As we near this blog series on feminism and comedy, I think it's time I started getting honest with all of you. Uncomfortably honest. And here's the uncomfortable truth about me: I can't stop looking at Pinterest.
No, not even the boards for cool things like fine art, or political activism, or Bitch Media. I get on the site's main page, and pore, horrified and intrigued, over the needlessly elaborate cake recipes, needlessly elaborate childcare ideas, and needlessly elaborate engagement photos, until I'm in a daze. For a site that reportedly counts women as the majority of its 25 million users, the site's main page displays a surprisingly racially and sexually homogenous view of modern womanhood.
There's been a lot written (by sharper minds than I) about Pinterest's gender dynamics and potential as a tool for activism. But when reading Pinterest's main page, I'm most struck by how, for something completely user-generated, the experience feels so similar to reading a mainstream women's magazine. I pick up the odd useful tip about packing a suitcase or marinating a ham, but mostly, I come away feeling bad about my body, my finances, and my inability to make a needlessly elaborate cake for my non-existent children. And yet, I am inexplicably compelled to keep coming back.
And that's why I fell in love with satirical Twitter account The Fake Pinterest the second I laid eyes on it. The brain-child of three comedy writers—Onion News Network contributors Megan Green and Daniel Kibblesmith, and Onion News Network staff writer Cullen Crawford—The Fake Pinterest skewers the "homemade-at-any-costs," aspirational sensibility that often infest the site's most popular pins, with brutal, perfectly pitched tweets like:
Beginning as a Twitter hashtag before developing into a full-on devoted account, the Fake Pinterest takes comedic advantage of what Green described as Pinterest's "very strong, cohesive voice" to send up that site's aspirational and rigidly heteronormative culture.
But The Fake Pinterest is more than just a dependable source of extremely dark humor about sex, consumerism, parenting, and cake frosting—The Fake Pinterest fits into the grand tradition of satire that sends up women's media with a feminist twist.
A brief trip in our way-back machine shows that satire has worked arm-in-arm with American feminism for over a century: from works like Marie Jenney Howe's 1912 play, "Someone Must Wash the Dishes: An Anti-Suffrage Satire," which was used to spark conversation and draw attention to the era's stereotypes of women as too "frivolous" to vote; to parodies of sexist pop culture that arose out of 1970s feminism—including those featured in the 1976 women's comedy collection Titters; to the guerilla theater of anti-Reagan activists Ladies Against Women; to the bitingly comedic art activism of the Guerilla Girls in works like the infamous "Advantages of Being a Woman Artist."
The intersection of satire and women's media has always been extra special and extra complicated. While a lot of satire and parodies of women's media use said media's oppressive content and unrealistic standards as the punch line, some of it is noxiously sexist, holding up the mere existence of women as the punch line (like in this "Family Guy" clip… can't there ever be a misogynist media trope that can't be easily illustrated by a "Family Guy" clip? Just one time? No? Fine). Like the women's magazines, TV shows, and networks that they skewer, satire of women's media is a foe to women just as often as it's a friend.
Which is why satire projects like the previously profiled Reductress and The Fake Pinterest are so important. Not only do they signify a turn toward a more sustained, powerful way of doing satire of women's media than the classic fake covers and one-off parodies of women's magazines that fill all of the internet's vast comedy holes, they also show a commitment to using humor to undo the cultural damage (well, some of the damage) of mainstream online women's media.
"With Twitter and other social media sites, it's easier than ever to get your ideas out there—which means there's more women's magazines, more mommy blogs, and more social media sites targeted at women, but there's also more opportunities to make fun of these things," says Megan Green. "As a woman, something about Pinterest immediately felt very oppressive. Like, 'Oh, this is another thing I have to do so that I can be a woman?' and 'How did everyone on here decide that marinating chicken in Greek yogurt is a thing we all like now?'"
The "Ten Tips for Calorie-Burning Orgasms" wing of women's media isn't going to go away, even as it changes forms and formats as time goes on. But the satirical responses to it will continue to develop apace, too, and keep turning women's media's messages in on themselves to show their inherent absurdity. Or, as Green puts it, "Cosmo magazine is a piece of garbage, but then Pinterest came along and it's a bunch of regular people trying to be Cosmo magazine, which is even funnier."
As for the future of The Fake Pinterest, the crew is still going strong on Twitter, and hopes to develop a book, even though, as Kibblesmith recounts, a literary agent told them "that Pinterest has the 'shelf-life of a mayfly.' Which is funny, actually, because 'picture of dead mayfly on a shelf' would make a pretty good fake Pin."