I had myself a bit of a pajamas day today. I take some comfort in the fact that I took a shower and changed into fresh PJ’s during the late afternoon. I don’t know why that matters to me as strongly as it does, but it does somehow feel more ambitious to have done that instead of to be wearing the same set of PJs from sun-up to bedtime again.
There’s a few contributing factors to this kind of nesting day. Last night’s Shakespeare event was very fun, but we didn’t get home till after 12:30 AM — nothing much for younger folks, but WAY later than Mr. Mezzo and I are used to being out. There’s also been a lot of stress and tension in the office, so I am plum worn out from that.
[SIDEBAR] Okay, let’s be real: a friend of mine posted it on Facebook, which is just about how all the articles I write about on JALC initially come to my attention. I like to pretend I’ve minimized Mark Zuckerberg’s presence in my life, and I certainly try not to use the platform as a way to “show off” or brag on my life. Clearly, though, I spend rather a lot of time there, if the frequency of my JALC-sourcing articles posted there is any indication. In all honesty, there’s a lot of nights (tonight included), where I pop on over for the precise purpose of finding bloggerly inspiration. [/SIDEBAR]
Anyhow. So, I “stumbled across” this post today by Glennon Doyle Melton writing about her kitchen. Evidently, she’d written about her kitchen recently and then been flooded with all sorts of helpful ads and offers so she could remodel it to make if more acceptable. Melton talks about how that initial flood of pretend-helpful criticism prompted her to feel some insecurity, and even consider starting the wheels on some sort of kitchen remodel.
But as I lay down to sleep, I remembered this passage from Thoreau’s Walden: “I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes and not a new wearer of the clothes.” Walden reminds me that when I feel lacking- I don’t need new things, I need new eyes with which to see the things I already have. So when I woke up this morning, I walked into my kitchen wearing fresh perspectacles.
Melton’s descriptions of the everyday miracles that can be seen when looking through “perspectacles”* are brilliantly on the mark. I think my favorite is the coffee maker —
I can’t even talk about this thing. Actually, let’s take a moment of reverent silence because this machine is the reason all my people are still alive. IT TURNS MAGICAL BEANS INTO A LIFE-SAVING NECTAR OF GODS. EVERY MORNING.
— but it’s ALL well worth the reading, and it reminds me of a favorite Louis CK bit:
(I don’t care if I’ve posted this here before. I may post it a million more before I’m done with JALC.)
Melton’s ultimate point is pretty well-summed-up here:
In terms of parenting, marriage, home, clothes –I will not be a slave to the Tyranny of Trend any longer. I am almost 40 years old and no catalog is the Boss of Me anymore. . . . I know how I like my house. I like it cute and cozy and a little funky and I like it to feel lived in and worn and I like the things inside of it to work. That’s all. And for me – it’s fine that my house’s interior suggests that I might not spend every waking moment thinking about how it looks.
Sometimes it seems that our entire economy is based on distracting women from their blessings. Producers of STUFF NEED to find 10,000 ways to make women feel less than about our clothes, kitchens, selves so that we will keep buying more.
This dose of perspective is especially timely since Mr. Mezzo and I are actually preparing for a kitchen remodel. Or planning for one. Or preparing to plan for one — that’s probably the best statement of where we are in the process.
It’s not like Melton’s perspectacles are making me rethink the notion entirely. As far as I can tell, there are a few key distinctions between her situation and ours. To begin with, and most importantly: not all the things inside of it actually work the way they’re supposed to. Everything in our kitchen is original to the house’s late 1980’s construction, and the age has begun to show. The oven’s temperature control is wonky, the dishwasher racks are beginning to rust, and I’m just waiting for the day our microwave gives up the ghost. In addition, there’s a few other features — poorly designed pantry, completely unwanted trash compactor, an island that’s bigger than we want and a wasted wall that could be used for more counters and cabinets if we shrunk said island — I would enjoy changing, which is why then it makes more sense to go for the full redo rather than just replacing one or two appliances.
Also, unlike Melton’s title (“Give Me Gratitude or Give Me Debt,”) we don’t have to go into debt for this project. Our house prices was “discounted” from what you might expect this house and zip code to have been priced at — in large part because of this old, teetering-on-the-edge-of-functional kitchen. So we’ve been able to save and set aside a small nest egg that is earmarked for the kitchen remodel.
Still, as we prepare to evaluate new designs for the kitchen, choose appliances and cabinets and counters, I know that Melton’s warning about falling victim to the “tyranny of trend” will be good ones to carry with me. ‘Cos, you know what? If it helps our project stay within budget, maybe we don’t need to get the most expensive marble countertops, or whatever the top-trend new shiny kitchen things are. A better designed space where all the things inside it work? So I can once again have the capacity to bake bread and cookies?
Although it was all over my Facebook wall a month or so ago, I never forwarded the Always #LikeAGirl ad before today, nor did I choose to say anything on JALC about it.
My hesitation was similar* to that when Pantene urged women “Don’t let labels hold you back” several months ago, in an ad Sheryl Sandberg helped take epically viral, or when the Dove “Real Beauty Sketches” ad went epically viral some months before that:
My feelings about these female empowerment campaignsad campaigns are always pretty similar, one to the next. Basically, I feel conflicted. On the one hand, these ads do bring up aspects of my own lived experience, whether it’s the double standards I’ve faced around being “bossy” or “bitchy,” or my habit of being hyper-self-critical, around my physical appearance and, sometimes, pretty much everything else about me.
On the other hand, it’s a little bit galling — okay, a lot galling — to have these quasi-empowering “accept yourself” messages come from companies for whom a significant percentage of the profit margin is based on the proposition that women will feel bad enough about themselves to buy your product so that we can be groomed, tweezed, moisturized or shampooed in such a way as to overcome our innate debased female-ness and become more socially acceptable.
Quite frankly, my conflicted feelings about this trend have reached a high enough level that I never even bothered to watch the Always ad above, or Pantene’s went-viral-one-month-ago “Sorry Not Sorry” ad before tonight when I was preparing this post for JALC.
So, yeah, I’ve never been in the corner of Dr. Bernice Ledbetter, who writes over on HuffPo that these ads are “truly a banner in the battleground of the feminist movement.”
I actually find that perspective quite sincerely and incredibly baffling. Do you not see how the women in the Dove ad are mostly, white, thin, not-too-old, and conventionally attractive to such a degree that the deeper message of the piece can easily function as little more than “The hearts of conventionally beautiful women can grow a little warmer today”? Can you explain to me how women getting shinier, bouncier hair is a viable solution for misogynist attitudes and prejudices against female intelligence, agency and ambition? As Emily Shire observes about the #LikeAGirl ad:
Yes, it’s far more appealing on the surface to have pads and tampons promoted as somehow part of a larger goal to change the meaning of “like a girl.” But the campaign is shamelessly emotionally exploitative. It demonstrates real problems—femaleness as a derogatory statement, decrease in self-confidence as women mature—in a beautiful and clear way, but then pretends a corporate manufacturer of panty liners meant to “help you feel fresh ever day” can solve them.
(And again, notice here how problems that are deeply-rooted and systemic, based in cultural norms, problems that are perpetuated and policed as much by external messages as by internalized ones — the very nature of what I call “the miasma of misogyny” — are presented as something to be solved by women’s policing of their femaleness and their female bodies.)
And yet, however much I’m able to see the problematics in these “short films,” their innate and even troubling limitations, I still admit I kind of like them. My affection hasn’t been strong enough for me to join in amplifying their viral distribution, or perhaps my awareness of the flaws has been too strong to allow me to join in the fun. But I don’t have it in me to work up the same kind of feminist outrage about these ads as I’ve displayed here on other occasions.
Which is why I so appreciate Natalie Baker over at Bitch Magazine for reminding me today that it’s possible to live in a yes/and rather than an either/or place.**
So here we are, once again, stuck in another good vs. not good enough debate: either these ads are radically tackling sexism through a historically appalling medium or it doesn’t matter what these ads say because corporations don’t actually care and will say anything to make a buck.
What if it’s both? That is to say, what if these companies are forwarding feminist messaging despite not actually caring about it? And what if that still helps us?
Like Jezebel said back when the Always ad was first released:
While all ad companies are bullshit liars to a point, willing to do or say whatever it takes to get your money, I would rather have empowerment cheese over shame-based guilt, which seems to be the two usual suspects in a capitalist economy.
That’s a sentiment Ican get on board with, especially when I think back to Super Bowl Sunday’s usual dreck. To return to Baker:***
For those of us who surround ourselves with intersectional anti-oppressive ideology, what’s considered progress in the mainstream can feel like a joke. But that’s our piece of the jigsaw—to be progressive is by definition to be ahead of the curve. While we don’t need to be naively over-celebratory about billion-dollar conglomerates pandering to female consumers, I do get immense enjoyment from the fact that such companies are doing so, not because they want to, but because they have to. . . . I can get down with those messages, even when they’re being generated out of corporations’ self-interest.
In fact, I like that they’re doing it out of self-interest. I don’t want feminism to be charity. I want companies to consider supporting feminism to be necessary for their survival.
Yeah, it’s all advertising, so at some core level it’s all inherently corporatized and bullshit on account of that perspective. On the other hand, if the growing prevalence of these ads indicates (and even encourages) movement towards the tipping point when the patriarchy/kyriarchy transmutes? I can get on board with that.
So, maybe less of a banner moment (sorry, Dr. Ledbetter!) and perhaps more of a weathervane. Showing the shifts in the cultural currents, a change in the wind of how people think and talk and feel.
* Okay, my hesitation was a little different because I hadn’t yet revived JALC, so I didn’t have to make the “blog or not to blog” call on it. Just the (arguably more public) “to Facebook or not to Facebook” call.
** Yes, this was posted 3 days ago, but I read it today. As such, she reminded me today. And I am grateful for that.
*** In case I haven’t said so clearly enough, please go read the entire post in its entirety. All of it.