariel Hunt-Brondwin said...

oh Amy! you always have such an amazing, articulate, and insightful way of putting things. thanks so much for that.

I haven't heard the word "pimp" used much in the way you've described(except if someone is actually talking about a "pimp" as in the person)so i was kind of surprised (and yet not that surprised)to hear that this word has somehow become so common and almost fashionable to use.

Because it seems like that's what's happend. Why would people use it when there are so many other ways to covey what they mean unless it's because using "pimp" when you really mean "show off," "adverstise" etc makes you feel somehow risque, or edgy without actually being so...i'm really glad that you pointed out that reclaiming a word such as "queer" and using the word "pimp" simply with a different meaning are not the same kind of thing. One is about turning something negative into a positive and consciously so, the other process seems to me, actually gives legitamacy to a negative word and lessens it's negative and hurtful connotations in an unconscious way. To give an example, this makes me think of the expression "The rule of thumb" - I just found out about the origin of this expression (the "rule" being that at some point there was a law that a husband could legally beat his wife as long as the stick he used was no thicker than his own thumb)and I don't ever want to use it again. That expression has become legitamized to the point that most people including myself wouldn't think twice about using it and it's original meaning has almost been lost.
Words are so powerful. Thanks for reminding us all of that.

also on a different note - i love that you have this blog and i get to see all the amazing stuff you are making. All of your needlework pieces have been great! I really liked the "craft or die" one from an earlier post! I miss you Amy! but i'm hoping to visit sometime in the winter so i hope we can catch-up then.

Amy Rozeboom said...

We received a flier in the mail a while back from a local church. In huge letters on the front it said, I kid you not..."Pimp My Church". While I am not a religious person it was definitely a WTF moment for me.

Keri Garrett said...

I saw your "pimp" piece on Craftster and then had to read the blog with the story behind it. All I can say is THANK YOU! I seriously HATE how the word pimp has come to be used. I teach part time at a small Christian school and whenever I hear the kids use that word (not often, really) I always ask them if they REALLY know what it means and if they really want to be known as a "pimp". Anyway! I think I may need to read them this post the next time I hear one of them say it!

urban craft said...

I love this, now if you could just stitch in one of those gold jeweled pimp cups next to the word "pimp," that would be totally ghetto!

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