With the 4th grandchild due at the end of July, I wanted to knit something for him/her to wear home from the hospital. I selected gender-neutral light mint cotton yarn that came complete with the pattern and three little duck buttons. As I began finishing it, I realized I couldn’t make the buttonholes or sew on the buttons. Placement of these items is determined by sex: buttons on girls/womens’ clothes go on the left and for boys/men, on the right.
Puzzled about the origin of yet another difference between men and women, I did some reading.
It all dates back to military uniforms and the assumption that most people are right-handed. Men carried their shield in their left hands, leaving the right hand free to wield a sword. Having clothing fold over from the left, protected warriors from being stabbed through slits in the right. Women, not yet allowed in combat, and presumably protected by men, also tended to have maids to help them dress and button them up. These right-handed servants, facing the garment to be buttoned, could complete the task quicker with the buttons on the left side.
Yet fashion and the military have changed since the days of knights in armor. Women in the military need to be equally protected as men. Most people- men and women- don’t have servants helping them dress.
For sure the women’s movement has more important things to worry about, but maybe it’s time to lobby for all buttons to be on the right.
Babies, of course, don’t dress themselves. Perhaps I’ll just put the buttons on the left.