The New Women's Work? Crafting, New Media, and Capitalism

TitleThe New Women's Work? Crafting, New Media, and Capitalism
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Close, S. A.
Affiliation (1st Author)University of Southern California
Section or WGGender and Communication Section
DateWed 26 June
Slot CodeGENW4b
Slot Code (Keyword)GENW4b
Time of Session16:00-17:30
RoomC123
Session TitleGender, Identity and Culture
Submission ID6051
Abstract

One effect of the Industrial Revolution was to re-define the intersection of gender and work. Particularly in the middle class, men worked outside of the home for wages; women stayed home without pay and managed the family. Feminists are still fighting to have work in the home recognized as the "real" work it is, but capitalist logics that equate labor with money make this recognition difficult. Even as women increasingly have access to education and salaried work, many still return home to a second-shift of childcare and home maintenance. The rise of the internet and the global economic downturn are both signs that the old ways of doing business and organizing society need to change. What does this mean for women? Etsy.com, an online community space largely populated by women who run and patronize small businesses selling handmade and vintage art, crafts, and other objects, is an ideal case study to answer this question. A typical American visitor to this Amazon of handicrafts, according to web traffic monitoring service Quantcast, is "an 18-34 year old college-educated white female with no children, who makes less than $60,000/year." Why, in a time of shifting social and economic spheres and after decades of feminism, is this audience so fascinated by the handmade version of stereotypical bourgeoisie femininity,, clothes, jewelry, and home goods? I employ a Arendtian and qualitative approach to analyzing Etsy.com in the context of craftivism, digital playbour, and postfeminism. I argue that Etsy as a new media communications and business platform limits the extent to which the women on the site can connect with each other, promote their work, and transcend the traditional public/private divide. For example, the Etsy featured pages and keyword search coding highlights only sellers and work that conform to a largely heteronormative gendered aesthetic, despite the wide variety of sellers and work on the site. Communication and debate is stifled by strict moderation policies that remove any critical feedback to Etsy editorial content or sellers' listings. In the interest of putting critique in the service of progress, I close by considering existing responses to Etsy, notably popular website Regretsy.com, and how virtual small business fits into the larger picture of work and society for contemporary women.

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