Slacktory

Pinterest his and hers pillows

The editor of Academic Coach Taylor, a blog of encouragement and ass-kicking for academics based on the main character of Friday Night Lights, is a Ph.D. candidate working in gender studies and media studies. ACT has smart opinions. Here’s one:

Wednesday, May 9, BuzzFeed posted a screenshot aggregation article titled “39 Ways Men Use Pinterest”. What followed was an all-too-obvious collection of boards like “Food I want My wife to Cook” (white chocolate cupcakes with truffle filling!) and “Things I’d like my wife to wear” (Xena-style mini skirt and bra separates!) and one particularly gay-tastic board of drag-queen-worthy pumps, “Shoes I Wish My Wife Would Wear” (srsly, bro?).

Was there ever a clearer indication, the Internet howled, of the piggishness of men?

Chris Menning of Modern Primate fired back the same day with “39 Ways (some) Women Use Pinterest”, a gallery of Pinterest’s double-edged gender sword: “Things I want my husband to buy me” (a BILLION etsy necklaces) and “things my husband should build” (a “half table”?).

As I stared at these two litmus tests for diagnosing a severe lack of imagination, I wanted to tell men to cook their own fucking burgers and women to buy their own fucking blood diamonds. Staring harder, I came to an amazing conclusion: marriage is fucked up.

Menning describes Pinterest pretty accurately as “a site that’s geared toward object fetishes”. From where I’m standing, that’s an awfully precise description of the cultural institution of marriage as well (individual results may vary). Anyone who’s remained stubbornly single through their 20s (or refuses to marry, or legally can’t) knows the financial woes of helping your friends “build a new life together!”: the numerous pre-parties (and required gifts), followed by the wedding (travel, hotel, clothes, and an even nicer gift). Marriage, in Western culture, operates on the model that a new couple needs “one of everything” in order to make a home, and should keep buying until they get it—and all those fancy cupcakes require lots of cooking gear too.

But the funny inverse of this model is that you should never need to share with others, because you have all your own stuff. It’s the sort of pernicious logic that suggests just because you serve gravy twice a year, you need a gravy boat that matches the rest of your dinnerware, rather than borrowing one from a friend or using your grandma’s old chipped gravy boat or just using a damn bowl. It makes marriage a groomsman to capitalism (sharing the honor with the seasonal shitshow of Christmas and the quickly metastasizing university system): a system organized around unsustainable, individualized consumption and planned obsolescence that spreads out via isolated family/home units, rather than more dispersed models based on sharing, community and friendship. Models that could be less entrenched in object fetishes and more sustaining, more inventive, more focused on the quality than the quantity of living. If we shared more than bought, there’d be a lot less profit to go around — but maybe we’d also be a lot less interested in profit as our life goal.

It’s a useful context for thinking about the gay marriage debate, recently punctuated by North Carolina’s need to define marriage as between a man and a woman in their state constitution. The same day the Pinterest articles were put up, Obama either broke the internet or declared war on marriage (depending on what side of the bipartisan brain-drain you frequent).

But as much as I lovelovelove Obama as my celebrity president, it’s a bummer that the only context in which gay rights and queer equality is discussed is in relation to long-term monogamous couplehood. Models that are themselves deeply linked up in problematic structures of property ownership, models that themselves began as ways of managing property ownership (of both land and women, or land through women). As if we’ve chosen to ignore that living in a pluralistic society might mean not just diversity of race, ethnicity, religion and sexuality, but also social and familial formations, which can directly redirect our economic formations.

And most of us don’t even live in these forms of monogamous relationships; the value of marriage shouldn’t be re-consecrated as the price for queers getting admittance to the equal rights party. Far more interesting is to imagine these debates as a way of asking better questions: like why the fuck are the state and the nation involved in marriage to begin with? Why can the state control who can visit me in the hospital? who gets my inheritance? who can adopt my kid? Why can health insurance only be bestowed on a spouse? Why don’t I get tax benefits for living with lifelong friends? When the hell are we going to let polyamory be politically visible? What exactly should the relationship between the nation and my body look like? — questions not easily answered by conventional notions of bi-partisanism.

 

I went roaming on Pinterest for “Food my Power Bottom should cook me”, “Clothes my polyamorous secondary should buy” and “Stuff for my Boston Marriage”. As of yet, nothing came up. There’s other ways to live in this world. Maybe marriage isn’t so great after all.

  • Guest

    love it

  • http://twitter.com/numberless Scott Jon Siegel

    NAILED IT

  • http://www.facebook.com/chrisjhampton Chris J. Hampton

    amen

  • Anonymous

    This was amazing!

  • Lizzie

    Hi!  Allow me to introduce myself: also queer, also PhD student, huge ACT fan.  Purposely not discovering Pinterest until my dissertation is done.

    While I agree that your argument is the direction that US civil society needs to eventually go – extending government benefits to all regardless of relationship or marital status, and leaving marriage as an institution up to religious groups or whatever – and I agree that the questions you pose are questions that need to be asked, I think that We The Socially Liberal Academics also need to take a step back and realize that marriage is, at present and likely for the foreseeable future, a fact of our society, and that Gay Marriage is an important and germane issue in our time as a step on the path to de-norming family structures.  

    Let’s face it – the Civil Rights Movement and the legal changes that accompanied it (the Loving decision, integration of schools, etc.) did not at the time and have not yet led to a de-racialized or even non-racist society, but where would we be if those legal changes had not come about?  Title VII and Title IX have not brought about gender equality with relation to who is employed in what positions, with relation to wages, or with relation to portrayal of women in the media, but again, haven’t those seemingly nominal legal changes brought about some equality?  And isn’t some equality better than no equality?

    The abolishment of marriage as a government institution is, I think we can all agree, a VERY LONG time away, especially as long as definitions of marriage and the benefits that should accompany it, and definitions of family, are left up to the states.  Surely my gay marriage (performed in Vermont, discriminated against by my current state of residence) is, if not the ultimate solution to the very strange way that our country deals with family, a solution to help more families through the period of time until the definition of family becomes, well, a family decision?

    Cheers to you for a well-written article.

    • http://academiccoachtaylor.tumblr.com/ Academic Coach Taylor

      Hey Lizzie–

      Certainly no qualms with anything you’re stating–history has its own propulsion, which tends to vacillate between slow shift and cataclysmic breakage. And we have to be incredibly sensitive to those for whom marriage may be the only option–i.e., those who do not have the privilege to *not* get married. Given an individual’s historical moment and where they live, marriage may be the only way to become politically visible, to obtain much needed health insurance, etc. I think your thoughts are right on, and as part of civil rights practice, I am for gay marriage even if I am ultimately not keen on the government’s hand in marriage generally.

      This “genre” of writing, this strange form of polemical, sarcastic internet commentary, has its own form, and not one that’s well suited to, let’s say, establishing all one’s warrants and addressing counter-arguments (and let’s say I was already WAY over anticipated word count, ha). 

      I could summarize that my goals were 3-fold:
      1. to speak frankly of the relationships between the cultural structure of marriage and that of individual property ownership2. to suggest that we can have opinions beyond for/against gay marriage, opinions that could lead us to ask BETTER QUESTIONS about the government (i’m such a fan of better questions)3. to remind us of what we already know: there are lots of ways to live in the world that become muted when we recognize marriage as the most valuable social arrangementthanks for you comment!

  • Andrew McKenzie

    You ask about recognizing households that aren’t about marriage… here’s the French experience with that, for a bit of perspective.

    In France they have this thing called le PACS (pronounced “pax”). Le PACS is a civil solidarity pact, a way for any two people to form a household with full legal standing. It originated as a workaround compromise to allow gay couples to have the benefits of marriage, without actually marrying them (only the state can marry you in France).  However, equality laws meant that anyone could get pacsé; that is the relationship doesn’t have to be sexual.  Friends, even siblings can get a PACS (very helpful come inheritance time).

    More importantly, as it turns out,straight couples can get a PACS, too.  A PACS is easier to get into and get out of than a marriage, so it has all the pros and none of the cons, except that it isn’t technically marriage.  However marriage is not an idealized and universal life goal the way it is here, so that’s not really a con, either.  The result is that over 90% of couples in a PACS are straight couples in love, and the number of actually married couples has plummeted.   

    • http://academiccoachtaylor.tumblr.com/ Academic Coach Taylor

      Sounds brilliant! And a wonderful, straightforward way to legitimize any pair of people who want to collaborate in living together, regards of their structure of their intrapersonal relationship.

    • ana

      As a foreign girlfriend of french citizen i view pacs seem to be as a woman in pacs ..woman seem to be the less protected by the law of france.My bf is french i am nothing and he is something and treat me nothing and nobody and he wants to pacs me just to go to france.I cant work because he put me to CFE insurance.Now comes this pacs he is proposing which it clearly stated whatever he gave me incase what happen to him as a gift can be taken from me to be divided as a whole by his family..even i get few percent minus the taxes good as zero.He doesnt like to get marry inchurch incase what happen to him nothing left to me and he likes to pacs me since he knew me nothing i die nothing or if hes gone 1st ill die in hunger…and perhaps even if i work and save money during the duration of relation under pacs…what i sweat can be taken too as nothing.

  • PamelaWynne

    Love it. (Also I just pinned it.)

    • http://toomuchnick.com Anonymous

      This is my favorite response yet.

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