It was brave of the PM to say recently that she knits as a relaxation – even if it was a soft interview for the Australian Women’s Weekly. Not just because powerful women tend to be wary of revealing a more girly side, but because it was such a gift to the cartoonists: a red-haired Madame Defarge, knitting in a blood-soaked Place, as the tumbrils roll by, loaded with the finest flower of carbon-emitting mining aristocrats. If there was such a cartoon, I missed it. Maybe nobody reads A Tale of Two Cities anymore.
Public figures tend to go for blokey hobbies, even the women, with a heavy emphasis on sport: jogging or cycling, following cricket or the AFL. It’s not long ago that politicians would have run a mile (or in the case of Anna Bligh, a marathon) from such overt signs of domestic behaviour. And not only women: a former Archbishop of Canterbury was regularly mocked in the British press because his hobby was tapestry.
Knitting is a soothing choice of hobby, and I imagine Julia Gillard could use some soothing these days. Repetitive and largely mindless, it’s something to do with your hands while your brain is otherwise engaged – or disengaged – and you produce something useful. I used to knit on long flights until knitting needles were banned as potential weapons.