What's going on here? Why would a woman doing something traditionally feminine be so controversial?
It goes something like this, I think. The underlying principle of liberalism is that we are made human by our autonomous choices. This means that our life choices must be self-determined rather than predetermined. But our sex is something we don't get to choose - it is predetermined. Therefore, it must be made not to matter.
That explains in a general way why something as seemingly harmless as a woman cross stitching should raise the ire of a liberal true believer.
But there's one more level to the argument. Liberals have to answer some questions. The first is how sex distinctions came to exist in the first place if they are an affront to our humanity. The answer generally given is that such distinctions have no basis in nature, i.e. that there is no real essence to what is masculine or feminine. Instead, they are socially constructed.
The second question for liberals to answer is why sex distinctions would be socially constructed. The response of left-liberals is that men created the "gender binary" in order to gain an unearned privilege for themselves at the expense of women. Women were left with less opportunity to lead autonomous, self-defining lives. Therefore they were the "second sex" who were literally denied "human equality" - they played a less human role than men. Femininity, in this view of things, delivered women as inferior beings into the clutches of men.
So if you were a liberal woman, particularly a left-liberal one, the logical response seems obvious. You would reject femininity as oppressive and live your life in the manner of "privileged" men.
It seems that the feminine runs more deeply in women's nature than the theory predicted. Even the more political left-liberal women usually seek to express it in some way. So how do these women justify such expressions of the feminine?
One way is to claim that they are being "ironic" in what they are doing. Being masculine or feminine is OK, they think, as long as you somehow indicate that you're not entirely serious. If you show that you are only being feminine as a way of sending up femininity, then that's acceptable.
Another strategy is to claim to be mixing and matching, e.g. that you are wearing lipstick and high heels while drinking beer and putting up a shed in the backyard, or riding a Harley-Davidson whilst wearing lace.
It's also possible for a liberal woman to claim that all that matters is self-determining choice, so that a woman should be able to choose to be either masculine or feminine:
In my eyes, feminism isn't about forcing femininity or masculinity on anyone but rather making it more acceptable for women to be any way they want to be.
Then there's the argument that masculinity and femininity are OK as long as they are detached from biological sex, i.e. that masculinity and femininity should be randomly selected by men and women rather than femininity being connected to women and masculinity to men:
Gender expectation is when we, as a society, expect nail polish and skirts on women, and trousers and ties on men. Wouldn't it be something to live in a world where they weren't gendered, though? Where men could paint their nails without getting funny looks?
Now, should that come to fruition, where anyone could be wearing a pretty apron and baking cookies, and anyone else could be in coveralls and repairing a car, it may be that we stop viewing those things as "feminine" and "masculine," and that's certainly fine, but it's not a requirement. Feminine and masculine don't have to mean the same thing as male and female. It's about separating gender presentation from inherent gender.
These attempts to fit the feminine into liberalism, as compromised as they are, attract the ire of the more radical moderns. In a post titled "only sub-human" one radical feminist attempts to restore orthodoxy as follows:
Femininity is not a natural expression of femaleness. It is not an hereditary, hormone-based fascination for fashion, submissiveness, mani-peddies, baby-soft skin, or catfighting. It is not a fun-loving lifestyle choice. Femininity is a rigid system of behaviors imposed on us by the Global Accords Governing the Fair Use of Women as a means to control, subjugate, and marginalize us, entirely at our expense, for the benefit of the male-controlled megatheocorporatocracy.
This idea often chaps the hide of novice blamers. This is because they don’t fully appreciate the hideous essence of femininity. Some of them believe that the practice of femininity is but one facet of an exciting smorgasbord of lifestyle choices available to today’s busy autonomous gal-on-the-go. They feel that “choosing” feminine conduct is an act of feminist rebellion, on the grounds that the choicing is entirely the chooser’s own personal idea. They aver that femininity can be an expression of a woman’s personal personality, and that it is “fun.” It is irrelevant, apparently, that femininity just happens to align precisely with the pornified desires, yucky fetishes, and vulgar business interests of the entire dudely culture of domination. Sadly, the novice blamer omits to consider this greater whole, and that in “choosing” femininity she is merely making conspicuous her compliance with dudely authori-tay.
Our hardcore feminist writer goes on to complain that "the truth about femininity is so repellent, so foul, so depraved, that we don’t want to know it" and even that one of the consequences of femininity is that women get "no invitation ... to life’s rich pageant."
Whichever way liberal women go, the outcome is sad. The feminine is utterly condemned, or treated ironically, or regarded as one choice of no more significance than another, or disconnected from women as a sex.
And a woman cross stitching becomes a controversial act.