Pinterest: Regressive Feminist Scourge or Virtual Woman’s Temple?

(Note: I wrote this several years ago and while Instagram has now outstripped Pinterest as women’s favoured platform for sharing recipes and home decor,  I’m reposting the article because the issues it addresses are sadly far from outdated).

Teeming with endless pictures of magnificent cakes, sumptuous floral bouquets and festive holiday decorations, millions of women participate in the popular social media platform called Pinterest. Here women take photos of food and ‘pin’ these recipes, as well as crafting how-tos, and home décor tips on virtual bulletin boards. Others then endlessly repin this material, making Pinterest a kind of modern day digital home almanac.

Pinterest’s user pool is predominantly women and the most popular pins circulated on the site are Food & Drink, Crafts & Home Décor, Women’s Fashion and Weddings. Is this cause for concern? Are we falling victim to what some feminist’s call Pinterest’s regressive gender stereotyping and ‘back to the kitchen’ mentality’? Does Pinterest mania make us more interested in conventional womanly pastimes than say, the pursuit of equality?

61FM8F74EkL._SL1001_.jpg

I don’t think so. 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 while I have no problem that Ms. Magazine encourages its readers to move beyond “traditional feminine pursuits” to pin topics on politics, domestic violence prevention, rape culture awareness etc., I do take issue with the implication that domestic pursuits are less than progressive.

Let’s face it, creating beauty and ritual 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, house painting, furniture to bedposts. But what we’ve forgotten is this ‘beautifying’ was about much more than décor. It was part of what can only be described as an ancient women’s religion in which the home was seen as the spiritual centre of daily life, and the hearth a sacred altar.

Recently Updated924.jpg

Spinning, weaving, harvesting, cooking,  cleaning, and what we see today as ‘quaint’ decorative crafts were once ritual objects in a women’s magic designed to bring prosperity, joy and protection into our homes. And no part of the home or daily life was considered too mundane to be blessed and/or made beautiful.

In many ways these domestic traditions could be said to be preserved and passed down through Pinterest. Could this have something to do with Pinterest’s spell-binding allure today? Does Pinterest thrive because some part of us recognizes what has gone missing from our modern lives? Has “pinning” an image of those cookies or cake we no longer have time to bake become a kind of ritual, one that insists that everyday details of domestic life are still sacred 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 home knit mittens? And what I observed was this: here, the ordinary is rendered extraordinary by the “feminine” touch. Here the normally mundane objects of our daily lives are elevated into something iconic, even transcendent.

pinterest3

Obviously Pinterest isn’t all sugar and light. I agree with critics who say it can promote consumerism, superficiality and the glorification of appearances – à la Martha Stewart. And let’s not forget this is a world of mostly white privilege. But what I see evoked in the multiplicity of recipes, home crafts and “home how to’s”  is a cross cultural legacy of the domestic arts that have not only historically made everyday life more pleasurable, but spiritually meaningful.

And whether we actually make time to crochet those lovely little potholders or weave the corn dolly we’ve pinned is beside the point. Something draws us back over and over again to pin images of double dark chocolate torte cake, plump cinnamon buns and ravishingly laid out dining tables. 

Granted this may be a guilty pleasure – but c’mon is it really a regressive feminine pastime? In an article for Forbes.com, author Victoria Pynchon claims “it’s hard to find business women, feminists, and politics on Pinterest” and the site “looks like the Ladies’ Home Journal of 1962 or Good Housekeeping in 1958.” Is Pinterest, as Amy Odell, editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine argues “killing feminism” by “reinforcing the retrograde, materialistic content that women’s magazines have been hocking for decades”?

Again, I don’t think so. Fact is these same magazines have also been hocking the pro-work agenda of second wave feminism for decades. In the late 60’s, led by icon Betty Friedan, women en masse were urged to reject the housewife role because ““she can find identity only in work that is of real value to society” — by which she meant, “work for which, usually, our society pays”.  

Recently Updated925.jpg
Centre bottom: Betty Friedan

And for the most part it failed to address the additional barriers of class and racial discrimination faced by black, immigrant and women from ethnic minorities. Many of these women were already in the workforce, but none had yet to achieve “equality”. 

001_F_Leinwand_45555194.jpg

In the following decades the subsequent glorification of the white superwoman “who can bring home the bacon and fry it up in the pan” reinforced the idea that what happens in the public workplace is “work”, but what women do at home—cooking cleaning and childcare—is not. This left the unpaid economic labour which maintains the private sphere (upon which the public sphere cannot function) firmly in place.  

The result? Today regardless of gender or race, modern economics has left it near impossible for anyone to indulge their inner Martha. Only a very few can afford to be ‘homemakers’ any more. Those who choose to work in the home as stay at home parents are economically penalized in more ways than one. Denied the same tax deductions as parents who put their child in daycare, families in which one parent stays home are taxed more heavily than families in which both parents are working.

napawan-01.jpg

So when will we decide as feminists to assign the same economic value to the work done in the home (cooking, cleaning and childcare) as in the workplace? Historically a man’s castle may be his home, but lets not forget his castle was created and maintained by “the angel in the house”. It was her unpaid labour which made possible the modern glorification of the private sphere as refuge from the cold hard world of the public.

Cult-of-Domesticity.jpg

And it is still the private sphere of the home, of food, holidays and family upon which Pinterest still revolves.  And in our secular world, I see Pinterest’s domestic images symbolically speaking of our perennial and collective yearning to not only make our homes a sacred refuge, but to create beauty, to share joy in celebration, to nourish family and friends, to express our love of life.

This isn’t about romanticizing or sentimentalizing “women’s work”. Because no matter our gender or race, isn’t it time to reevaluate the “labour of love” that takes place in the home as having not only economic value – but emotional and spiritual value to our entire society?   

So go ahead, take a picture and post it to Pinterest. And don’t let anyone shame you into thinking that interest in “traditional feminine pursuits” is the reason we have yet to achieve equality. Buying into the notion that “pinning” recipes in this virtual temple of the domestic arts is somehow trivial or regressive – only serves to reinforce the same old tired gendered stereotypes upon which economic inequity continue to stand. 

Closing Note: I’m posting this link to a documentary I directed called The Vanishing Housewife over a decade ago. It is still relevant to the issues in this post, in fact nothing has changed. While this clip is kinda slow (I didn’t edit it!) it does sums up the economic/feminist issues surrounding the value of unpaid work in the home today.

168
Liked it? Take a second to support Gather Victoria on Patreon!

Posted by

Whether its through wildcrafting, plant medicine, kitchen witchery or seasonal celebrations, I believe we can enhance personal, community and planetary well-being by connecting with mother nature!

27 thoughts on “Pinterest: Regressive Feminist Scourge or Virtual Woman’s Temple?

  1. I don’t just post pictures (pictures that are usually from sci fi fandom), but articles. The idea that it’s just a bunch of women sharing household hacks is (thankfully) a myth.

    1. I do appreciate your point! But while I’m not sure of recent statistics, it looks like Pinterest may well be dominated by women sharing “household hacks”. And if so, does that then make it “regressive” as some feminists charge? I think we should be able to pin whatever we like without being told we’re perpetuating oppressive gender stereotypes!

      1. I agree with you whole heartedly, and believe that this is where the feminist movement got it wrong. While pursuing equality, we forgot our most precious role, homemaker. Unfortunately, decades later, our families are a bit broken, and communities weakened. As you stated, now it is financially hard to stay home and be a full time homemaker. I find your writings and way of life to be inspirational. Thank you

  2. Has there been controversy about Pinterest now? I haven’t heard about it and honestly don’t care what anyone thinks about my latest obssesion. I probably like it more than FB at this point. Yes I do have “girly” stuff saved (btw how is saving recipes a female thing? Lots of men like to cook and bake), but I also have a “Car Art” board and a “Fobot” board. My friend and I often share pins of craft/art projects and get together in person and work on them. We both have been making “altered book” pages and it’s been a lot of fun coming up with ideas and working on them.

    1. Love it. Of course women are pinning more than “girly stuff” – but according to statistics the majority of pins still revolve around traditional domestic pursuits. And yes it seems that they are pinned by mostly women. But so what? What is wrong with that exactly? By saying we pin more than recipes or that men pin recipes too – are we somehow feeling we must defend of our pinning habits? I’m not saying that is what you are doing or saying – I’m just wondering in general…and of course I agree with your comments. Who gives a fig what anyone thinks about our Pinterest obsession!

  3. I’ve had many of these thoughts and thoroughly concur! A refreshing article and one I will enjoy sharing.
    Thanks so much for your wonderful writing, perspective and beauty.

  4. i really enjoyed reading this. thank you for recognising that female labour in home-making, child-rearing, elder-care, etc are not only important—that it is crucial to every society. underpinning the wage economy is the unpaid daily work without which everything else would not function. i am proudly feminist, and i was an at-home mother and home-maker too. they are far from incompatible… i love pinterest, and find it a very broad canvas. i use it to organise information for various research projects, for practical things, for pretty things, for political and social causes, and yes, for recipes as well. anyone who doubts that all these things can be folded together need only look me up on pinterest…

  5. I’ve been on Pinterest for about 8 years now, and at 224 boards or so, I can only say I pin about greatly diverse subjects which include but are not excluded to 3 boards on recipes, 2 about advice on cleaning your home with non-toxic products and other hacks of all kinds; beauty and fashion; art, literature, music; history, photography (contemporary, fashion, and historical); film and Hollywood, men and woman who happen to be well-known; esoteric and eclectic art of all kinds; travel and world cultures; war and conflict; faith, spirituality, and religion; chateaus and estates; sociology, archaeology, sociology, and anthropology; cars, trains, motorcycles; gardening; color; craft, design (interior, garden, and fashion), and much much more.

    I am an avowed feminist, and I also love watching a show like, say, Victorian Farm on Knowledge Network, where I can learn about the roles of women in that era from an informed presenter like Ruth Goodman. In fact, besides loving Pinterest, I love Knowledge Network and PBS because the documentaries they present are fascinating, be they about women’s issues, societal issues, equality, photography, history, activism, the environment, and so much more! Just trying to list off the many things which interest me, and which I am sure interest many, many other women as well here.

    We are not one-trick ponies! Why is it so hard for our society to see and realize that women are complex, multi-faceted, richly diverse, and utterly divine beings, and that we can just as soon be interested in a recipe on the best beef bourguignon or the best vegan pizza as we can be interested in fine art or ecology or history or interior decorating?! Give me a break! And thank you, Danielle, for this very insightful blog post. I’ve enjoyed it as much as all your gorgeous foraging and foodie posts, not to mention the fascinating historical stories of women’s wisdom, ancient ritual, wise woman’s health, earth wisdom and traditions of old… and well… I could go on and on here. Let’s just say, I adore your blog. And yes, PIN ON to your heart’s content, sisters!

  6. Thank you Danielle. I have many boards on Pinterest and find it highly inspiring. I like your blogs because my hobby is wild crafting and herbal medicine making. Those are what many of my Pinterest pins contain. However, by day I am a dentist. I have practiced for 32 years.
    What I am getting at is that many women ‘choose’ to make their homes attractive, safe, and with good food choices. Why are feminists ( which I have always considered myself…until recently) so angry? With everyone and everythiing that doesn’t reflect their collective image? I don’t cook much but now that I have empty nest I am enjoying trying new recipes and may just go to Pinterest and pin some recipes. I think we, as women, have forgotten the real fight. The real fight was about being able to become whatever you wanted to be. No barriers. Not even if that meant chosing home to do your work….paid or not. If it is your choice! Yes. There is more work to be done in our society but in many parts of the world the devaluation of women is appalling. It takes time and we just have to keep spreading the light. And love. Herbal medicine is the people’s medicine. I like to spread that message! Thank you for your inspiring blogs 👏👏👏👏

    1. Hi Janet! I was certain I wrote a response to your comments – but it seems to have disappeared! Just wanted to say that I agree with everything you say – and wish you were my dentist! Thanks for taking the time to comment and especially for saying nice things about my blogs!

  7. I’ve turned to Pinterest and the your Gather site for idea sharing. Years ago this would have happened with the women in village. Now, however, I work full time and cook on the fly. Pinterest and Gather have returned me to my sacred space, the kitchen. Some things that I’ve learned and “remembered” are that my kitchen is a sacred space as is my oven (cauldron), the water, (vessel) the air (steam and smoke) and the food (matter). My magic is there. I’ve observe the directions there, bless there, heal there, make medicine there, laugh there. These ideas have come from Pinterest, and more so, Gather. Because of these sites I’m connecting with like minded women. Thank you! By the way, My Grand Fir massage oil has come out of the warming drawer and ready for use, it smells amazing.

    1. So beautifully expressed, thank-you for this comment! I love it – and may even borrow a few of your lines in the future! Credited, of course!

  8. I’m posting this link to a documentary I directed called The Vanishing Housewife over a decade ago. It is still relevant to the issues in this post, in fact nothing has changed. While this clip is kinda slow (I didn’t edit it!) it does sums up the economic/feminist issues surrounding the value of unpaid work in the home today.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZyNgQ4NhtBk

  9. I completely agree with your points in this post about the wayward notions of some feminists who claim that, by pinning recipes and photos of beautiful food, decor, housekeeping ideas, etc., women have somehow rejected the tenets of feminism or gone back on the decades of work to get women to where we are today. As many others have pointed out, I believe feminism is about choice — the choice not to take my husband’s last name when I got married, the freedom to make reproductive choices, to have a job outside the home, etc.

    When I had my son, now 3 years old, I came to realize even more fervently and with greater clarity what true “choice” meant — and also, how we have so far yet to go (because when he was born, I was surprised at how instantly my perspective shifted and wanted nothing more intensely than to stay at home with him through his early childhood years; but our financial situation meant we simply had no choice. I had to return to my full-time job — though I’m so blessed, at least, that the non-profit I work for is extremely family-friendly). It was almost an existential “choice,” though … As much as I wanted to be home with him full-time, we simply could not afford that path. It was an option in theory, but in reality our society does not support that “choice” — it truly is mostly a matter of white privilege to be able to do that.

    But back to Pinterest — I too enjoy rambling around it, getting ideas about things like Waldorf-based playrooms, recipes, naturalist decor, etc (and things like infographic and graphic design inspiration). But I think there is a downside that hasn’t yet been addressed: A real possibility of feeling completely inadequate because I lack the time, skills or know-how to create such gorgeous foods, table displays, crafts, etc. I still enjoy getting inspiration — but it can be hard not to feel like a failure too, since the reality in our house looks so much different. I’m pretty good about buffering those feelings out, but I worry Pinterest — and those almost impossibly perfect images — could have a similar effect of fostering feelings of inadequacy and unworthiness in other women.

    That said, I still agree whole-heartedly with the points you raised — and I, too, wish our society would do more than pay lip service to the value of the unheralded, home-space work of women. We need robust policies, change at the legislative level, to bring reality on par with rhetoric.

    1. I so hear you! Choice is what equality should be all about. And while “staying at home” is a matter of white privilege – changing the economic ways we value work done in the domestic realm potentially benefits all women (and men) especially “domestic workers” (often from ethnic minorities) paid next to nothing.

      Your other point is actually the complaint I hear most about Pinterest from women, that it actually works to make them feel inadequate when it comes to living up to all that domestic perfection! I resonate and am glad you brought it up.

      Finally, yes we absolutely need more robust policies and change at the domestic level -but that is only going to happen once we demand it. If we’re made to feel that domestic work done in the home is somehow trivial and unimportant – nothing will change!

  10. “here, the ordinary is rendered extraordinary by the “feminine” touch.” Something we seem not to value in today’s modern society. It’s a shame that we so deeply engrained the desire to create, nurture, beautify, soften, decorate, etc with a single gender. Or that we cannot wrap our brains around the concept that both physical genders possess feminine AND masculine elements all across the scale. The world needs what the feminine spirit offers as much as it does the male – when we come close to achieving that in some semblance of balance, we are all much happier.

    1. So agree. The “traditional” feminine qualities of nurturance aren’t just devalued in women – but in men as well. Our culture supports one way of being, associated with the “traditional” male values of competition in the public sphere. But we need more of the Yin with the Yang- if we’re ever to find balance!

  11. A wonderful post! In the 70’s and in my teens, I exploded into young adulthood with my copies of Ms. magazine and my rage against all things stereotyped as female and women’s work. I even refused to take typing classes because I perceived it as a way of limiting my future (who could have imagined that I would spend 4-6 hours a day writing on a keyboard).

    Then, in my 20s I became a young mom and discovered motherhood and homemaking and developed skills in home cooking, sewing/knitting, herbalism and growing food gardens. I wanted a healthy lifestyle for my son and in that process, I discovered that I was happier in this type of lifestyle. Though I worked professionally for 25 years in higher education and enjoyed my profession, I resisted promotions and career development for fear that I would lose this ‘other life’ – after hours, in my garden, in my kitchen, wildcrafting, reading, learning, knitting. Economically, I have suffered because I traded income for creative comfort and contentment – fortunately, I have skills and knowledge to take care of myself in my crone stage of life!

    The problem I have with Pinterest and now Instagram is similar to what others have mentioned: it often contributes to illusions of perfection, an unattainable sense of how our lives should look. I have friends who spend hours pinning recipes but don’t cook their own meals, complaining they don’t have time. I fear that we are “living” parallel lives: the actual living and the ones we direct on screens.

    1. I understand exactly what you mean, and my path has been similar! And I so agree with your points about people spending hours pinning recipes – without actually making time to cook them. Guilty myself. In the original version of this post I wrote about wanting to get away from virtual reality to actually “live” my pinterest boards -which has had limited success. Still love pinning! And yes, while many pictures are unrealistic, I think Pinterest fills some kind of spiritual hunger for a more meaningful and beautiful way of life idealized by these images. Which is why I like to call Pinterest a virtual women’s temple!

Leave a Reply