New Trends in New Media Cultural Critique: Pinterest & Femininity by Kierra Dye

I chose to critique the topic of “new trends in new media” to examine what social networking sites dictate about identity. Douglas Kellner said the following in his article “Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism, and Media Culture”: “media culture provide materials out of which we forge our very identities; our sense of selfhood; our notion of what it means to be male or female; our sense of class, of ethnicity and race, of nationality and sexuality; and of ‘us’ and ‘them’” (Kellner 9).  I believe that Pinterest epitomizes this quotation. Because it is so gendered that it has many implications for beliefs about gender, sexual orientation, and the beauty norm. Pinterest evinces the current societal belief that women can (and should) “have it all.” As Wilson and Yochim explain in their article, a woman’s happiness and success is measured in her ability to balance her family’s economic, emotional, and physical well-being (Wilson & Yochim 4). Pinterest exhibits post-feminism in that conveys both feminist and anti-feminist themes (Gill 4). Feminist themes of Pinterest include exhibiting women who have roles outside of the domestic sphere; however, it also depicts the anti-feminist societal belief that women should “have it all” (roles in the public sphere as well as the private sphere).

Wilson and Yochim’s article “Pinning Happiness” quotes Elana Levine as saying, “Contemporary femininity is structured by highly gendered discourse of compulsatory productivity where ‘women’s productivity as workers, as mothers, as homemakers, as consumers, and as objects of physical attractiveness are of primary concern” (Wilson and Yochim 6). Thus, I chose study and critique what Pinterest says about women as working mother/homemakers and objects of physical attractiveness and its implications on heteronomativity and the standard of beauty.

Traditionally, women have been attributed to domestic labor such as cooking, cleaning, and rearing children. However, as Wilson and Yochim explain, “women’s work” hasn’t been credited because it remained in the private sphere of home life while “men’s work” was more public, typically being located outdoors or at a place of work (Wilson & Yochim 4). Pinterest is beneficial for feminism in that it recognizes domestic labor (private sphere) and raises awareness for women’s relatively new role in the public sphere; however, it exhibits anti-feminism because it still asserts that domestic labor is largely the woman’s responsibility and ignores the perspective that some women don’t want to have it all.

http://http://jezebel.com/some-ladies-just-dont-give-a-shit-about-having-it-all-1443095617

The first artifact (posted above), an article from Jezebel  titled “Some Ladies Just Don’t Give a Shit About Having It All” disrupts the status quo that Pinterest illicits by explaining the perspective of what the author deems “the beta lady” (Moore). The author argues that social media sites (such as Pinterest) put too much pressure on mothers to excel at both being a mother and being a successful career woman. She advocates for the beta-lady, which she describes as “committing to both work and motherhood while dodging the tension of either as much as possible means you get a little bit of both worlds, but none of the glory of throwing all in in either direction” (Moore). Furthermore, she states that stay-at-home-moms and career women should get equal respect for their roles as someone who presumably “does it all” (Moore).

The genderdness of Pinterest and its domestic labor tips exclude any family organizations beyond the nuclear family. If domestic labor is “women’s work,” then who is responsible in a single father household? What about in a household of two fathers? Who is responsible for the men’s work in a lesbian family? And, as the Jezebel article points out, are exclusively family women or exclusively career women any less important than the “do it all” woman?

Another common area on Pinterest is within the “health and fitness” section. There is a vast amount of “thin-inspiration” (or “thinspo” for short) taking the form of fat-shaming, (unhealthy) diet suggestions, workout routines, and motivational quotes and tips for those trying to lose weight. Some “thinspo” is cleverly disguised as “fit inspiration” or “fitspo. ” Many of the messages associated with “fitspo” encourage behaviors associated with eating disorders such as exercise bulimia and severely restricted eating. Krutika Mallikarjuna, a staff member for BuzzFeed, posted the images below on an article titled “9 Fitspiration Posters Corrected.”

1(Mallikarjuna)

2(Mallikarjuna)

3(Mallikarjuna)

4(Mallikarjuna)

5(Mallikarjuna)

6(Mallikarjuna)

7(Mallikarjuna)

8(Mallikarjuna)

9(Mallikarjuna)

Though these artifacts draw attention to the ridiculousness of some of the common messages displayed by “fitspo” it doesn’t comment on the images behind the words, which have meaning as well. Additionally, it focuses on maintaining a healthy mindset when it comes to eating and exercise, but doesn’t comment much on beauty ideals that these pictures display. Once again, pins on Pinterest prove to be postfeminist. “Fitspo” can be feminist in that many posts encourage women to build strength, which is a characteristic that was formerly attributed only to men; however, many of the messages focus on the beauty of a woman’s body and a man’s desire for the woman—not the health of the woman. This asserts that a woman’s value lies solely in the woman’s body, which is anti-feminist.

Furthermore, Pinterest “fitspo” perpetuates the current standard of beauty, which is largely dictated by media advertisements. All of the women in the images are White. All of the Women have long hair. And though many of the messages are about attaining strength, most of the women are tall and thin, but not bulky. Women who have a different body type, who are of a different race, or even who have a different hair style do not have images in which to relate. This subliminally states that their “differentness” is ugly.

Lastly, the women’s bodies in these pictures are objectified as sexual objects. Instead of being shown in typical workout attire—shorts and a T shirt—most of the women in these photos are wearing tight shorts and sports bras which have their breasts exposed.

The video below, a clip from Killing Us Softly 4 taken from YouTube, talks about professional advertisements; however, most of what the lecturer says can be applied to “fitspo” found on Pinterest—especially when she talks about objectifying women (ChallengingMedia).

In most of the “fitspo” images, the primary focus is on the body—not on the face. This is especially seen in the second image above when the body is dismembered and only the midsection is viewed, which transforms the model in this picture from a human being into an object of sexual desire (ChallengingMedia).

It is important to continually critique media and examine what messages—both explicit and implicit—are being conveyed. As Kellner explained in his article and the lecturer explained in the Killing Me Softly 4 clip, the media dictates what we believe about ourselves, about men and women, and about society. Pinterests postfeminist themes have both positive and negative implications in the realm of femininity. While it encourages women to expand upon traditional gender roles to gain muscle or establish a career, it also constantly implies that women must also maintain those traditional gender roles and remain beautiful and domestic.

Works Cited

ChallengingMedia. Killing Us Softly 4: Advertising’s Image of Women [Trailer]-Available on DVD. YouTube, 2010. Web. 27 Nov 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PTlmho_RovY&gt;.

Gill, Rosalind. “Postfeminist media culture: elements of a sensibility.” European Journal of Cultural Studies. 10.2 (2007): 147-164. Print.

Kellner, Douglas. “Cultural Studies, Multiculturalism, and Media Culture.” Cultural Studies Approach. (2001): 9-19. Print.

Mallikarjuna, Krutika. “9 Fitspiration Posters Corrected.”BuzzFeed. N.p., 28 Oct 2013. Web. 27 Nov. 2013. <http://www.buzzfeed.com/kmallikarjuna/9-fitspiration-posters-corrected&gt;.

Moore, Tracy. “Some Ladies Just Don’t Give a Shit About Having It All.” Jezebel. N.p., 11 Oct 2013. Web. 27 Nov. 2013. <http://jezebel.com/some-ladies-just-dont-give-a-shit-about-having-it-all-1443095617&gt;.

Wilson, Julie Ann, and Emily Chivers Yochim. “Pinning Happiness: Affect, Social Media, and Women’s Work.” (2013): 1-24. Print.

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