I’m addicted to Pinterest. For those unaware of today’s most popular social media platform, let’s just say it’s a kind of ‘lifestyle’ porn teeming with endless pictures of magnificent cakes, sumptuous floral bouquets and festive holiday decorations.
Here women by the millions ‘pin’ recipes, crafting how-tos, and home décor tips on virtual bulletin boards—ostensibly for future use. Because whether we actually make time to crochet those lovely little potholders is beside the point, mostly we just come to vicariously indulge in the images of plump cinnamon buns and ravishingly laid out dining tables. But lately I’ve grown tired of just looking. I need more. I want to step away from the screen and actually LIVE my Pinterest boards.
Should I be concerned?
Have I fallen victim to what feminist’s call Pinterest’s regressive gender stereotyping and ‘back to the kitchen’ mentality? Have I become, as Ms. Magazine suggests, more interested in conventional womanly pastimes than, say, the pursuit of equality?
Last year Ms. Magazine encouraged it’s readers to move beyond “traditional feminine pursuits” to pin topics on politics, domestic violence prevention, rape culture awareness etc. I have no problem with this at all, although I admit I don’t use my Pinterest boards to share this kind of information, but my Facebook page. But I do have a problem with the implication that traditional domestic pursuits are somehow less than progressive.
As a feminist, I see this belittling of the urge to beautify, decorate and celebrate as undermining the important domestic work women have done in the home for eons. And this isn’t romanticizing or sentimentalizing “women’s work” because disregarding its true value has had real economic ramifications. After all, feminism’s glorification of the superwoman and its pro-work agenda inadvertently reinforced the stereotype that what happens in the workplace is work, but what women do at home—cooking cleaning and childcare—is not.
This has left women (or men) who work at home economically penalized. Parents at home are not allowed the same tax deductions as parents who put their child in daycare, and families in which one parent stays home are taxed more heavily than families in which both parents are working. And needless to say, modern economics has left it near impossible for anyone to indulge their inner Martha. Regardless of gender; no one can afford to be a ‘homemaker’ any more.
It seems to me that the womanly ‘urge’ to beautify is something we need to take seriously. Because aside from the sheer domestic drudgery involved, the finding and creating of beauty in everyday meals and household objects has been a preoccupation of women for thousands of years.
From Africa to China, Europe to the Americas our foremothers cared deeply about adorning every household aspect of life, from pots, weaving, embroidery, housepainting, furniture to bedposts. And whether it is found in a painting composed by a great Master or in an ordinary weaving or ceramic jug, why should beauty created by women in the home be any less meaningful?
For our foremother’s this ‘beautifying’ was about much more than décor. What we see today as “folk art” and ‘quaint’ decorative crafts were once ritual objects in a women’s magic designed to bring prosperity and joy into our homes. They were part of an ancient women’s religion in which the home was seen as the spiritual centre of daily life, and it’s hearth a sacred altar. From spinning, weaving, harvesting, cooking or cleaning—no part of the home or daily life was considered too mundane to be blessed and/or made beautiful.
Could this have something to do with Pinterest’s spell-binding allure today? Does Pinterest thrive because some part of us recognizes that this is precisely what is missing from our modern lives? The ceremonial acknowledgment that everyday domestic life is sacred, magical and meaningful?
I’ve spent a lot of late nights pondering (during pinning sessions when I just can’t tear myself away from the computer and go to bed) what itch of mine—exactly—was getting scratched in these glowy ambient depictions of casseroles and wooly homeknit mittens? And what I observed was this: Here, the ordinary is rendered extraordinary by a woman’s touch. Here the normally mundane objects of our daily lives are elevated into something iconic, even transcendent.
Is Pinterest a 21st-century virtual temple, honouring the spiritual heart of the domestic arts? Do its icons speak to our perennial and collective yearning to create beauty, to share joy in celebration, to nourish family and friends, to express our love of life?
Obviously Pinterest isn’t all sugar and light; at its worst it can promote consumerism, superficiality and the glorification of appearances. But is taking time to decorate the halls at Christmas or bake that double dark chocolate torte cake really a regressive feminine pastime? Is Pinterest (as one popular article argued last year) guilty of “killing feminism” by “reinforcing the retrograde, materialistic content that women’s magazines have been hocking for decades”?
I don’t think so—and it’s not because I’m more interested in the domestic arts than the pursuit of equality. I just don’t think the baby has to be thrown out with the bathwater.
And it’s why I want to actually start living (not living through) my Pinterest boards. Because at heart, isn’t Pinterest about evoking that warm feeling when someone has gone to great deal of trouble to create something beautiful and special just for you? And at the risk of reinforcing gender stereotypes—doesn’t our over-mechanized, over-efficient world need this ‘mother love’ more than ever?
Social media may connect us virtually but it increasingly disconnects us from real life. So I want to stop with the voyeurism and make time for domestic magic. That doesn’t mean that every detail of homemaking has to be perfect, or that every meal has to be a ritual of giving thanks and sharing—only that some do.
I may be a modern woman but I need to find real ways, as my foremothers once did, to make daily life meaningful and beautiful. And then maybe after, because I’m still addicted, I’ll go ahead and take a picture. Why not?