I am profoundly grateful to the Great IT Department of the Cosmos for waiting to invent social media until I was a good decade clear of my teenage years. The relief that my every adolescent haircut, lovelorn confession and non-rhyming poem has not been archived for eternity at Facebook's corporate headquarters is matched only by the knowledge that I escaped the half-naked selfie life stage entirely, making it home-free to the Pinterest demographic without the Internet ever seeing me in my bra. Now, mercifully, my social network can measure my value as a human being and a woman on criteria far more worthwhile than how I look in my underwear. Like, say, my ability to hand-stitch a reindeer costume for a pinecone.
Despite being the third most trafficked social media site after Facebook and Twitter, Pinterest took a while to creep up on me. One moment I was half-listening to something on NPR about a website that lets you create online "visual mood boards." The next thing I knew, I entered the site via a portal labeled "24 Ways With Mason Jars" and the entire space-time continuum collapsed in on itself. I emerged 150 years later with the entirety of the feminist movement wiped from both my own brain and human history.
It used to be generally accepted that overblown levels of domestic perfection were merely a shorthand for inner despair. Whenever a movie opened with a housewife in manicured suburbia adding the finishing touches to a flower arrangement or a pie, we all instinctively understood that this was a clear cinematic trope meaning that her husband is having an affair, her life is overshadowed by the desperate creep of unfulfillment and by the end of the movie, she will have tipped into a bottomless pit of churning, wailing mental anguish.
Now, apparently, we all want to be that housewife.
We live in the era of the curated life. Social media has led us to believe not just that our lives should be happy, but that they should look perfect from the outside. Facebook and Instagram have become personal PR agencies, forums for us to assemble a set of dazzling promotional materials for our own lives. My real children may be covered in mud and subsist on a diet of canned refried beans and Barney the dinosaur, but my Facebook children are always clean, nutritionally balanced and baking low-sugar holiday cookies. In a climate of competitive perfection, Pinterest raises the stakes for what perfect should look like.
Barely able to find time to do the laundry, we somehow find ourselves at 2 a.m. the night before the preschool holiday party crippled by unrealistic expectations, resentfully baking high concept cupcakes and assembling lopsided magical winter wonderlands. Glue guns don't kill people, but people with glue guns kill any last hope of guilt-free motherhood.
Because when life has to look perfect, it is generally acknowledged that the late night perfecting burden will be shouldered by women, and in particular, by mothers. Lifestyle whitewashing on social media has meant a constant inflation of what a mother's role is expected to involve. Maintaining a job, a reasonably happy home environment and our own sanity is not enough. In the Pinterest era, kids' birthday parties and craft projects now feel like motherhood mid-terms.
This isn't just suffocating on the individual level. As we increasingly fetishize the domestic arts, we are sleepwalking back to the 1950s, when society's expectations of household accomplishment came at the clear expense of women's emancipation.
Why are we buying into this insanity? At a time when almost all of us are overwhelmed and rushed, when the combination of our punishing working hours and our childcare expectations sometimes feel liable to crush us and the debate rages on about the impossibility of "having it all," why are we ludicrously inflating the norms of what "it all" should be? Why are we rushing to embrace a level of domestic expectation that would have sent our mothers running in horror?
This time around, we can't blame the patriarchy. More than 80% of Pinterest users are female, and we do over 90% of the pinning. These are our own expectations, self-generated. Together, we are throwing feminism under the Mason jar.
Like a divorced parent sinking his entire paycheck at Toys'R'Us, perhaps we hope that a handmade elf will offset our misplaced working mother guilt. Maybe it's that as we feel our lives sliding out of control, a forced march to domestic perfection shows the world that we are coping. Or perhaps we have all bought into social media's fiction that how our lives look is ultimately more important than what they are. Whatever the reason, I don't have time to think about it. I'm too busy glue-gunning my way to a magical holiday season.