In the discussion in the Feminist Fashion Bloggers google group, one topic that keeps coming up again and again is the perceived tension between an interest in activities traditionally coded female (sewing, knitting, fashion, decorating and the like) and feminism. I don’t think I’m misrepresenting when I say that everyone agrees that the two need not be incopatible, but they are often still perceived to be and we often feel we have to justify ourselves if that’s what we are interested in.
So I thought for today’s post I would talk a bit about Marthette bloggers, who are the epitome of blogging about traditionally feminine things. The term was coined by a Jezebel blogger and refers to bloggers who are all-round domestic goddesses, presenting their perfectly dressed, perfectly happy lives with snapshots of their adorable kids and loving partners, their parties, their home interiors, their food and their general crafty output. The name comes from reference to Martha Stewart I think, who actually means nothing to me as a cultural shorthand (all I know about her is that she had to go to prison for fraud).
Although I’m pretty far removed from a perfectly groomed domestic goddess myself, I actually feel quite a lot of connection with these bloggers. A lot of the things I talk about on the blog – fashion, food, knitting, interiors, photography – are Martha topics. I’m not sure that given the opportunity to spend some proper time on these I wouldn’t also make everything look perfectly arranged and beautiful.
In a post on the topic, Sal at Already Pretty wrote that in her opinion these bloggers who “showcase the shiny and the pretty” were “looking to make themselves interesting to the existing fashion media and clothing manufacturers, to send up a flare that says, “Hey! Over here! I’ve got what it takes!” And on that one particular point, I disagree.
I don’t talk about the difficult and bad things in my life here much. My recent post about feeling unable to properly cope with all the pressures of life are an exception, not the rule. Mainly its a privacy thing, but its also that I use this blog as a way of being more conscious of all the things that are lovely in my life. I spent most of my days wrangling over the precise wording of ministerial submissions, despairing over badly designed survey questions and arguing about whose turn it is to do the dishes. But I don’t feel the need to talk about that, and that’s not because I want to pretend those things don’t exist for the benefit of gaining some sponsor or media job or making anyone think I’m perfect. I use blogging as a way of recognising the beauty in my life, that is all. And I am sure that’s where most Marthette bloggers come from too.
Anyway, to like this all back in with the feminism thing, Millie of Interrobangs Anonymous has written an excellent post on Martha bloggers and femininity. In the interest of (relative) brevity, I will resist the urge to quote extensively, but mainly I think what she is saying is that on the surface, Marthette blogs present an image of feminity that is incredibly similar to the housewife image of decades past, very traditional. But that behind that there is the opportunity for subtle change and subversion of these traditional gender roles. Because these bloggers have actively chosen to involve themselves in the domestic sphere, they’re not there because they have to be.
That second point is really important. What I have taken from the FFB google group discussion and other stuff I have read around Fashionable Academics’ ‘This is what a feminist looks like’ project is that I think where we are at the moment with feminism is that we don’t want to reject traditional feminine roles and things and activities, we want to revalue them. We’d like show that there is satisfaction and intellectual stimulation and possibly even monetary gain (for those who manage to turn their passion into a business) to be had from domestic things, not just tedious drudgery. But crucially, these positive things can be had by everyone, not just women.
And we need to talk about that. We need to say: ‘Yes, I love these things, I do them for myself. And no, they are not all I am about, even if they are all I blog about’. Because I think there’s a danger that if we as female bloggers just go and post pretty pictures of what we have knit or our table settings or whatever that we end up just reinforcing the idea that this is womens’ work. I guess my concern with Martha blogs is that even if such a thought process has occurred (and I’m not sure it always has) its usually pretty opaque.
The final thing I wanted to say about Marthette blogs is just how taken for granted the idea of what perfection looks like is in almost everything I’ve read on the subject. Even if people are talking about how these bloggers are only seemingly perfect, the idea that being model thin and pretty with a talented and rich husband, 2.1 children, a regularly changing wardrobe and a beautiful home equals perfect is hard to shake. And this is where I reckon there’s a way into resolving the issues.
Maybe its not just about pointing out that perfection is not necessarily as perfect as it at first appears, and for people with Martha like tendencies to occasionally show their vulnerable side. Maybe its more important to also about find alternative definitions of what constitutes a perfect life. For more people who don’t conform to these heteronormative, coupley stereotypes being confident and saying ‘There are great things in my life. It may not be in your stereotype ideal scenario, but my life is perfect for me’. And then maybe people would read it and think, ‘well maybe something like this would work for me too’.
The blogosphere is such a diverse place already (though admittedly it does exclude the huge chunk of the population that is not interested in blogging or too busy or too cash strapped to ever even consider it) and there’s lots of bloggers who are really positive about what’s going on with them and find beauty in the most unlikely places and are proud of their lifestyle and the choices they have made. Vix springs to mind, for example. So maybe it’s not even a question of more bloggers being more confident, but just for people to acknowledge the diversity more and avoid uncritically repeating stereotypical definitions of perfection.
Thoughts, anywone? Does that make sense? I’m aware I’m in danger of telling people what to do in that last bit, which is really not my intention! I’m just trying to think it through!
As an aside, most highly edited, shiny and sparkly lifestyle blogs don’t make me feel inadequate. I look at them as fluffy eye candy not as blueprints for life. With the exception of wedding blogs. I don’t know why they get to me, but they do. I’m not one of the people that have always dreamt of their wedding, all I want is a low key party and still I look at these things and think: maybe I should make jam and present it in dainty glasses with handwritten labels as favours? Maybe I should sew napkins from vintage fabrics collected over months and years? I should stop looking at them really.
Other posts from the FFB lot this week were:
If you would like to find out more about Feminist Fashion Bloggers, click here.
We are also hosting a blog event next Wednesday, inviting people to answer the question ‘How do you express your feminism through the way you dress?’ We’d love as many people as possible to take part, you don’t have to be in FFB! More info here.
All photos from the Life magazine google archive.