Ah, Pinterest. It’s the popular social media site where you can “pin” links to whatever it is that interests you. For many people, that means crafts. And for some people out there—primarily moms —Pinterest is the place to pin your ideas for Competitive Mom Crafting.
And what is Competitive Mom Crafting? It’s sending your daughter to Girl Scouts with (organic, gluten-free) cupcakes that are perfectly stylized into ladybugs when it’s your turn for snacks—even though the other moms just send Oreos. It’s creating a back-to-school ruler wreath for your front door, or better yet, making a personalized one as a back-to-school gift for your child’s teacher—even though nobody else gives the teacher a back-to-school gift. It’s spending weeks wrapping your holiday present so that your coordinating bows and wrapping paper are all at perfect right angles—even though the people who give you presents just throw everything into 99-cent gift bags. And it’s about scrapbooking. Scrapbooking everything.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with being crafty. Far from it. We all need a creative outlet, and making nifty cupcakes and scrapbooks is creative. Craft projects are a source of fun and relaxation for many people, and a way of spending time with kids. It’s the equivalent of me writing blog entries as a creative outlet.
The problem with craftiness is when it becomes competitive—and especially when this competitiveness is tied up in motherhood. Because for some moms, decking your children’s lives out with fabulous DYI stuff is the way to show that you are a Good Mom. Look how much time you put into making a beautiful life for your family! And those other moms, who don’t scrapbook and send their kids to lunch with ordinary, gluten-laden sandwiches? Well, those moms must just have other priorities, huh?
So these days, moms have a whole new category of ways to feel inadequate. These days, Pinterest and the new world of Competitive Mom Crafting is the new backlash against women, and especially mothers.
Backlash refers to cultural trends that function as a way to reduce the empowerment of women in an era when women have increased power. Things are by no means perfect for women in 2014. However, compared to half a century ago, women have far more power in the working world, in government, under the law, and under the dictates of social norms.
A backlash is a trend that functions to counterbalance women’s power and tells them to “get back!” Susan Faludi coined the term in 1991 in Backlash: The Undeclared War Against Women. The backlash Faludi wrote about largely was the frenzy of media reports at the time about women who were allegedly failing miserably at “having it all.” According to the media, these women were dealing with a fertility crisis, a man-shortage, and a general sense of malaise—all as a result of trying to be successful in a man’s world.
Similarly, in The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty are Used Against Women (1992), Naomi Wolf argued that the pressure on women to conform to increasingly unrealistic beauty images also serves as a backlash. While women have always felt pressure to be beautiful, the standards of beauty and thinness have increased exponentially—at the same time that women have gained other kinds of power in society.
The current pressure to be a fabulous crafter is yet another backlash against women’s power. Because now it’s not enough to have a career and a family and a home. Now you have to do it all, and have everything beautified with your fabulous craft projects. If you don’t have the time, or the money, or the talent to make a back-to-school wreath, well, just look at all those moms on Pinterest who do!
And that’s the thing about the backlash. It’s all about upping the ante on the long list of things that women are expected to do well. Years ago, women felt enormous pressure to be excellent homemakers. But the ante was relatively low. Sure, they felt pressure for everything to be so clean that you could eat off the carpet. But they didn’t feel pressure to make an array of fabulous back-to-school decorations and other time-consuming craft projects. Now that women have far less time to keep their houses clean—which we’re still expected to do—we have more pressure to spend our valuable time filling our meticulously clean homes with lovely crafts.
It’s the same with food too. Although I’m grateful that we’re more health-conscious than we were half a century ago, the downside is that the pressure on women to create beautiful, healthy meals has skyrocketed. Back in the 1950s, there was lots of pressure on women to be great cooks. But what it meant to be a “great cook” was a whole lot easier than it is today. It’s not that hard to make a pot roast, and it’s not hard to slap together tasty meals out of the processed ingredients that we scorn today. But now, we’re expected to come home and make meals made with ingredients we’ve so carefully shopped for that are “clean” and “whole” and organic and unprocessed and gluten-free and GMO-free and so on. We don’t send our kids to school with bologna and cheese on Wonder Bread anymore. We send them with elaborate Bento boxes.
We can’t possibly be fabulous at everything. Career, family, beauty, housekeeping, cooking, crafting—who can possibly be the master of all of this? As women gain power in society, this list keeps growing, and it becomes harder to meet the standards of any one of these things. As a result, some women feel insecure about themselves, and other women pit themselves against each other to be the single most fabulous superwoman on the block. Both of those trends take away from the power of women to be confident, successful allies—and therefore, it’s a backlash.
My thanks to Julie from Perfect Whole and the other awesome moms who inspired this post through their discussion on Facebook!