(Editor’s note: Speaking of ebbs and flows, Kimberly Wilmot Voss is on a roll. The University of Central Florida instructor, who is writing a book on the often overlooked editors of the so-called “women’s pages” of newspapers, has penned a number of Feminist Kitchen guest posts
this year, and this is another highly topical piece in response to the chatter about Pinterest and feminism.)
The only good thing about the recent buzz regarding Pinterest being the death of feminism is the fact that apparently feminism is still alive. In a lengthy post, a writer for Buzzfeed theorized that the user-generated content of Pinterest, which often focuses on recipes, fashion, home décor and fitness, was “retrograde.” Other bloggers were quick to defend the social networking site that is heavily used by women. (Of the 23 million users of Pinterest, 60 percent is female.)
This argument that women who enjoy cooking, decorating and clothing among other traditionally female interests cannot also be feminists is not a new one.
Up until the early 1970s, newspapers had sections known as the women’s pages. These sections included news about family, food and fashion. As the women’s liberation movement made its way across the country, leaders saw the content of the sections as sexist and fought to have the sections eliminated.
Yet, a look back at these sections also included the beginning of feminism. Along with recipes and wedding announcements, the women’s pages also included stories about pay inequities, domestic violence and the need for quality daycare. The women working in those sections did not need their consciousness raised as these were issues they often experienced first hand. Writing about them was their way of coping with discriminatory situations.
In other words, there was a mix of traditional and progressive stories in the women’s pages. This is similar to the content of Pinterest. Along with the more traditional content, there are boards with quotes from strong women, technology tips and historical photos, to name just a few examples. There’s even a fascinating group of pins and boards devoted to feminism.
The thesis of the initial blog post is similar to the gender-based argument about soft versus hard news taught in journalism schools and practiced by reporters and editors. Late journalist and feminist Kay Mills noted: “Hard news? Soft news? Their sexual implications fairly leap from the page. Hard news is about foreign policy, the federal deficit, bank robberies. Historically, men’s stuff. Soft news is about family, food, fashion and furnishings. Lifestyle. The things I like to read.”
There is something quite gendered about the dismissal of Pinterest – that women are not smart enough to balance making meals and decorating their homes and also be interested in pay inequity and politics. Shouldn’t we be at the point where feminism embraces equality and the feminine arts?
After all, there has already been some meaningful discussion about the significance of Pinterest as Wired magazine recently posted. And, groups like Unicef have shown how to use the social network to raise awareness about poverty.
We should also be cautious about dismissing something that is simply heavily used by women. In the case of the previously mentioned women’s pages, some of the feminists who initially fought for elimination of the pages later changed their minds. For example, Gloria Steinem said in 1972, “I have come back full circle in that I now feel the value of the women’s pages.” The problem was that by the time Steinem and others had reversed course, most women’s page editors had been demoted or left the newspaper.
If we want an example of someone who embraced feminism, food and fashion, let’s remember writer and filmmaker Nora Ephron. She was clearly a feminist as several writers noted, yet she was well known for her cooking (her memorial cards came with recipes on the back) and she made the 2010 Vanity Fair International Best Dressed List. If Ephron were still alive today, I bet she would have had some amazing Pinterest boards.