Friday, March 02, 2012

Becoming Pinterested

"'I hate discussions of feminism that end up with who does the dishes,' she said. So do I. But at the end, there are always the damned dishes."--Marilyn French, The Women's Room

As if Twitter didn't keep me from blogging enough, I joined another social media site. I am now on Pinterest. I resisted the idea mightily for quite some time. I'd heard about Pinterest, but thought, "That's for crafty middle-aged women." Never mind that I love to cook, want to decorate as a profession, maintain a little container garden, and, um, am turning 38 in a few days. As much as Country Living and Better Homes and Gardens talked it up, I figured I was too busy and didn't really want to pin up pictures.

The thing about me is, when someone tells me I shouldn't be doing something, I get a tick defensive and am inclined to yell "Oh yeah? Just watch me!" So when @graceishuman linked to a Washington Post article that trivialized and pathologized womens' use of Pinterest, my hackles rose up. Excuse me? There's something wrong with domesticity? Men can get excited over electronics and boats, but we're materialists when we discuss what we like? I signed up for the Pinterest account waiting list that night. I joked that I would name a board something Victorian, like "Jayelle's Hysterical Womb Flutterings," and fill it with panda bears and NHL players' butts.

I got my Pinterest account this week, and so far, it's pretty stereotypical. I've re-pinned Lilly Pulitzer prints and Better Homes and Gardens pictures; I've posted comic strips and sassy sayings. And the more I'm using it, the better I'm liking it. There are spammers, and I want more followers, but that's fairly typical growing pains for any social media site.

Have you ever wished you weren't good at something? It took a long time for me to understand and accept that most of my talents are domestic. My mother lost my father when she was 27, and she taught both my brother and I that we should know how to do certain things for ourselves. I know how to change my own tire. My brother was admonished with "No woman ever shot her husband while he was washing dishes." But my mother was disappointed that I didn't enjoy many of the foods that she did. (If ground beef, chicken breasts, and cream of mushroom soup were made illegal tomorrow, she'd have a difficult time making tomorrow night's dinner, put it like that.) She was also highly critical whenever I did attempt to help--I could never stir fast enough or slice thinly enough. She made it clear that I should put more effort into learning to cook, and spoke of how backwards it was that my brother was more enthusiastic about it than I was.

Growing up among Evangelical Christian relatives, and going to an Assemblies of God church myself in my teens, I learned that as a girl, I was expected to serve a husband one day. I wasn't particularly interested in serving anyone. I wanted to be a best-selling author and travel the world. I wasn't sure I even wanted to get married, just have boyfriends (which was daring enough in that church, never mind that I kinda wanted girlfriends, too). Looking at the housewives and soccer moms at my church made me cringe--I really didn't want to be that. The stuff about "submission" to a husband really irritated me.

Even outside the church, I could see sexism, such as when Hillary Rodham Clinton was castigated because she said she didn't "stay home and bake cookies." To hell with all of that, I decided. I'd live on sandwiches, ramen, and take-out. I didn't need to keep a home; I needed to keep a suitcase packed.

Except, of course, that my life didn't become one of jet-setting glamour. I learned new ways to prepare food as I bounced around various Orlando-area fast-food and casual dining restaurants. I realized that it was unhealthy to eat nothing but the food I could get for half-price there. My body screamed for things like salads. I learned how to make them, to steam vegetables, to turned canned vegetables into chili or pasta sauce. My step-grandmother's lessons about biscuits and pie crust came back to me. I felt better and saved money.

Then I started working in offices rather than restaurants, and was fortunate enough to rent an exurban house whose interior walls I was allowed to paint. I had a small yard, too. I enjoyed painting my walls jewel tones, slipcovering the furniture I bought at Goodwill to match, and planting strawberries. I was horrified to find myself spending weekends humming as I pulled weeds, but oh, those strawberries tasted so delicious. When I spooned some over sweet biscuits that I'd made myself, just as my step-grandmother used to do for me, I felt like an adult for the first time in my life. My friends began to hang out at my house and describe it as "comforting."

One day, I went to Home Depot for nails to fix a bookshelf. I got drawn into a mini-class on refinishing furniture. I bought a small jar of white paint, some sandpaper, and a set of pretty white ceramic drawer knobs with violets painted on them. After I fixed my bookshelf, I proceeded to take my grandmother's hand-me-down chest of drawers to the yard and make it my own. I had become "that woman," and I didn't mind it one bit, because I'd given myself some really pretty furniture.

Domesticity is still considered uncool, even suspect, to some progressives. It is also disrespected by misogynistic conservatives even as they recommend it to women as our main focus. I think of my best friend, a chef, who has encountered sexism while working in New York City restaurants. "If you're a guy and you cook your mother's recipes in your restaurant, that's great, but heaven forbid Mama open her own restaurant instead," she complained once. I think of Chris Matthews saying it's "weird" for husbands to cook dinner, of women wringing their hands over their more domestic sisters setting us all back.

The thing is, we all need to eat. It's really helpful to have a roof over our heads, too. Why not make those things as pleasant as possible? Why not use the tiny bits of power we have as wisely as possible? Tomatoes and peppers figure strongly in my container garden. I once grimly joked that "come the Apocalypse, I can keep us in salsa." But when I make bowls of salsa in the summer, I feel so accomplished. I may have given some multi-national corporation my hard-earned money for the chips, but the dip, oh, that's mine. I control the nutrition profile, seasonings, and cost of our dinners. I may drink Pepsi, but I try to patronize local farmers and companies. I will be taking a canning class this spring, so we can enjoy strawberry jam and tomato sauce made entirely with my own hands next winter. (Just typing that makes me smile.)

I have learned that domestic talents are not shackles that chain me to a husband whom I must submit to, but gifts that I can share with the world. My wife is proud to tell everyone that I packed that lunch and varnished that coffee table. I have learned to love what other people can produce with their hands and their imaginations, too. I feel fortunate to live in Brooklyn, where that kind of thing is highly encouraged.

So I put local farmers' carrots and my own dried rosemary in the soup, and I compost the peels to grow more herbs. I look around my home and think it's due for another makeover. I think of how I will leave my desk job and finally use that interior decorating associate's degree to its full potential. And I pin ideas from the sorts of magazines that used to horrify me on Pinterest. My 18-year-old self would shake her head at me. Thank the Gods she's not around anymore.


bluzdude said...

As far as I'm concerned, every one gets to do as they please. The only power that another person's opinion has over you is that which you give it.

Happy Birthday, my friend.

BostonPobble said...

I have no doubt that your home is one of the warmest and most welcoming places in all of NYC. However you got there, I'm glad you are able to be proud of it.

LeLo said...

I love this so much: we have such similar viewpoints, but ones that I think are unique. Thank you for this!

Snooker said...

Love the quote from "The Women's Room".

One can live a civilized, domesticated life without coming to the point of feeling like a "domestic goddess". Do what needs to be done and don't worry about the old roles... that crap is changing anyway.