Feminist Argument for Etsy Participation

Yes, I got a little long winded again. I got all riled up. I’m sorry I didn’t give anyone a coffee break in there, but please stick with me here on this one.

Recently, I opened an Etsy account to try to sell some of the things I can make for extra money. In doing some research, I came across an interesting article critical of Etsy, saying it was purveying a “myth” to women about making money: “Etsy.com Peddles a False Feminist Fantasy” in which the author calls Etsy “a female ghetto.[1]  I’ve written before about my feelings about the complexities of feminist theory, and how some of its message doesn’t ring true to me anymore.  And no, I don’t feel cheated because I realize all along I belonged barefoot and pregnant. As any of my readers know, I realize all along I belong barefoot in a freshwater pond teaming with catfish. Who actually bite.

However, looking back on my feminist days, I believe it sometimes offered its own set of prejudices and fallacies as it sought to counter those established by tradition. This is one of those times.

Sara Mosle observes that “there are virtually no male sellers on Etsy … just 4 percent”[2] as she explores why men may find Etsy an undesirable venue. For Ms. Mosle, would the presence of more male sellers then add legitimacy to Etsy that she finds lacking? For her, the reason fewer men sell on Etsy may be that men are not as vulnerable as women to the “feminist myth” that Etsy offers.

 So women flock to Etsy because we’re more psychologically vulnerable than men?

And then Ms. Mosle delves into the meat-ness of her thesis (I’m really hoping that rhymes as well in your head as it did in mine): that one cannot just quit your day, hop onto Etsy and make your million bucks. Really? Say it isn’t so!

The author’s theory rests on her depiction of the typical Etsy seller, based on Etsy’s statistics, as:

A married woman with (or about to have) young children, with a higher-than-average household income, and a good education. These should, in sum, be highly employable women. So, what are they doing, often pursuing hobbies, or working only part-time, on Etsy?

Married. Check.
About to have young children. Check.
Higher-than-average household income. Once Upon a Time …
Good education. Check.

 So what am I doing, pursuing a hobby, or working only part-time, on Etsy when I really should be fulfilling my potential as “highly employable”? Is it because I’ve swallowed the bait on the Etsy myth:

 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 … 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 [5], the promise is a fantasy.

 Here we go ….

While no one will say it, some offices don’t really like having parents on their workforce. In my former workgroup, I was the only person with a family. Everyone else was single or newly married. One person did have one child and a wife who stayed home, and he left with no small animosity towards my boss after a few years.  Suffice to say his position also had never been permanent, and he didn’t directly work for my boss. The episode in Sex In the City where Miranda “stands up” to the firm partners so she can have more time with her child, and strongly negotiates down to fifty, sixty hours a week? That resonated with more than just little old me, I promise. When a friend was pregnant, she confided to me how much she was concerned about this.  The day I told my boss I was adopting children the look on his face was indescribable with resentment. You’d thought I’d told him I was marrying an SEC investigator.  How many women have “voluntarily” left their positions to raise a family, when at happy hour they confided in family and friends they knew they’d eventually be driven out?

When it came time that I had to take care of a family member in my own home, one who took less responsibility than a child, it got hard. It got impossible. To have a family, run a house, and have both members work hard jobs with any sense of dedication and commitment is hard. I’m not saying it’s impossible – but it’s exhausting. My husband and I tried to pull off the two-career and caregiver thing and it was awful. Quite frankly, things run better when there’s someone at the bridge to manage the ship: pay the bills, prepare meals, shop frugally, take the pets to the vet, etc. And though hubs won’t admit it, we’re both happier.

And in many ways, it’s cheaper.

What Ms. Mosle completely misses out in her economic analysis, is how much families save if one parent doesn’t work outside the home in a “high-powered career”. It’s often been explored that having children can put many couples in a financial catch-22: you end up working to pay childcare. Or, in my geographic region, even with my very respectable salary with bonus, I would have gone into the red between childcare and commuting expenses.[3] That doesn’t even take into account additional expenses such as meals out, take-out, ready-to-cook expensive groceries because of coming home too late to cook, breaks and snacks at work part of the week, and the sheer exhaustion of trying to do it all. One article points to this difficulty between child-care and the double-income family:
http://articles.moneycentral.msn.com/CollegeAndFamily/RaiseKids/7waysToCombatCrazyChildCareCosts.aspx. The family featured in the article decided to have one person become the primary caregiver: the husband.

The fact is that in my family we have saved money. I cook more, meaning less spent on restaurants. I cook more wisely and frugally, so the grocery bill went down. Yes, down. I don’t commute, so there’s a few hundred dollars a month saved.[4]  So, Ms. Mosle’s “you don’t make as much” argument doesn’t take into account many of the economic dilemmas families face. No you don’t make as much, but you don’t spend as much. You also don’t go nuts as much.

Still, losing a significant income is hard. Any extra money is welcome. The trick is: how to bring in that extra money in a way that fits with the rest of your life as parent/caregiver and all the other roles a parent at home takes on?  

So this is my feminist theory: Etsy helps us bridge that gap. It offers us the venue to try to make money for something we enjoy, as well as offering some feminist advantages we don’t enjoy in the traditional workplace.

The autonomy to be more efficient and integrate work and family tasks. I can sew while my mother watches TV in another room, while laundry is washing and drying upstairs, dinner defrosts in the frig and bread is in the bread machine. While on the surface I may not be “earning money” significantly, in being able to do this I am “earning time,” tremendously.  And time is money. I know this because my econ prof told me so.

The appeal of “being our own boss:” we can evaluate the quality of our own work, gauge it’s worth, and charge for it accordingly. While yes, all prices are ruled by the marketplace, I can determine the worth of my time and my work and if someone doesn’t want to pay it, my work is up there for someone else who will. There is something tremendously empowering after decades of being told what I am capable of and I’m worth, which somehow always ended up being less than the younger men.

That empowerment, that kind of independence, isn’t that what feminism was supposed to be about? Ms. Mosle’s cricticisms seem to carry a hint of classism and status-consciousness. Is the problem really that Etsy isn’t a “high-powered career,” isn’t male-dominated, and isn’t immediately lucrative? Is the objection not about the fallacy of what it offers, but the fact that what it offers runs counter to some traditional patriarchal values, values feminism was supposed to challenge?

While this doesn’t support my thesis, I found the article interesting, and it’s recommendations admirable: http://www.apa.org/about/gr/issues/cyf/work-family.aspx

[2] Ms. Mosle’s endnote immediately following this number regards her comment “a smaller percentage than men in nursing,” which comes from the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. So where the four percent comes from, your guess is as good as mine. That figure is not endnoted. And as we all know, I love me my endnotes.

[3] I want to be clear, I will take on a job and I am still looking. However, I hope I’m being a bit astute in taking into account additional expenses in terms of childcare, etc., in making the right decision about the type of work I’m pursuing.

[4] Some readers may suggest I didn’t take certain money-saving measures. I did often bring my lunch, but walking the half-mile to work with lunch, gym clothes, coffee, sodas, etc., got very heavy some days. Also, I took the train to work, the cheapest commuting method possible, which was still very expensive. My defensiveness aside, the point is that even when you take all money-saving measures possible, it can still cost money to work.