The Cult of Domesticity and Pinterest: Refashioning Traditional Values

So this is the paper I wrote for my American Literature class, albeit it is not perfect by any means, I would love to continue writing on the subject matter.

The Cult of Domesticity and Pinterest: Refashioning Traditional Values

Throughout the ages, women have been fashioned into well-educated objects on the subject of homemaking and domesticity. This became the most prevalent in the Victorian era or 19th century with the rise of self-help books commenting on how a lady should act and “work” in society. The views of this time were commonplace and in today’s society, it might be arguably laughed at with the large amount of feministic views and attitudes that are apparent, unless there was a way to refine these ideals into something that could be used by the women of the 21st century. Enter the ever-growing, interactive pinboard site Pinterest.com. Much like the ladies of the Victorian era who handcrafted scrapbooks with pictures of items they liked and to show others how to act appropriately, Pinterest has refashioned this idea for the virtual world. By examining these two ideas from two very different time periods, it is easy to see the pattern of domesticating women still in effect.

What is Pinterest after all? Pinterest is a virtual pinboard that lets the user organize and share all the beautiful things the users find on the web. Many users on the site use the pinboards to plan their weddings, decorate their rooms, collect recipes, etc. On their website, the team says that their mission “is to connect everyone in the world through the ‘things’ they find interesting. We think that a favorite book, toy, or recipe can reveal a common link between two people…” (Sciarra, Sharp, Silbermann, Pinterest / About). In the same way that scrapbooking works, users can upload, save, sort and manage the images on the site, known as “pins” into their own user-defined categories (See fig. 1). The main demographic is, to no surprise, mainly women between the ages of 20-40 years of age. Just like every fad that comes back in to play after a few years, it is easy to suggest that the ideals of womanhood are just the same.

Fig. 1: Examples of Pinboards on Pinterest.com

Going back about 2 centuries, the Cult of Domesticity and the ideas of True Womanhood were becoming very popular as women strove to attain a perfect livelihood and families. To understand the full nature of the times by defining “cult” and “domesticity” as it would apply to the subject. Cult meaning a craze or fad for something – with religious connotations of frenzy and morality. Domesticity meaning the act of being “domestic” – or “tamed” by the “household.” True Womanhood was founded on four beliefs, piety, purity, domesticity, and submissiveness. In piety, 19th century Americans believed that women were the new Eve working with God to bring the world out of sin and a salve for a potentially restless mind. (Lavender, True Womanhood). In purity, a woman must have no sexual relations before marriage and to protect oneself and one’s treasure. As Mrs. Eliza Farrar stated in The Young Woman’s Friend, “sit not with another in a place that is too narrow; read not out of the same book; let not your eagerness to see anything induce you to place your head close to another person’s.”(Lavender, True Womanhood). Large cases of hysteria come about this time, to women who suffered all kinds of ailment caused by the female uterus, which was a way to control women who might have been stepping out for suffrage. In submissiveness, this was the most feminine of virtues, as men were not to be seen as submissive since they were the doers in life. A key to keeping women in line with this virtue were their clothing, tight corsets that cut off air and pinched internal organs, as well as the weight of layers and undergarments. (Lavender, True Womanhood). Lastly in domesticity, since a woman’s place was within her home. Housework was seen as moral to upheld her piety and purity within herself and her family. The home was seen as a refuge for a man to get away from the competitiveness of the world and a woman to facilitate any needs of relaxation. (Lavender, True Womanhood).

Fig. 2: Cover illustration inside Godey’s Lady’s Book.

Many books were published in the Victorian era as education tools in the domestication of women, most notably,Godey’s Lady’s Book (See fig. 2). It was originally published in Philadelphia around the 1840s for 48 years by Louis A. Godey as a magazine marketed specifically towards women, in the same manner as gift books of his time. It was circulated in many circles in the period before the civil war, each issue containing poetry, articles, and engravings while trying to stay away from political agendas which men were more privy to. (Pattee, 392). The books was best known for tinted fashion plates at the beginning of each issue,which showed a steady progression in women’s dress over time. Every issue also contained a pattern with measurements to be sewn in the home and sheet music for piano with the latest musical trends. Due noted in his publications were the notions of morality and piety among women at the time and the standards they must strive to attain. The idea of a “white wedding” is credited to Queen Victoria at the time, as American women were following the styles of dress by the early queen. Godey’s wrote “Custom has decided, from the earliest ages, that white is the most fitting hue, whatever may be the material. It is an emblem of the purity and innocence of girlhood, and the unsullied heart she now yield to the chosen one.” (Flock, Washington Post). Aside from books instructing women on act and dress, a new ideology of sexual science was implemented to aide in making sure a woman’s place was within the home. It added assurance that women were much different in men, and thus their roles should be just as different.

Even though these ideas have since been forgotten and/or proved discreditable, these ideas are still being implemented for a new age mostly on the front of women being homemakers. There is no fuss over what the underlying ideas might be because they have been fashioned to meet the needs of a technology driven group. It is almost expected for women to have a Pinterest page full of ideas on what they could use around the house, an arsenal of recipes on the fly, being their own wedding planner, etc. These ideals that men have put women through the ages has just been polished with some flair – notice how the founders of Pinterest are all male. Comparing Pinterest and other sites that may emerge like it to Godey’s Lady’s Book is intriguing since there are a lot of similarities (See fig. 3 & 4). What is this to say about how the world views women, even after the Suffrage Movement and advances in the workplace?

Fig. 3: House example from Godey’s vs. home decor board on Pinterest.

Fig. 4: Lady’s dress pattern from Godey’s vs. Pinterest dress patterns online.

The ideals for women have not changed that much from the 19th to 21th centuries in how they are expected to act, dress, and think about themselves and the world around them. Of course, advantages have been made in the workplace, being able to vote, etc but there are still gender inequalities between men and women. Could it possibly be that women would like to hold to 19thcentury-esque ideals rather than deal with the competitiveness of the outside world with men? Or is this perpetuation just a habit that women can’t shake that has been passed down from mother to mother to mother and so on? Whatever the psychological and sociological reasoning for this phenomena of women being dutiful homemakers is, there is one thing for certain… women are going to keep on pinning.

I find this topic of refashioning ideas to a more modern audience fascinating and would love to look in to more Victorian homemakers books and scrapbooks of the time to find similarities to women of the 21st century.

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