If You Believe Pinterest Is Killing Feminism, Then You Must Also Believe That Women Are Killing Feminism
10:30 am, October 4th | by Terri Ciccone
As a social media manager, I can’t applaud the inventors of Pinterest enough. I’ve seen it double traffic to websites, I’ve seen it bring different audiences and users to a brand, and I’ve seen other successful sites mimick its design. As a woman, however, I have a few issues with the platform. On Buzzfeed this week, writer Amy Odell wrote an article titled “How Pinterest is Killing Feminism.” She made the argument that the site is “the Mormon housewife’s image bookmarking service of choice,” and a place for the predominantly female-driven audience to scrapbook their “dream lives,” complete with DIY mason jar candle holders, inspirational quotes, Victoria’s Secret models, diet recipes and tiny food. She argues that the internet was invented, so to speak, to create less shallow and more intelligent content for women, as seen on sites like Jezebel, The Hairpin, and Feministing (and The Jane Dough!).
Pinterest’s design, a bulletin-board-like collage of images, is being picked up by a lot of sites. Why? Because it works. In an article on CNET.com, the author cites websites like the travel site Trippy.com, which went from a single, linear function with a limited user experience to a new, Pinterest-like design with a strong image component. It effectively “[moved the site] up the funnel to an inspirational browsing experience,” said J.R. Johnson, the CEO of Trippy. Even Myspace is being revamped with a strong emphasis on images. In my experience as a social media manager at different websites, I have noticed that regardless of the headline, the story with the prettier, larger picture will get the most likes on Facebook. This is a phenomenon that transcends Pinterest, and transcends gender.
Now, when I see a friend post an image to Pinterest of a perfectly toned (or…perfectly Photoshopped?) woman’s bottom in booty shorts and sneakers over the caption “Someone busier than you is running right now,” or “When I run I don’t feel like crying anymore” I do find it highly annoying. I once took to Facebook to express my displeasure, and I received some encouragement my friends. But one person brought up an interesting point: isn’t Pinterest all user-generated content? If women are selecting and supporting the content that gets pinned and re-pinned, and if you subscribe to to Odell’s argument, then Pinterest isn’t killing feminism — women are.
While I am a devout follower of many intelligent feminist sites, I am in fact “guilty” of seeking recipes on Pinterest or searching for style tips. Does this make me a “Mormon scrapbooker?” I hope not. I do notice, for example, the popularity of unhealthy exercise tips on the site, and Odell also mentions in her article that harmful ”thinspo” content, (short for “thinspiration,” or promotion of anorexia) was banned from the platform in March of this year. But my question is, how did it get there and become so popular in the first place? Pinterest didn’t put it there; it’s not a monolith. Women did.
Odell’s piece also quotes smart women arguing that Pinterest isn’t just for women hoping to achieve perfection, and many of them have great points. And really, is it such a terrible thing for women to have a place to enjoy these types of activities? Is it a crime to re-pin a recipe that could be a good lunch to bring to work? If I read Jezebel, do I suddenly morph into a 50’s housewife because I re-pinned a video about “How to Create the Perfect Cat Eye?” In order to buy into her thesis, you have to assume that all female Pinterest users are one dimensional and easily led, which doesn’t exactly seem like a powerful feminist argument to me.
Pinterest is addictive in part because of the the “Oooh, pretty!” factor, no question. But I believe that women are also attracted to Pinterest not because they want to find the perfect fireplace tchotchkes, but because they enjoy the design innovation, and interacting with the platform is simply attractive and fun. In a day in which some of us (ahem!) are inundated with spreadsheets, memos and meetings, at the end of the day it feels good to have some visual stimulation and engage with big, bright photos. It’s important to remember that if we don’t like something we see on Pinterest, we should remember that it was put there by a fellow user. It isn’t bombarding us like a bilboard or an ad in the subway; women are curating their own experience on the site. They’re not victims; they’re actors. And that’s a positive thing.