I did it again – I got another tattoo. My mom is probably rolling in her grave right now. She hated when I got my belly button pierced in high school and I’m CERTAIN she would not approve my new ink. Sorry mom!
The quote is from The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. In chapter 5, it reads:
“Women derive a pleasure, incomprehensible to the other sex, from the delicate toil of the needle.”
In the book, Hester Prynne commits the worse sin – adultery. Believing her husband was lost at sea, she slept with a minister, and the town becomes aware when her daughter, Pearl, is born. As punishment, Hester must wear a scarlet letter “A” so that she can be recognized as the woman who committed adultery and an example of what women should NOT be.
The book takes place during a time when women were defined according to a narrow spectrum – it was the Puritan era – and if any woman deviated from this myopic definition, she was ostracized. When Hawthorne wrote the quote about women and the “delicate toil of the needle”, what I got from it was that women had a hidden side – secret pleasures that weren’t expressed to the public, especially men – but were hard workers. Workers who craved purpose, respect, a voice.
Through all of her punishments, Hester took them like a man. The fact that she refused to reveal who Pearl’s father was – talk about peer pressure yo! – shows just how strong she is. She didn’t run away, she faced her hardships head on, and in doing so, she not only became stronger, but redefined the roles and perceived abilities of women. You go girl.
As the book progresses, the meaning of the letter changes. In the beginning, it signifies adultery, but later, self control and choice. Instead of allowing the letter to define her, Hester chooses to redefine it. She proves to the community that she is a good person who doesn’t have to be miserable in punishment. Life is a choice. “The letter was a symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was found in her – so much power to do, and power to sympathize – that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able.”
My new tattoo signifies the same – Able. As sewists, we are taking control of our own lives by making our clothes. Sure, it’s a creative outlet and I’m sure we don’t even make a tiny dent in changing the world, but it’s empowering to make something from scratch rather than submitting to buy what is in ready-made stores. We’re pretty damn cool if you ask me.
The meaning of my tattoo might change over time just like the scarlet letter. Maybe I’ll hate it in 10 years, maybe I won’t. I was nervous to get this tattoo, and actually, the first week I had it, I regretted it. While I had planned to get it for a while, I went to the tattoo parlor on a whim during a stressful week. But I don’t live in regrets. My mother and Myshka never did.
Artwork by Lindsey Buck.