Pinterest and Gender Roles

The popular online pin board Pinterest has seen incredible growth since its founding in 2010. As of April 2013, the site had over 48 million users, but what’s most interesting about the site is the surprising slant of its demographic. Unlike other social media sites which are fairly equal in their male-female divide, Pinterest female users outnumber male users 4 to 1.

Exactly what attracts American women to Pinterest more so than men is unclear (in the UK for instance, men dominate the social bookmarking site), but it begs the question, if women are the ones generating content for this site, what can we learn about the media that women value. As a result of considering this question, a debate has arisen over the relationship between Pinterest, feminism, and gender roles. Women on each side of the divide are examining the content of the site and questioning the role its playing in the lives of women.

The “Pinterest Is Killing Feminism” Debate

In an article entitled “How Pinterest Is Killing Feminism,” BuzzFeed contributor Amy Odell argued that the social networking site leads women to pursue “retrograde and materialistic content that the internet was designed to overcome.” Instead of providing intelligent content for women that sites like Jezebel or Hairpin provide, Pinterest’s user-developed content is much more superficial and seems to reinforce societal pressure to strive for feminine perfection, whether that be through weight loss, clothing, or beauty products.

In a similar vein, Victoria Pynchon, a blogger for ForbesWoman claims that the very structure of Pinterest prevents users from interacting with topics such as business or politics. Instead it frames women’s interests in the realm of home décor, diet, and fashion. By allowing these media to control their interests, women accept the dominant culture’s view of them.

Odell and Pynchon represent one end of the spectrum of feminist responses to Pinterest, the side that questions whether the perceived “opportunities” for women to share and explore their interests through Pinterest is actually a means of reinforcing traditional domestic female roles. On the other side, we have women who view Pinterest from the perspective that it celebrates what makes women unique. The Jane Dough blogger Terri Ciccone notes that on Pinterest “women are curating their own experience on the site.”

Patterns of Use

The major patterns of content that one sees emerge from this female-dominated space are potentially in conflict with modern feminist ideals. When you open Pinterest to the “Everything” page, you get a glimpse of the recently pinned material on the site. In this image, you can see references to fashion and food as well as a few memes.

Pinterest MarkedConnecting the ideas of Pinterest’s user-generated content and the questions of how feminism relates to the content available on Pinterest leads us to consider how women are choosing to represent themselves on Pinterest. While Ciccone notes that Pinterest is perhaps just one aspect of a woman’s online presence and may demonstrate only certain aspects of her personality, it is interesting to note how this largely female community chooses to represent itself. Mary Elizabeth Williams, in an article for Salon, notes that a common trend on the site is image-quotes that make “scary declarations of man-averse female feelings.” She shares BuzzFeed’s example of “57 Reasons Men are Scared of Pinterest.” Such images seem to reinforce “knee-jerk sexism” and only further reinforce the gender divide of the site.

Another pattern that could be examined is the trend of “fitspiration,” or fitness inspiration, which comes close to a potential danger of the site. Though formally banned by Pinterest, “thinspiration” or pro-anorexia content still shows up, and fitspiration often comes close to similar content. This is one of the types of content that Odell draws attention to and calls into question.

Further research as well as examination of the trends on Pinterest needs to be done to see how these patterns are functioning on the site and to determine how content developers for the site might best make use of the platform.

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