This essay, by Austin-based writer Melanie Haupt, is one of the most interesting things I’ve read in the past few months. Haupt, who wrote her dissertation on women and food writing, takes on the blogging phenomenon known as The Pioneer Woman (if you aren’t familiar, here’s the quick n’ dirty background: Ree Drummond, AKA The Pioneer Woman, had a go-go city girl life in LA before moving to Oklahoma, marrying a cattle rancher, and becoming a “domestic country wife” raising (and homeschooling) four kids in the middle o’ nowhere. By blogging charmingly about her daily life, she’s becoming one of the most popular and highest paid bloggers in the world, raking in something like $1 million in ad dollars a month and earning several book deals and a Hollywood biopic).
Haupt sees The Pioneer Woman as a modern-day Betty Crocker, someone who turned herself into a living trademark to sell a product. Her image of happy domesticity is just that – an image – argues Haupt, and a potentially damaging one at that. As she writes:
“[The Pioneer Woman] represents an idealized woman, a frontier version of the angel in the house with a 21st-century twist, one who offers up domesticity as escapist entertainment. She offers a nostalgic image of a pastoral Midwestern existence that, while a simulacrum, has found traction in a nation that is increasingly urbanized. Second, in the process of “keepin’ it real,” Drummond-as-Pioneer-Woman regurgitates hegemonic tropes of femininity and masculinity in that she frequently posts worshipful entries extolling her husband’s virtues, which include his chaps-clad rear end and muscular forearms; additionally, her pet name for him, Marlboro Man, conjures up images of rugged Western masculinity and virility while also gesturing toward an iconic advertising campaign for the Marlboro cigarette brand.”
I think Haupt is getting at the heart of why lifestyle blogging can be so problematic – it blurs the line between reality and fantasy, “ordinary woman” and professional lifestyle guru. Nobody really aspires to be Martha Stewart because we all know she’s basically a product. But these lifestyle bloggers sell themselves as real people – after all, blogging is the official medium of ordinary people – so it’s hard not to compare yourself to them and wonder why your living room doesn’t look nearly as good and why don’t find making dinner nearly as fulfilling. But women like The Pioneer Woman actually ARE pros, but they don’t necessarily admit it. It sort of raises the bar for ordinary women, while potentially re-romanticizing domesticity in an unrealistic and unhelpful way.
What do you think? Any Pioneer Woman fans/haters out there?