Feminism, Othering and Social Media

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Catchfire Catchfire's picture
Feminism, Othering and Social Media

Case Study: Pinterest

The next step in the typical tech-site-Pinterest-description is to go on and on about how woman-heavy the site is. Current statistics show that the site is 70-80% female, and a perusal of the main page usually reminds users of this. While the female-centeredness of the site is sometimes overstated, it also should not be dismissed.

And, no surprise, the tech community, which is still a boys club, has been terrible at writing about how people, especially women, use Pinterest. The site has been used as an excuse to make fun of women, stereotype women as shoppers, dismiss the site as overly gendered and anger some of the feminist blogosphere.

Of course, there is no one single feminist position on Pinterest or anything else. Some have celebrated and some have critiqued Pinterest as a safe space for femininity on one hand and also a sometimes troubling version of femininity on the other. This is a useful rehashing of a fundamental theoretical distinction we can make within feminist theory: difference versus dominance feminism.

The difference-feminist arguments above had to remind the tech world that a site should not be dismissed because women are using it; rather, this is precisely what makes it important. The cultural conversation around Pinterest has followed that similar path perhaps best outlined by Simone de Beauvoir in The Second Sex (1949). There has been a historical trend to view the male as “natural,” devoid of gender and able to stand in for all of humanity (remember Kohlberg only using males to construct a scale applied to everyone). Another example is the continuing usage (especially in tech-writing in the year 20-f’n-12) of male pronouns to stand for humans in general. As Beauvoir states,

In actuality the relation of the two sexes is not quite like that of two electrical poles, for man represents both the positive and the neutral, as is indicated by the common use of man to designate human beings in general; whereas woman represents only the negative, defined by limiting criteria, without reciprocity.

This othering means that websites comprised mostly of men are seen as “neutral” and those that have even the slightest hint of femininity come to be seen as thoroughly saturated with gender; indeed, Pinterest has almost come to be defined by it.

Take Wikipedia: 87% of its contributors are male; a bigger discrepancy than Pinterest by any count. However, when discussing Wikipedia, it certainly is not the norm to go on and on about how male the site is. Instead, it is far more common for the site to be praised for its “neutral point of view.” Usually-male tech writers describing the male Wikipedia have convinced themselves that the site is neutral and thus useful to all of humanity. Pinterest, on the other hand, is implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, dismissed as merely female.

Even the description of how feminine Pinterest actually is can be overstated. Using Pinterest for the past month or so, I have noticed a great diversity in content. Yes, people post about cupcakes, but architecture, food, photography, design and lots of other things are popular, too. As Rebecca Hui states, “Pinterest is, very simply, a place for pretty things, and last I checked, beauty wasn’t gender-specific.”

In fact, over in the UK the majority of Pinterest users are maleIs the UK press going on and on about how male Pinterest is? (Of course not; remember, ‘male’ is thought to be neutral).

Issues Pages: 
Maysie Maysie's picture

It's too bad that the blogger is focusing so much on white feminism. I haven't seen that level of white feminist-centrism since my university days in the 80s.

I learned a lot from Gilligan, MacKinnon and De Beauvoir, but, dude, it's 2012. 

You should be embarrased to quote stuff like "Men have an ethic of justice and women have an ethic of care."


When visiting the site, one quickly notices the refreshing "lack of misogynist content." Amanda Marcotte states that "the pink and girly exterior of Pinterest works as a jerk force field, keeping the most piggish men away."

Well, call me a crabby anti-racist feminist, but 1. It takes more than lack of misogynist content to make me happy. Facebook, as evil as it is, works for me. I eliminate misogyny there by yelling at or deleting (or both lol) "friends" who post dumb sexist, racist shit. Sadly all I can do is mock the occassional sexist ad that pops up on my profile page. And 2. The construction of "pink and girly" is grounded in white and middle class consumer feminism. No thanks.


I have seen one link to that site, so I don't really know much about them at all. Their user agreement  doesn't seem too friendly though:



I have finally started using Pinterest (I'm never really quick on the uptake when it comes to these newfangled interwebs things), and I'm finding it very useful.  But I guess a lot of what I find it useful for are kind of gendered.

One of my hobbies is making cards out of fancy papers and such.  I tend not to like the overblown cutesy ornateness of a lot of the homemade card genre - I like to make mine relatively crisp and clean, and use fancy papers, flat origami figures, etc.  But I find that Pinterest is great for inspiration for card-making.  The only drawback is that if I look at other people's designs too much, it kind of stifles my own creativity, because I like designing my own things, not copying other people's designs.  But if I'm stuck, then a design idea that someone else has might trigger some offshoots for me. 

So, instead of buying $5-10 mass-produced cards from card stores, I make my own, using materials that (I once actually figured it out) cost me an average of 25-75 cents per card.  I get those packages of "ends" of fancy paper for something like $12 from a local art store, and one of those packages lasts me a long, long time since the fancy paper is used for accents.  I never buy Christmas gift tags anymore, etc.  And people who receive them love them - the card is practically a gift in itself (although they often accompany a gift).

Another hobby I like to do is crocheting (and sometimes knitting).  So it's also fun to browse some knitting and crocheting projects there.  I got a couple of good gift ideas from there - homemade, handmade gifts, which kind of bucks the consumerist thing to some degree (although of course I have to buy the yarn - but I get that from an indie shop that's a 30 minute walk from my house).

We are getting our kitchen torn out, completely gutted, and replaced next month (no, not because of a consumer frenzy, but because it desperately needs it - hasn't been done since something like 1940, no counter space, cupboards are terrible, fridge doesn't fit, no room to store things properly, etc.), and Pinterest has been really great for researching storage features I might like to put in, and cheap ways to plan storage.  I even showed the cabinet-maker some of the pictures I'd "pinned" because I have no idea what the name of anything is - what I know about kitchen design would fit on the head of a pin (no pun intended).

Pinterest is also fun because I get to travel vicariously with it.  Look up "travel" and any city or country you're interested in, and you get thousands of pictures not just from travellers, but also from locals, and you get an idea of what you might like to see if you ever go there. 

There are also tons of reusing/recycling tips there too, like how to make handy things out of household items, or how to "repurpose" old junk into useful items around the house.

So, is Pinterest gendered?  Maybe - a lot of the stuff I've seen there is definitely gendered.  But because it focuses on stuff that women have traditionally been more interested in, does that mean it should be scorned?  Or does it simply point out that too many men are still refusing to take an interest in traditionally feminine arts and hobbies, and household stuff?

I've never been a domestic goddess, but I am proud of the fact that my mother, grandmother, and aunt taught me how to knit and crochet, and as a result, there isn't much that I can't make with knitting needles, crochet hooks, and yarn.  We women don't have to reject the arts that have been traditionally passed down from female generation to female generation just because most men deny themselves the pleasure and relaxation and feeling of satisfaction and artistic expression that these arts and crafts bring to the artisan/crafter.

I find Pinterest a great tool for this sort of thing.  And what I like about it is that I don't get "addicted" to it as I do to other social media sites like, say, Facebook.  I use it for inspiration, but I don't spend day and night on it.  Maybe some folks do, but I don't.  I just use it to showcase my stuff, look at other people's stuff, and research things I'm either interested in, or have to do (like the kitchen).


not enough competition; no virtual kill count or magical treasures that I can lord over others that have none

its obviously not a valid interest and I should make that known to the users of Pinterest in the only way I know how


Heh ryanw.  :) 

I have no idea how anyone would even troll Pinterest, really.  I guess they could post nasty comments under people's picture pins.

Left Turn Left Turn's picture

The very obvious thing about Pinterest compared to sites such as Facebook and Twitter, is that it hits me up with user generated content right on the homepage. Content that's a)skewed towards the feminine, and b)that's in no way controlled by me. On Facebook I have to create an account and add friends before I get user generated content, and then the content I get skews towards the interests of my friends. At no point on Facebook do I ever get an aggregate of all content posted to the site to indicate which direction the content skews.

Maysie wrote:
Well, call me a crabby anti-racist feminist, but 1. It takes more than lack of misogynist content to make me happy. Facebook, as evil as it is, works for me. I eliminate misogyny there by yelling at or deleting (or both lol) "friends" who post dumb sexist, racist shit. Sadly all I can do is mock the occassional sexist ad that pops up on my profile page. And 2. The construction of "pink and girly" is grounded in white and middle class consumer feminism. No thanks.

In many respects, white middle-class consumer feminism has about as much in common with sports-watching male jocks as it does with anti-racist feminism.