Is Etsy Sexist? A Controversy Brews

A debate over whether the craft site fosters a "false feminist fantasy."

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Over on Slate's new Double X website for women, writer Sara Mosle issues a pretty severe takedown of Etsy.com, the e-commerce site that lets individuals sell and buy crafty items. (I've bought turquoise earrings on there, among other small items, and can attest to the quality of the website.) Mosle argues that Etsy "peddles a false feminist fantasy" that women (since the site's users are mostly women) can make a living off of selling their artwork, when in reality, most probably can't earn more than pocket change.

Mosle writes:

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.

I see two problems with this argument: First, I'm not convinced that Etsy does, in fact, promise anyone that they are likely to make a full-time living off of the site. They're just offering an easy place to buy and sell handmade goods. As Mosle herself notes, Etsy hosts forums where people explain to newcomers that it is not likely anyone will make a lot of money. It doesn't exactly sound like Etsy is trying to fool anyone with promises of riches. And if people just want to sell their handiwork and people like me want to buy them, what's the problem with that?

Second, I fail to see the sexism. To me, it seems more sexist to assume, as Mosle does, that female users are participating naively, thinking that they'll be making millions through this website. I see no evidence of any women thinking that. So where is the harm, exactly?

Jezebel has already offered its own critique of Mosle's article: "Unless we're defining "harm" in the most paternalistic of ways, Etsy harms no one -- and brings a great many people a lot of pleasure." I couldn't agree more.