Pinning Things Down

Virginia on Pinterest

Hi, my name is Virginia and I’m addicted to Pinterest. (If you’re already confused, click here to find out what it’s all about.)

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’ve even gone ahead and created several boards that are more work-specific: New On My Blog, My Work, Women’s Health and Body Thoughts.

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?



Filed under Beauty Standards, For Extra Credit, Happenings

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  1. Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    I struggled with the Murphy vs. Zooey thing for nearly 10 years but the Murphy persona always felt unnatural to me. You’re right that I’m lucky enough to control my narrative as a freelance writer and doubly lucky that I have enough professional colleagues who allow me to use my Zooeyness to enhance my work.

    I think that the benefit of Pinterest or Twitter or whatever social media outlet is currently floating your boat is that it gives you space to share your passions – who’s to say Murphy Brown isn’t out there tweeting under a pseudonym and making Polyvore collages of her favorite pantsuits? And when you start pinning, you find your “people” – and your narrative feels a little more validated and powerful. (Yes, this also means the troubling images have power too….)

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 3:43 pm | Permalink

      Ahh, so true and wise, thank you.

      And oh how I dearly hope that Murphy Brown IS out there making Polyvore collages of her favorite pantsuits. Nothing would give me more joy!

  2. Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    (Hi, recent new reader, found your blog via a comment of yours on AlreadyPretty.  I tried to comment on your recent chronic pain post, but I think the internet ate it.  Anyhow, hi.)

    This is a really interesting topic, and an insightful post.  I’ve been watching The New Girl fairly casually (mostly because Community is on hiatus right now, sigh), so while I love Zooey, I haven’t followed much of the press about the show.  I hadn’t heard this divide articulated as Murphy vs. Zooey, but I think that encapsulates it well.  This is something I’ve struggled with myself over the last decade and a half, and as I’m nearing 31, I think I finally have a good handle on it.  Maybe.

    I spent most of the last decade working as a video game designer (until taking a chronic-illness-induced sabbatical about a year ago).  It’s a very male-dominated industry, with about 90% of designers identifying as male, and about 95% of programmers.  There’s not a lot of interest or patience for anything twee, and being too girly can get you mistaken for the receptionist, rather than taken seriously as a creative professional.  Having an influence on the creative process at all requires that you speak loudly, clearly, and with a good dose of sarcasm and wit.

    Those are things I’ve never had trouble with.  I’ve always been loud and sarcastic, despite being small in stature and easily injured physically.  So for years, I tried to make my exterior presentation fit with the idea of a tough, snarky video game designer who can keep up with the guys.  After wearing my hair long for a few years, I went to a salon and actually said the words “I need something edgier, my hair is way too sweet for me.”  The hairdresser cut it into a style inspired by Reese Witherspoon from Sweet Home Alabama, proving that not even my request for “edgy” was taken seriously.  But I spiked it out and got progressively shorter, spikier cuts.  I wore sarcastic tshirts and big Doc Martens and shrugged off colleague’s comments that I was “dressed up” when I wore even a jersey skirt with my sarcastic Ts and combat boots.  And beyond that, I focused on my designing and writing and pushed hard to be taken seriously by the male-dominated industry.

    But early in my career, I came down with a chronic illness.  As it got worse, I stopped working full time in offices with other designers and programmers and started working more from home.  I would still carefully construct professional-but-edgy outfits for in-person meetings, but when working from home, I didn’t really give it much thought.  I stopped worrying if a tshirt accurately expressed my inner snark while papering over my outer girliness.  I grew my hair back out.  I took the plunge and got Zooey bangs, even.

    And somewhere along the way, I realized I don’t have to walk around in a tshirt that says “snarky video game designer” to be one.  I don’t have to wear my profession on my sleeve — or my politics, my sexuality, my geek-cred, or my snarkiness.  I like to make my own clothes, and I don’t have to save those skills just for making geek-themed cosplay to retain my geek-cred.  I can wear vintage-inspired dresses that I designed and sewed myself, I can wear my hair long and curly with Zooey bangs, and it has absolutely nothing to do with my ability to design video games just as well as a guy can.  It also has absolutely nothing to do with my standing as a feminist.

    So when you said “I find this exciting, because it means we get to decide which aspects of these narratives apply to our own lives”, I think you hit the nail on the head. We get to choose, for ourselves, how much of Zooey we want to incorporate into ourselves, and how much of Murphy. And we get to change that ratio whenever we want. They aren’t mutually exclusive, and I think calling women out on choosing to be girly is going against everything the Murphy Browns of the world fought for. Forcing women into a Murphy stereotype is just as bad as forcing women to be homemakers. Isn’t feminism about choice?

    Personally, I like being snarky and tech-y while wearing petticoats and winged eyeliner. Retro femininity is something that feels good on my body, that works with my body type rather than against it, that makes me feel good about how I look. But my personality isn’t Zooey, much less Jess — maybe Zooey a la Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, sarcastic and adventurous and likely to shoot a guy (with an empathy gun, probably, maybe). But I shouldn’t have to act like Jess to defend the fact that I dress a bit like her, any more than I should have to dress like I stepped off the set of Hackers to defend my geek-cred.

    And I agree with Zooey’s comment in the NYMag article: “I think the fact that people are associating being girlie with weakness, that needs to be examined. I don’t think that it undermines my power at all.”

    As far as the end of the latest New Girl episode, with Julia coming over and joining in on crochet time, I didn’t feel like it was a slight against the Murphys of the world. To me it said that it’s important to accept each other and support each other as women regardless of our Zooey dresses or Murphy Brown pantsuits. Feminism shouldn’t be dependent on what we wear, and it certainly shouldn’t be used to dictate what other women wear. To me, that was the lasting message of the episode.

    But this Pintrest thing? That I still can’t quite wrap my head around. ;)

    • Posted February 6, 2012 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

      Hi Samantha/Glass Cannon! I love your take on this, especially on the end of that episode — I saw shades of the same “accepting our differences” theme and I liked it bunches.

      Also, so sorry about your MIA comment on the pain post. A couple got lost in the migration (we exported before people were done chatting about that post) so I need to go back and fetch them. Thanks for the reminder to get on that! ;)

  3. Posted April 16, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

    Wanted to let you know that I discussed this issue and linked to this post on my blog. I won’t get into it too much here (since there’s the whole long post for that) but I definitely agree with you. Enough of this either/or nonsense.

    • Posted September 5, 2014 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

      How exactly like the 50s. My geednr-role-anxious parents refused to allow me to play with trains (later denying chemistry sets) lest I become confused about my inner frilliness, insisting on dolls only. What happened? I punched holes in the ends of the doll boxes and tied them together with string, seated the dolls upright in the boxes and dragged the whole thing around the house, playing the role of engine myself. A train! Full of people! Going places!When I was ten, a male friend distressed both sets of parents by wishing to play with my Barbie dolls. Why? I had the convertible. A car! Full of people! Going places!Tourism apparently trumps geednr marketing. Or perhaps our mutant brains only picked out the words adventure, pleasure, rapid, transit. I had hoped that things would be different by now, however.

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  1. [...] women are collectively doing something as essentially good, but the starting point of critique. Some view Pinterest as exemplifying a particularly juvenile and defanged version of women and empowerment [...]

  2. [...] women are collectively doing something as essentially good, but the starting point of critique. Some view Pinterest as exemplifying a particularly juvenile and defanged version of women and empowerment [...]

  3. [...] of pretty pictures for your Pinterest-ing needs. With not a trace of fitspiration or thinspiration to mess with your head. Though I’m pretty [...]

  4. [...] women are collectively doing something as essentially good, but the starting point of critique. Some view Pinterest as exemplifying a particularly juvenile and defanged version of women and empowerment [...]

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