The Ups and Downs of Being a Feminist on Pinterest

by Jarrah Hodge

Confession: I’m a feminist and I’m on Pinterest.

I thought it was time for me to weigh in on the discussion that’s been going on about feminism and Pinterest. A BuzzFeed article that was making the rounds back in October argued that Pinterest was “killing feminism”, saying:

“Pinterest’s user-generated content, which overwhelmingly emphasizes recipes, home decor, and fitness and fashion tips, feels like a reminder that women still seek out the retrograde, materialistic content that women’s magazines have been hawking for decades — and that the internet was supposed to help overcome.”

Amelia McDonell-Parry at The Frisky was one of several feminists who called the BuzzFeed post an overreaction:

“How users experience Pinterest varies from person to person. I, for one, rarely see a diet recipe or a fitness tip come across my dashboard, because I don’t pin that type of content and I don’t seem to follow users that do. But I don’t knock users that do; what’s wrong with wanting to get in shape, lose weight, and eat healthy? Is there something explicitly anti-feminist about that and thus anti-feminist about a platform that allows users to link to that type of content? Give me a break.”

I think it’s fair to recognize, as Terri Ciccone at the Jane Dough does, that there is problematic content on Pinterest, but that “Pinterest didn’t put it there; it’s not a monolith. Women did.”

It’s important to look at what’s on Pinterest because it can tell us something about what its users (60% women, although some estimates go as high as 79%) are looking at and sharing online. We can talk about the potentially problematic messages being shared just like we do with Facebook pages, Twitter hashtags, and Tumblr posts, by looking at what it means that so many people participate in spreading those messages. But we also need the perspective of recognizing that Pinterest is only part of many users’ social media engagement, so looking at it probably doesn’t give us quite the whole story.

So I’ve been on Pinterest now for 8 months and I wanted to talk about what I see as the potential ups and downs are for feminists on Pinterest. When you add my craft and recipe boards to the tens of millions of other Pinterest users out there, does it start to seem to an average user that women are more interested in traditionally feminine pursuits than, say, politics or the pursuit of equality? It might, and that’s something worth discussing. Are there ways to make Pinterest more of a feminist tool? I want to talk about that, too. If you’re a feminist already on Pinterest, let me know if you agree, disagree, or have anything to add.  

But first, here are some stats, courtesy of an episode of one of my favourite podcasts, Stuff Mom Never Told You:

- US unique monthly visitors: 20.4 million (as of July 2012)

- Monthly pageviews: 1.9 billion (worldwide)

- Average time spent on site: 15 minutes

- Investment income: $238 million

- Top pin categories: 

  1. Jewellery/luxury/accessories
  2. Flowers/gifts/greetings
  3. Fragrances/cosmetics
  4. Food
  5. E-Cards

Aaaannd, with this context, back to the analysis. Let’s start with the down sides.

Downs:

  1. Pinterest is ultimately a business. Although at this point there’s no advertising other than pins by corporations and organizations, or seeing your friends sharing things they’d like to buy, Pinterest is ultimately there to make money. The reason it’s attracted so much investment income is that it’s been incredibly successful attracting users to buying products that they see pictures of. In February it was revealed that Pinterest was making money replacing users’ links with affiliate links, which give kickbacks to the site owner when a user kicks on them. Pinterest at minimum needs more disclosure on this kind of thing, and we as users need to be aware that there is a business entity involved in our interactions so we don’t fall into a trap of thinking using Pinterest is the same as having your friend tell you over the phone about this great movie she just saw or coat she just bought.
  2. Thinspiration posts are still a problem. In March Pinterest said they’d ban thinspiration and pro-anorexia posts, after the site’s visual nature made it a magnet for those communities. Pinterest’s policy says they will ban any post that creates: “creates a risk of harm, loss, physical or mental injury, emotional distress, death, disability, disfigurement, or physical or mental illness to yourself, to any other person, or to any animal” but as the picture at right shows, it’s hard for them to catch every post and it gets through.
  3. The aspirational images mirror social inequalities. As Cristen and Caroline point out in the Stuff Mom Never Told You podcast, a good part of Pinterest is aspirational. Many of the boards are images of users’ dream weddings, dream travel, dream fashion, dream homes, etc. Knowing that 79% of users are white and almost 30% have annual household incomes over $100,000, it does make me question how much is harmless fantasy and how much is false consciousness. At any rate, the images of aspiration that I see getting shared around are reflective of how success is defined in our society: through stereotypical ideals of beauty and conspicuous consumption.

Screenshot from a search for “Feminism” on Pinterest

Ups: 

  1. It’s not just weddings and dieting. On Pinterest you can find and follow boards on topics that interest you, whether those are typically feminine subjects or not. There are boards by women about women in STEM fields, about trucks, about football, about pirates, about parrots, about carrots, about ferrets, about barrettes. You can follow only certain boards or everything by certain users. That means you can basically determine how much content of each type you want to view in your feed when you login. If you want lots of pins from those top five categories SMNTY talked about, awesome! But if you can’t get into looking at pictures of jewellery it’s not hard to unfollow those boards and find other stuff that will interest you.
  2. Pinterest is relatively troll-free. While there are certainly sexist and anti-feminist posts on Pinterest (one Tumblr site has collected some examples), they probably won’t show up in your feed unless you’re following those users. A search for “feminism” on Tumblr will get you about a 60/40 mix of pro and anti-feminist posts, but a search for “feminism” on Pinterest will actually turn up mostly positive posts (as shown in the screen-cap above). Maybe the misogynist trolls are spending all their time on YouTube and Tumblr and Facebook and Twitter and don’t have time for another platform, or maybe they’re too worried about seeming “feminine” to start Pinterest accounts. But whatever the reason, I’ve found my feminist content on Pinterest to be more respected than on other social networking sites.
  3. People and groups are using it to educate on social issues and promote feminism and social justice. One of the first things I noticed using Pinterest was that one of the Gender Focus contributors, Sarah Jensen, was using one of her boards to catalogue “Photoshop Disasters” to show just how big a problem photoshopping women into an unattainable beauty ideal is in advertising and magazines. With Sarah and another feminist I knew from Twitter, Opinioness of the World, I started a group board called “Sexist Advertising” that collects examples of both retro and modern sexist ads. Groups like GLAAD pin inspiring images and and messages in support of LGBT equality. The visual nature of Pinterest makes it ideal for collecting and sharing infographics, images of protest signs, political cartoons, and meme-type graphics that show a single image and quote. All of this can be used in cool ways, and here are some of my favourite examples.

My Favourite Feminist Boards:

Shot from Feminism: Intersectionality

  1. Feminism: Intersectionality by Annie Hayford. Annie’s board is one I re-pin off of a lot. There’s a lot there to inspire us as feminists, remind us what we have to be angry about, and not to let us forget that we have more than just straight, cis, white women’s struggles to fight. Honourable mention has to go to another great intersectionality board by Leah Jane Grantham, The “I” in Intersectionality.
  2. Pointlessly Gendered Products by Sociological Images. Sociological Images has tons of great Pinterest boards (I also recommend “Imperialism, (Post-) Colonialism and Slavery”) but this is one of my favourites that I think does a great job demonstrating how gendered marketing works and why it doesn’t usually make sense. Learn about “beer for women” and “Man Glaze” nail polish as well as more popular examples like the Honda Fit “She”.
  3. A couple of Sociological Images’ “Pointlessly Gendered Products”

    Ladies Doing Stuff  by The Mary Sue. Geek Girl Blog The Mary Sue has put together this board of women doing really cool things. Includes the world’s oldest woman Facebook user (age 101), teen science-fair winners, athletes, and activists.

  4. Women’s Filmmaking by Bitch Flicks. Bitch Flicks is a great website devoted to reviewing movies through a feminist lens. It makes total sense that one of the things they’d use Pinterest for would be to promote women’s filmmaking.
  5. Feminism by Sarah Jensen. I mentioned Sarah’s “Photoshop Disasters” board but she also has a general feminism board, as well as ones on suffragette history and Rosie the Riveter.
  6. Messages of Equality by GLAAD. I wish GLAAD was a little more interactive on Pinterest but they still deserve props for distributing effective inspiring messages on the platform.
  7. #NotBuyingIt by Miss Representation is part of a campaign the group is doing to call out sexist advertisers and sexist products online and to rally consumers together to put financial pressure on those companies.
  8. Anti-Racism by Nicole G-O. As I mentioned, there’s a serious racial imbalance on Pinterest, but it can be used to advocate anti-racism, as Nicole does here (you also might want to check out YWCA USA’s “Racial Justice” board). It doesn’t seem like this board is getting updated much anymore but what Nicole put together is worth checking out.

Those are just a few examples of cool boards by users I follow and I know there are many more people doing neat, progressive things on Pinterest. I hope you’ll share your favourites below.

 

Posted on by Jarrah Hodge in Feminism, Pop Culture 21 Comments

About the author

Jarrah Hodge

Jarrah Hodge is the founder and editor of gender-focus.com. She has also written for the Huffington Post, Bitch Magazine Blogs, the Vancouver Observer and About-Face. Jarrah has B.A. in Women’s Studies and Sociology from UBC. She’s a fan of politics, Star Trek, musical theatre, and brunch.

21 Responses to The Ups and Downs of Being a Feminist on Pinterest

  1. Summer P

    Well, why can’t I be a feminist who pursues traditionally feminine interests? Is there something wrong with traditionally feminine interests? I pin recipes because I eat. I pin clothes because I wear them. I pin tips for the home because I live in one. I want everyone to have the right to choose their occupation and be paid equally for it, dress and act the way they want to without being tied down by defined gender roles, express sexuality (or not)as they choose, marry the person they want to spend the rest of their lives with, and so forth. That’s a feminist. From those unlimited options, I chose some that are closely associated with mainstream women. That doesn’t make me any less feminist than women who don’t like eyeshadow or knitting.

     
  2. jarrahpenguin

    Hey Summer,

    Absolutely! You’ll see I mentioned that I also pin recipes and crafting and I have a board of pretty purple things. There’s nothing wrong with that. Just wanted to say thought that feminists who aren’t into girly things shouldn’t feel like there’s not a space for them – you can choose on Pinterest to follow whatever you want!

     
  3. advictim

    I am glad that Pinterest is so appealing to women, who are not usually much in to feminism, because I can get a message to them using it – feminism is there for you, it is not a scary ideology aimed to get rid of men. I pin food, ideas for my kid activities and inspirational women – and I hope I will inspire someone to bake a great cake in the evening and build a better computer next day.

     
  4. Alurus Ondersan

    I’m a feminist and I love Pinterest. I don’t really care what anybody thinks of what I pin. Sometimes it’s mostly about politics, inequality, and other serious subjects. Sometimes sex, food, books, and drink recipes. I like crafts and art and kittens and jewelry. I have infinite permission to be who I am because I’m a feminist. I run into the occasional troll, but they aren’t as prevalent on Pinterest as they are on other social media, it’s true. Come see my feminist board “For Women and Girls” sometime. I think you’ll like it.

     
  5. Cheyanna Shypitka

    I feel a strong love/hate with Pinterest. You do see what you what, and I’m glad for that, but one aspect commonly overlooked is the religious angle. There are some stellar atheist pinboards out there, but when you try to follow the links you see that the boards have been reported by the majority Christian right wing members and the links are blocked for “offensive content”. The only offence being “not Christian”.

     
    • jarrahpenguin

      Wow – that’s really interesting and unfortunate! I’m going to look into that more for sure.

       
  6. mskitsch

    Great article! Count me in as another Feminist On Pinterest (FOP? I can live with that!).

    I’d like to add a shout-out to the many excellent body acceptance boards out there. For me, Pinteret offers an essential, and at times quite radical, alternative to the narrow range of bodies depicted as “acceptable” or “attractive” in mainstream media. As a fat, queer woman, this makes me very happy.

     
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  8. Rebecca

    One of the things I enjoy about Pinterest is that it can be completely frivolous. I do social justice work in the real world, and it’s nice to have a place that can be–at least on the surface–pretty apolitical. For me, there’s an element of self-care in spending some time looking at photos of painting techniques or picking up new recipes. By calling out anything “domestic” as anti-feminist, we’re sending the message that someone needs to be doing overtly feminist things all of the time or else they’re working against the cause. And who is that serving?

     
  9. ragingaddgirl

    I <3 pinterest… at first it angered me because of all of the diet and 'thinspiration' stuff but I decided that the best way to combat that was to keep pinning healthier images. Thank you for giving me a few more boards to follow so I can repin the good stuff to combat the bad. I decided to fight it from the inside!!

     
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  11. karma

    So, I guess I’m not a feminist because I like crafts and shoes and cupcakes and I don’t pin political things and don’t use every social media outlet as a platform to promote feminism or other aspects of my liberal thinking. I actually like Pinterest for that reason exactly. It’s an escape from all the political and social issues I follow on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. Plus I think it’s awfully unfeminist to be so judgmental and narrow about what constitutes feminism…different people define and live it in different ways. It is likely this sort of narrow mindedness that can make feminism look so unappealing.

     
    • jarrahpenguin

      Hi Karma,

      Thanks for your comment. Sorry if you misunderstood what I was trying to say, which was not that someone isn’t a feminist who likes feminine activities or embraces a feminine identity. In fact, I put in there that we have to recognize for most users Pinterest is only part of their social media engagement and only a small part of their identities as a whole. I pin crafts and shoes and cupcakes too and there’s nothing un-feminist about that. You’re right that individuals live feminism differently and we definitely shouldn’t be using individual users’ pins as a litmus test for determining feminism (unless, I guess, they’re posting obviously sexist things). All I’m trying to say is that there are opportunities to make it more political and explicitly feminist if one chooses and I thought it was cool how some people were doing that. If you don’t want to take those activities up on Pinterest, that’s totally up to you.

       
  12. Carriann Frye

    I love this article and will look up the boards and pinners you mentioned once I get to a computer. I am a proud feminist and I love decorating tips, recipes and crafts. I have boards specifically for those things as well as ‘traditional’ feminist boards. I recently started a board specifically for the #exposeCPC campaign. Please look me up and check it out! Thanks so much for sharing these boards!

     
  13. wildflower

    I’m a vegan, feminist female interested in everything under the sun: animal rights, feminism, environmentalism, nature, travel, illustration art, books, music, interior design, food, exercise, photography, makeup, fashion and the list goes on… On Pinterest I follow people with similar interests, and this is what appears in my “home feed”. Pinterest is a constantly growing collection of images, it’s not anti- or pro anything. YOU choose what you “like” “pin” or “repin”, who/what boards you want to follow, and so you have a great influence on what is visible to YOU. I love Pinterest because of this – I don’t see how it’s killing feminism (as stated in that Buzzfeed article). If anything, it presents us with a choice- and that’s good, right? I also don’t see how passion for cooking, health or exercise contradicts feminist values. Everything can be abused or distorted, but there is no necessary link, in my opinion.

     
  14. Lisa

    Don’t these articles drive you mad? Thought this one of the good ones though! Yeah, so what if I like cooking, interiors and want to lose weight. I’m curious as to why that makes our board choices less interesting. Pinterest doesn’t reflect everything about us. It doesn’t tell how as a 16 old girl (in 1983) I had to fight for a career in electronic engineering at a time when I was the only girl in class at college. It doesn’t show how I later built a business in furniture manufacturing (another male dominated industry). But it does help me store my recipes, interior images (that are useful for my furniture business)and the other stuff that could be deemed retrograde, materialist content. It doesn’t show how often I share the recipes or the health, DIY, skin and natural hair care pins with male friends. I’m still wondering if these articles say more about women judging other women and not about the women whose posts are being judged. We rarely know enough about them from their boards to know if they are feminists or not. Most of my reading on politics, ethical and environmental stuff is off line so not reflected on my boards.

     
    • jarrahpenguin

      Hey Lisa,

      Thanks for the comment. I totally agree that you can’t tell from someone’s boards whether or not they’re a feminist. As I said, it’s important to recognize that Pinterest is only part of someone’s online engagement. It doesn’t represent the whole of what they’re interested in. I probably spend as much or more time pinning recipes, cat pictures, and random geek-related things as I do pinning things that are explicitly feminist.

      What I wanted to do was recognize ways people have used Pinterest for activism and also point out because of the way it’s structured, it’s cool that you can really choose to follow the topics you want – whether that’s cooking or computer science.

       
  15. Kelsey

    Loved this article! Thanks!

     
  16. Kmarie

    I’m glad you focused on sharing some of your favorite progressive, feminist Pinners and boards–because there really are a lot of them out there; Pinterest is what you make it. Some I recommend:

    Women Employed (http://www.pinterest.com/womenemployed/) – 40-year-old, Chicago-based advocacy nonprofit that fights to expand educational and employment opportunities to improve women’s economic status

    YWCA (http://www.pinterest.com/ywcausa/)- The YWCA is a prolific pinner of all kinds of empowering content

    NIU Women’s Studies (http://www.pinterest.com/niuwoms/) – A well-chosen, broad range of feminist boards Pinned by an academic department

     
    • Jarrah Hodge

      Thanks for sharing your recommendations! I look forward to checking them out.

       
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