My friend Amy got me hooked way back in September 2010. I’m fairly sure it’s the only thing we’ve ever early adopted! Since then, she’s pinned a reasonable 268 items. Meanwhile I’ve pinned 839 things.
Ahem. That total actually went up to 845 pins since I wrote the first draft of this post.
But for a looong time, I kept this Pinterest thing in the closet, because most of what I pin there is, well… Domestic Girl Porn. Think cocktail recipes. Knitting patterns for leg warmers. Lots of feelings about the kitchen I will have when money, time and building codes are no object. This all stuff I love to make/do/discuss in my off hours, but it doesn’t really relate to primary themes of this blog or most of my work as a writer. And I’ve had this idea that people won’t take me seriously as a journalist if they know how much time I spent picking out a new sink for my bathroom. (A lot. And it’s so pretty.)
But then Slate’s Jessica Grose got me thinking about the Zooey Deschanel Problem. Which is where feminists get super impatient with Zooey’s wide-eyed girly-girl schtick that’s all about baking cupcakes and wearing vintage dresses. They want her to grow up already and stop playing into male fantasies that women have to be uber-femme and domestic, even if you’re hipster-domestic, not Stepford-domestic. At the end of the day, you’re still frosting the g-d cupcakes.
Grose was irked because last week’s episode of “New Girl” tackled that criticism via a fight between Zooey (aka Jess) and Lizzy Caplan’s pant-suit-wearing lawyer character, Julia. They go a few rounds:
Julia: It’s a great thing. I mean, the big, beautiful eyes, like a scared baby. I’m sure that gets you out of all kinds of stuff.
Jess: Yeah. Yeah, except my peripheral vision’s, like, almost too good.
Finally, Zooey/Jess wins when Julia sheepishly admits that really, she just loves her some girly crochet time. But “I want those Murphy Brown-talking, pantsuit wearers to be just as acceptable and palatable as the cupcake clan,” Grose writes.
And I agree with Grose. “Find the insecure little girl hiding inside every kickass female character” is a pretty tired plot device.
And yet I also agree with Zooey/Jess when she says:
I find it fundamentally strange that you’re not a dessert person. It freaks me out. I’m sorry that I don’t talk like Murphy Brown [...] but that doesn’t mean I’m not smart and tough and strong.
So I’ve been wrestling with these two ideas. Should I be Murphy Brown when I’m in work mode and Zooey Deschanel at home? And should I scrupulously keep those identities separate, especially online? How does that even work (especially when, hi, I work from home)?
It’s the now-cliched “can we have it all?” debate, and for me, it’s all just crystallized with social media. Because as Pinterest gets more popular (but fails to add any privacy options — what up?), my boards — 800+ pins of pure Zooey-ness — are suddenly being followed by random acquaintances, work colleagues, and total strangers. Some of whom I never would have invited over to see that new bathroom sink in real life. And who I would rather see me as Murphy, not Zooey.
Especially since we’re increasingly told that we can’t have it all. “Success is about prioritizing some things and sacrificing others,” Katrin Bennhold wrote two weeks ago in “The New Goal for Women? Rising Above Having It All,” a New York Times piece wherein she argues that women will never climb as high as men on the career ladder as long as we keep simultaneously wanting things like a happy home life and a smaller jeans size. She writes:
We were raised to believe that we could actually have it all: A stellar career, a happy family and time for a social life and that crucial workout.
Ambitious men tend to be more focused: They want that stellar career.
Yeah. That’s unacceptable to me. When we continue to force women and men to choose between happy personal lives and stellar careers we simply reinforce all our age-old problematic gender roles, as well as the stereotypes and limitations that come along with them.
And that goes double for the Zooey Problem and the beauty standards and assumptions about femininity that are attached to it. As I’ve argued before, breaking up with the Beauty Myth didn’t get us anywhere. And so we need to do something much subtler and more difficult: We need to parse out the Beauty Myth and the Have It All Myth and all of these other narratives about modern womanhood (and manhood too — I’ll add the Ambitious Man Myth on that list, since I know plenty of guys who want great careers and a happy personal life, thanks).
I find this exciting, because it means we get to decide which aspects of these narratives apply to our own lives. But it can also be scary — because life is a lot like Pinterest. We love to pin people to specific boards, all tidily categorized away. There are many careers — corporate lawyers, say or finance executives, and yes, some kinds of journalists — where you just can’t be Zooey, or at least, you sure can’t bring Zooey to work with you. And there are just as many places where Murphy, with her store-bought, high fructose-containing bake sale goodies, gets written off as a bad mom and failure of a woman.
So maybe those of us who are lucky enough to have some control over our own narratives should be taking better advantage of that fact. As in: I write about health, body politics and social issues. (And sometimes, also home decor and of course, beauty.) And I like to bake brownies, decorate my house, and braid my hair. I am not just Murphy Brown. But I’m not just Zooey Deschanel either. Because I don’t think we need to pin ourselves as neatly as I’ve pinned so many cool things to do with vintage wood boxes (omg).
All of which is the longest way ever to say: Goddammit, I heart Pinterest! So feel free to follow me there if you also heart any of this stuff.
I’m especially excited about the last two, because I’ll be using Pinterest in a whole new way — to track stories and other finds that won’t appear on this here blog. Because Pinterest is first and foremost a visual place. So let’s work on getting some more diverse representations of beauty and body positive messaging pinned up in there, shall we? (Trust me, there are more than enough troubling images carrying the opposite messages already getting pinned.) Pinterest may have started as a place to redecorate your house or plan your wedding, but I’m thinking we can harness its power in a whole variety of different ways that are both personal and political.
After all, this pinning thing works both ways. So there’s no reason we can’t bring a little Murphy over to Zooey World, too.
Thoughts? Do you struggle with this Murphy vs. Zooey thing? Do you use Pinterest (clandestinely or not)? And if so: How and why and how can we be using it to further these conversations?