Feminism, Gender Roles and Blogging
This is a post which has been stuck in my head for a number of weeks now. To be perfectly honest, I've been putting off writing it as I know it's going to ruffle a few feathers and generally provoke a difficult analysis of our industry.
The blogosphere I refer to in this deconstruction is a mostly female space. (There are many expressions of gender on the internet obviously, but the industry I experience is predominantly created by people who identify as women).
So the long and short of it is:
I am concerned that blogging is reinforcing gender stereotypes and actively contributing to a narrow, domestic and aesthetically focused view of female identity.
The first thing I want to make clear is: all female experiences are valid. All expressions of a female identity are valid and all women should be freely able to choose their own lifestyle.
If you're happy with the status-quo, that's absolutely fine. But please at least take some time to examine it critically and really think about whether you are indeed happy with the terms and conditions on offer.
I also want to point out from the very beginning that there certainly are bloggers out there who are challenging the heteronormativity of the industry. These are the creators who I admire greatly and produce some of my favourite types of content. They are challengers, innovators and trailblazers. They rock.
I'm also aware that Blogging, along with Youtube, does have a positive influence on the lives of many women. For example, these industries are one of the few spaces where women typically earn more than men. They also allow those with disabilities or dependents to earn an income whilst also being at home.
This post is therefore not directed at an individual or group of individuals, it is rather a discussion of trends that have been around and accelerating over a number of years. Nobody is solely responsible for anything discussed here.
So the thing is, as a woman, the blogosphere doesn't make me feel very free, empowered or valid at the moment.
There has been much discussion about FOMO, Instagram envy and the reality that sits behind the seemingly perfect identities broadcast across social media platforms. We are all aware that there is a disconnect between the way people live and the lifestyles we are exposed to on a constant basis.
It's not enough though to admit that it's impossible to have a "perfect" lifestyle 24/7. We must also examine the messages behind the content (words/images/videos) and examine their social implications.
The Beauty Bible
I find it very hard to fit into an industry which elevates relatively mundane events like applying makeup into a quasi-religious ritual.
In this analogy, shopping takes on the air of pilgrimage and expensive designer items are displayed as conspicuously consumptive relics.
The message that I take from all of this, repeatedly, along with presumably millions of other women is that the way we look and present ourselves in public is the MOST important thing.
The curation and servicing of our external appearance comes first over all other parts of our identity.
I'm not denying the place of make-up, fashion etc. far from it. I wear make-up gladly and treat it as a tool to disguise and conceal. It's also a useful method of expression - if I want to feel powerful/sexy I put on a daring red lip. There's nothing inherently wrong with wanting to create a better image of yourself.
My concerns come from both the unrestrained consumption of makeup and skincare and the impossible standards created in images due to the layers of (admittedly artistically applied) makeup and ubiquitous filters.
It makes me feel like I look like shit. A lot of the time. In a sort of low level every-image-of-a-woman-I-see-is-perfect kind of way.
Because I am an ordinary looking woman. I do not stand out as particularly beautiful and this is generally fine, I've come to terms with it. I have other attributes to makeup for my lack of natural beauty, such as my cutting critical analysis.
The fact that I'm not even that interested in "upgrading" my looks makes me feel further removed from many of my peers.
It’s painful to feel so unconnected from so many women. I also have serious concerns about the way beauty is marketed to women and the amount of beauty products women subsequently consume.
There’s no doubt that the beauty industry is booming right now, growth in the number of brands and different “types” of products is astronomical. People are buying them en-masse too.
Let us not forget that fundamentally the beauty industry is one that literally thrives on low self esteem. If we all felt beautiful, we wouldn’t desire products which promised to make us feel beautiful.
What about blogging promoting diverse standards of beauty?
My good friend Harrie, who has contributed much to this post through our many discussions and a critical proof read, asked me what I make of the rise of influencer models - "normal" (e.g. not the usual professional model material) women who are chosen by brands to be in campaigns due to their social following.
In principle, promotional images featuring "average/normal" looking women is undoubtedly has a positive impact. I'm ALL for diverse representations of female bodies in the media.
However, these images are still, by their very function, reinforcing a capitalist agenda. They are still designed to create a stylised and fixed image of an ideal identity - an identity which is created through consumption (Basically, these images are at the end of the day designed to sell you shit you don't need).
By being "shockingly" different (i.e. marketed using the very virtue that they are featuring female bodies that are different from "normal" models) these depictions only serve to further reinforce hegemonic aesthetic stereotypes.
When I see a "normal" looking woman used in an advertising campaign and nobody comments on how "normal" she looks, then I feel we will have got somewhere.
Another troubling trend I have noticed over the past couple of years is the increasing promotion of designer goods and lifestyles.
Firstly, who the hell needs a £1000 bag!? I'm just getting this off my chest now as it's something that has annoyed me ever since I heard someone at school boasting about the Mulberry their parents had bought them as a "treat".
At this price range you are paying for one or both of two things:
a. The brand label stuck somewhere on the item (intangible value)
b. The fact that it has been made from some expensive form of animal hide. (Tangible but ethically questionable value).
As a 17 year old student, I visited a well known designer bag factory on the outskirts of Milan where we were shown the (admittedly very skilled) artisans at work making items for several different fashion houses. During the tour we were told that the usual designer mark up after items exited the factory was between 7-10X.
Yup, that's right. You're paying £1000 for a bag that cost £100 at source.
People lust after these items because they are at their very core the epitome of conspicuous consumption. Bloggers are literally acquiring luxury goods and services to publicly display economic power.
Unless you genuinely can afford it, most "ordinary" people do not have the economic clout necessary to sustain this kind of consumption. I have witnessed people I know and love take out huge amounts of credit card debt to pay for "luxury" items.
Bloggers and Youtubers promoting luxury is in my mind irresponsible and often downright false (many items are gifted to influencers in return for a positive mention, therefore the lifestyle they are promoting may well be out of their reach too).
Recently the level of interior inspiration seen across multiple platforms has grown to an absolute frenzy. This again is a relatively new phenomenon.
You can’t seem to move for want of whitewashed walls, artfully unhung prints and cacti collections.
I actually have a bit of a theory about this, so bear with me here.
I suspect this trend correlates with another trend in the Blogosphere - the move to blogging as a viable full-time career option for hundreds of women. (As mentioned at the beginning, I do acknowledge that there is an empowering angle to this.)
Most of these women work from home and therefore much of their life is focused on their domestic environment.
I also suspect that the move from a “normal” working life to the domestically focused blogging life also has an interesting effect on the content people produce, for negative reasons.
For most bloggers, there is immense pressure to have an “interesting” life, in order to inspire and generate content for your readers.
As soon as your daily life becomes home-centric in almost every way, you are forced to make that environment seem more interesting for your viewers - that’s when creating a “perfect” interior comes into play.
I find a deep irony in all of this. Women who have taken control of their own lives through self-employment find themselves almost regressively relegated back to the role of a housewife.
A housewife whose principal concern is the upkeep, cleanliness and aesthetic of the domestic environment.
The effect of this is damaging, especially on younger women who may be tempted to set their aspirations only so high - the acquisition of a perfect life which is characterised by perfect looks, perfect consumption habits and the perfect domestic environment.
A manifesto for change
Whilst I am obviously concerned with the many problematic areas of the Blogosphere, I am not entirely negative.
It has been a fantastic place for many women to meet likeminded people, create a source of income and have a voice outside of the confines of the traditional media.
This safe space has however been adopted and co-opted by the agenda of a consumer culture.
Unfortunately this has been done through the very mechanisms which actually financially freed a number of women - monetisation. When money talks, those who can pay will create the culture that serves them best - selling us more stuff.
We can fight this though, through feeling empowered to create content for contentment, not for cash.
Sure, there are always going to be those who need to pander to a brand’s brief for the sake of their income and that’s completely acceptable and ultimately, their choice.
I think we can all be a bit more ambitious though, both in the content we produce and the content we are willing to read.
The word “authentic” gets thrown around a lot in this industry, but that really is what our community was built upon.
Real people, sharing their reality. An unfiltered view into the nitty gritty of what it’s actually like to be a woman in the 21st century.
Many thanks to Harrie, who provided advice alongside an early and vital critique of this post.