There’s been a bit of online chatter lately about how Pinterest is killing feminism (Odell 2012). I don’t want to critically berate women about how they spend their leisure time – God knows they berate themselves enough. But it is worth framing Pinterest in terms of ideology, and giving the debate some balance “in the absence of reflective, conscious thought” (Scannell 2007 p. 201). Scannell provides a panorama of ideology, its beginnings, theories, and analytical frameworks. I will be using Hall’s ‘Encoding/Decoding’ model to throw a new voice into the critical ‘Melrose Place’ ep that is the Pinners vs Feminists debate.
Firstly, what is ideology? Scannell says that the concept “serves to account for how the real (material, economic) conditions are hidden from us in ordinary, everyday experience” (2007 p. 201). A critically enlightened feminist might cry, ‘Look at those femme-dolts, blithely repinning recipes, diet tips, and deceptively complex craft – they have no idea they’re reinforcing repressive hegemony!’ And while there is free will in editing and publishing online, and even an implied, democratic “ownership of . . . production”, the images available for selection are created by the dominant media (Scannell 2007, p. 203). As such Pinterest does facilitate the reproduction of domestic, aspirational ideology.
Freudian psychoanalysis opens up other decoding possibilities. Scannell cites Habermas saying that “If the texts of popular culture are like dreams ‘that express in “disguised” form the repressed content of a culture”, then isn’t it possible that to a large extent, Pinterest represents the ways contemporary women want to see themselves? (in Scannell 2007, p. 208). I would argue that denunciations of Pinterest as undermining feminism are excessively linear and are asking for a post-structuralist bitch-slap. Meanings are not “firmly embedded in the text” (Scannell 2007, p. 210): cake porn does not signify subjugation; cute homes do not unequivocally equate to performative, gendered materialism.
No, women are much more multidimensional than our feminist sisters give us credit for. Parkin’s typology of value systems reinforces my deduction that women don’t fit into neat theoretical boxes (in Scannell 2007, p. 211). Parkin firstly identifies the dominant value system, which is aligned with many of the media professionals injecting images into Pinterest. Ok feminists, I will give you that one – users are guilty, for the most part, of ‘repinning’ this ideology. The second value system he identifies is the subordinate value system, which contains “a mixture of adaptive and oppositional elements” (Scannell 2007, p. 211); Pinterest users are in general a pretty good fit for this description – and note the word ‘mixture’! Lastly, he lists the radical/oppositional code; the beautiful thing about women is that we’re often unique, a little contrary, and sometimes unpredictable: we can as easily be seen protesting about equal rights, bra-less on the streets, as ‘pinning’ our dissent.
“There are some things you apologize for because you don’t like watching them . . . and some things you apologize for because you do like watching them” (Scannell 2007, p. 226). ‘Womens’ entertainment’, until recently, has been characterized by this apologism, as though “pleasure and enjoyment” (Scannell 2007, p. 227) are trivial, or worse, symptomatic. New media enables us to challenge, resist, and decode in our own ways. Even more radically, we can refuse to justify why we delight in being an organised SAHM, drool over recipes we’ll never cook, or, God forbid, aspire to having a bangin’ beach bod.
Odell, A 2012, How Pinterest Is Killing Feminism’, Buzzfeed, viewed 11 January 2012, <http://www.buzzfeed.com/amyodell/how-pinterest-is-killing-feminism>.
Scannell, P 2007. Media and Communication, Sage, London, pp. 198-232.
Image: I am a recovering Cakespy addict.