Could Martha Stewart Ever Wake Up and Be a Force for Good?

English: Martha Stewart at the Vanity Fair par...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s amazingly easy to like Martha Stewart, despite what comes out of her mouth. An interview with her Blondeness was the lunchtime entertainment at the BlogHer 2012 conference today, and it didn’t disappoint.

In her tapered orange pants and matching sandals, Stewart appeared relaxed, or at least as relaxed as she ever probably gets. Yet she still managed to project a dizzying number of expectations about women, the priorities they should have, and the preeminent importance of “perfection.”  Even some of her attempts to relate were drolly inept – at one point, she actually said that feeding and patting her horses in the evenings is an example of how all of us should “keep it real.” Yes, she said that.

Also, when her dog jumped up and busted her lip, she made sure to mention that her driver was there at 10 pm in a blizzard to drive her to the hospital where she had bought a wing, or something. Yes, that does ring so real to me.

Predictably, she extolled the virtues of home-cooking and talked proudly about the number of home and consumer products her team designs, 8,500 of which are for sale in stores today. She also made clear that her team works long hours, and was breathtakingly judgmental about the talented women who work for her and decide not to come back after having a child. (Um, could it be the grueling hours?)

It’s not just Stewart, of course. After the dismissive statements by incoming Yahoo exec Marissa Mayer about “working through” her maternity leave, I for one think that it’s about time we ask women in positions of tremendous power to send a more respectful message on work-life balance.

But Stewart missed that opening, despite the thousands of moms in the audience. Instead, about two seconds after she admitted that her career drive had cost her marriage, she said, kind of creepily, that she could always pick out the women who were and were not coming back after a child, and, without a trace of irony or self-reflection, that “you just have to decide whether you want it all.” She almost growled this line, in an implied threat to any women who choose, unaccountably, to step off the career ladder at her much-coveted design juggernaut.

Apparently, her keen sense of the Twitterverse and social media excluded the recent heated debate over the Anne-Marie Slaughter piece on the impossibility of “having it all.” Even Slaughter has recanted that theme, noting that no one, not only women, gets to have it all.

That is, except maybe, possibly Stewart. Or at least that what she really, really needs us to believe. While she talked a good game of how social media has influenced her to get more personal about her own life, when asked in a final question to come clean about something she’s “bad at,” she produced a perfectionist tic in lieu of a genuine admission, actually offering us the lame “something I haven’t tried yet?”

In fact, the DIY emphasis she’s so famous for is just something else on the long list of self-improving, pure activities we should be doing and can’t. But Stewart has an answer for us: when we run out of time, her products side stands ready to sell us all the stuff we didn’t have time to make.

After all, our lives don’t look at all like the image of relaxed afternoons picking raspberries that Stewart (patently falsely) claimed she enjoys and that are all over her media marketing channels. And she knows that, of course. As she put it, “women don’t have time to sew anymore, because you’re busy blogging or whatever, so you need a place to buy that dress you saw in the magazine.”

This really makes her the worst part of both sides of the problem. On the one hand, we get to feel guilty for not making the damn dress, while on the other, she gets our money so that we don’t have to do without the thing she just guilted us into wanting. She creates desire and then is there to fill it, albeit always in a way that leaves us chasing the dream of that more authentic garment that we could have, should have, made ourselves.

What was so sad about her taut, demanding version of femininity was the utter lack of mission reflected in her choices. While selling us the unhurried, authentic life, she’s really all just lifestyle marketing, with emphasis on the stuff. I kept thinking about how her power is enormous, but it remains untapped for real good.

While it’s likely the case, as she remarked, that partisan politics could be damaging for her, that certainly wouldn’t bar her, or her company, from taking on any real social justice issue. Really, any position would be better than none. She could pick toxics, and work to reduce the chemicals in all the consumer stuff she sells, or worker’s rights for her factories around the world, or even, better work-life balance for the talented moms she obviously loses from her own company.

Perhaps when she’s out patting the horses of an evening, she could reflect a little more on why DIY became DIMS, and whether American “home cooks” really need another newly designed dishtowel, or her hard-working designers could go home early, to spend a little more time with their kids. Now that would be keeping it real.

5 thoughts on “Could Martha Stewart Ever Wake Up and Be a Force for Good?

  1. Ah! Thank you!!!! This completely sums up how I felt listening to her speak today. What a well written post. I was amazing by the cavalier tone she took when talking about her driver and the arrogance of how she isn’t good at things she hasn’t tried. While she may be a savvy businesswoman (nevermind the fact that she was recently in prison for insider trading) the expectations she projects on to women is utterly annoying. Great blog. Thank you.

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