Dreaming the impossible dream

Double X, Slate’s new “feminist” blog, reinforces its curiously anti-woman tone with Sara Mosle’s blistering screed against Etsy, the wildly popular online marketplace where users can both buy and sell handmade crafts.

For buyers, it’s an easy way to purchase beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces. And for Etsy investors, who get a cut of every transaction, it’s a user-generated (read: low investment, potentially high revenue) business that still projects a green, anti-corporate image. There’s just one fly in the decoupage: There are virtually no male sellers on Etsy. If the site is such a great way for anyone to market handmade goods online, then why is it such a female ghetto?

After all, the site was founded by three men in Brooklyn, a haven for macho DIY-dom, and was never conceived as female-only. The home page has a minimal, modern look. The colors are not cutesy pink. “They’re orange and blue,” says Adam Brown, the site’s spokesman. “You can’t get more neutral than that.”

As evidenced by her baffling use of the phrase “female ghetto,” Mosle’s first issue with Etsy seems to be that its users are predominantly female, even though the website isn’t pink and sparkly and there aren’t a bunch of cute boys to talk to and send winky emoticons.  How odd that women would be drawn to a website that doesn’t clearly spell out in puffy letters and Hello Kitty gifs that it’s female friendly!

However, a couple paragraphs down, Mosle’s real problem with Etsy becomes clear: it has the nerve to encourage its users to embrace the ridiculous notion that they might stand to make a real profit from their crafting talent.

I think for many women the site holds out the hope of successfully combining meaningful work with motherhood in a way that more high-powered careers in the law, business, or sciences seldom allow. In other words, what Etsy is really peddling isn’t only handicrafts, but also the feminist promise that you can have a family and create hip arts and crafts from home during flexible, reasonable hours while still having a respectable, fulfilling, and remunerative career. The problem is that on Etsy, as in much of life, the promise is a fantasy. There’s little evidence that most sellers on the site make much money. This, I suspect, explains the absence of men. They are immune to the allure of this fantasy. They have evaluated the site on purely economic terms and found it wanting.

Ah, yes, of course! Men, always ambitious and logical, would never waste time on such a frivolous activity as making stuff by hand if they didn’t stand to earn lots of money by doing it.  Naive, impressionable women, on the other hand, have bought into this cruel lie.  Etsy has deceived them into believing that their talent is worth anything more than imaginary money, ladydollars if you will, that dissolve into a puff of glitter and rose-scented air if they actually try to spend it.  They should stick to peddling their wares at church bazaars and school fundraisers, where they belong.

I have to give her credit, Sara Mosle achieves a real coup in managing to insult both women, men and Etsy (and Brooklyn, though it may be just insulting to me, being that I live in Brooklyn and have no idea what she means by describing it as a “haven for macho DIY-dom”).  Men don’t do such ridiculous things as placing hopes and dreams for financial success on an internet-based marketplace?  Who does she think is selling baseball cards and old comic books on eBay? Disguising it as a well-meaning desire to protect other women from the bullshit fantasy Etsy’s male founders have created, Mosle suggests that they’re better off just forgetting any pie in the sky notions of staying home and doing something that brings them joy and getting themselves a real job outside the home instead.  Jeez, Sara, who pissed on your daydreams? I’m not sure there are many women, even those unmarried and without children, who wouldn’t prefer to stay home and make a little money doing something they enjoy, whether that’s making crafts, baking, writing, or here’s a crazy idea, blogging, as opposed to dragging their asses every day to a job they hate.

I make cupcakes.  I’m pretty good at it, and I enjoy doing it.  If I was slightly less lazy (all right, significantly less lazy), it wouldn’t seem unreasonable to me to start a small business selling them.  Would I seriously believe that the next natural step after that would be my own show on the Food Network, with wacky employees to go with it? No, but it’d be making some money doing something I enjoy, which is something most of us don’t get to experience.  Our jobs are our jobs and our hobbies are our hobbies, and rarely do the two intersect.  According to Sara Mosle, this is a pipe dream anyway, and shame on places like Etsy for profiting from it.  Her conclusion that they deal in false hopes and empty promises comes from the fact that despite Etsy’s cheerful claims that you can quit your job and live comfortably on the money you’ll earn from selling handmade bottle cap earrings and macrame plant holders, most of the users admit their revenue to cost ratio is very low, if not negligible.  That doesn’t mean that none of Etsy’s artisans are making real money from their work, just that most of them aren’t.

So here lies the question: so fucking what? Is Etsy being dishonest in claiming you can earn a good living by selling your handicrafts through their website? Not really, even if only one in every one thousand sellers or so is making the equivalent of a standard office job salary, while the rest, if making anything at all, are putting it right back into supplies at the local Michael’s or Hobby Lobby, they’re not being deceitful.  You can make a living, but saying you can doesn’t mean that you will, and it’s rather insulting that Mosle believes other women don’t recognize the difference.  Pity the poor widdle jewelry makers and knitting ladies who got conned by the big mean men into thinking they’ll get fat paychecks for their work? Please.  Let’s give a little credit to our own gender, shall we, Sara? I’m fairly certain the majority of Etsy artisans are there because they enjoy what they do, they like getting recognition for their work, even if that recognition comes as a compliment as opposed to a purchase, and they network with other crafters.  Making money probably comes a distant second or third.  This article isn’t championing those who have bought into a lie, it’s a condescending, cynical hatchet job on a website that brings a lot of people joy.  Thanks, but no thanks, Sara, I don’t think they need your “help.”

Interesting note: while doing a bit of my own research, I noticed that today’s featured seller on Etsy’s front page was named Julien Jaborska, who, given the beard and mustache, appears to be a male.  In his interview, when asked what made him want to become an artist, he mentions enjoying the feeling of making things and the sense of accomplishment when he’s completed a project.  He further claims that he believes he could make a living off of his hobby, but hasn’t quit his job yet.  So much for the theory of men not being interested in doing things that won’t make them money, huh?

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One Response to “Dreaming the impossible dream”

  1. Angstzeit Says:

    I’d read a couple of articles in Double X a while ago and found them pretty WTF. The writers seem to have a vehement hatred of any women who don’t choose to pursue a full-time career. And seemingly just about anything can be seen, and attacked, as somehow undermining their feminine ideal.

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