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Is Pinterest Really a Girls-Only Club? And Who Cares if It Is?

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By India Kushner on August 24, 2012


Pinterest: Home and Garden Magazine lite, or is there more to it?

In “Pinned Down,” Bitch Media’s Tammy Oler explores how Pinterest is targeting women, alienating men and the effect the site is having on both genders.

Though Pinterest launched in March 2010, the media really began to catch on this past February. Right from the start, the stories centered on the female group of Pinterest users. Later that month, the site hit 10 million viewers. Mashable said, “Pinterest’s female audience is changing social marketing,” and Time’s Techland released an article called “Men Are From Google+, Women Are From Pinterest,” which showed that the majority of Pinterest users (and also its key demographic) are, in fact, women.

Here are some statistics:

• “Cofounders Ben Silbermann, Evan Sharp, and Paul Sciarra launched Pinterest in closed beta in March 2010; according to ComScore, the site took just nine months to grow from 50,000 to 17.8 million unique visitors.”

• Facebook took 16 months, Twitter 22 and Tumblr 30 to get to the same level of growth.

• From 1 percent of all social-media-driven revenue in the second quarter of 2011, this rose later that year to 17 percent.

• Finally, in May of this year alone, it raised 1.5 billion dollars.

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So on one side, you have the idea that the extraordinary growth stands out, not just because of the sudden increase, but because “its growth has been fueled by women — in particular, women who aren’t commonly viewed as savvy, tech enthusiasts.”

Out of all the sites in the Internetdome, this one has created a phenomenon. A feminine phenomenon.

• With boards about fashion, home, DIY projects, and food, it’s easy to understand why at first glance, many people dismiss the site as just for women.

• In general, women seem to make up the users. In Spring 2012, about 70 to 80 percent of Pinterest users were women, according to many blogs and publications.

On the other side, Oler argues that this is not new: Women dominate social media across the board.

• More women exist in terms of social networking, they drive more online sales, play more games online and use more mobile devices.

• “If, as the growing body of research indicates, women now rule the Internet, why is Pinterest considered such a novelty?”

When compared with other social networking sites, it is, as Oler notes, stereotypically girly. From the lighter colors used for the site, to the “about” section, which urges users to “plan their weddings, decorate their homes, and organize their favorite recipes,” it’s true, Pinterest is very traditionally feminine.

But is there anything wrong with this? If that’s exactly what you’re looking for, then no, of course not.

But, if you’re looking for a way to unite men and women under one pin-happy tent, then what the site is doing might drive many men away — possibly to “manly” versions of Pinterest such as Manteresting and Dudepins, with slogans like “Man up. Sign up. Pin up.” (Pornterest goes even further.)

Is it the media’s job to tell men that looking at “girly” sites won’t ruin their manhood, or is it Pinterest’s job to make itself more applicable to both genders?

While it’s true that the fault lies in the media, I really don’t think it’s that easy. We can blame the media and just give in to the stereotypes or rise above it — and this is what both Pinterest and its users need to do.

After reading this article, I looked at Pinterest again. At first glance, the home page is certainly feminine, but not overly girly. Yes, the range of topics seem to veer towards mostly women’s interests. But does that mean that only women can use the site? No. There are still categories that can apply to men too, from Men’s Fashion (pretty direct) to Technology, Travel and Architecture.

Some call the site sexist. At ForbesWoman, Victoria Pynchon argues that “it frames women’s interests within tight gender boundaries.”

Petula Dvorak at The Washington Post even goes so far as to call it “digital crack for women,” asking if it’s a “healthy thing for grown women to be spending time compiling a virtual hope chest.”

Oler sums up her opinion by explaining that social media can be a blessing because these sites can make it more difficult for marketers and media companies to tell the difference between catagories like gender, age and ethnicity, and this ultimately is freeing for us because it will “help us escape our ‘demographic boxes.'”

But, she goes on to say, we’re not at that point yet. With gendered sites, it reduced the point of social networking sites to, “is this for women or men?” What needs to change, she goes on to explain, is “the conversation about women and the web … to ensure that marketers and media companies don’t pin us down based on misplaced assumptions about our interests and online behaviors.”

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What’s interesting is how people around the world use Pinterest. Visual.ly notes that while Pinterest has 12 million users in the U.S., in the U.K. it only has 200,000 users. The most intriguing is the gender differences. In the US, 83% of users are female, while 17% are male. However, in the U.K., 44% are female users while 56% are male. Pinterest is also used for completely different interests in the U.K. In the US, the interests include crafts, interior design, and blogging resources and services. In the UK, blogging resources and services are an interests as well but so are venture capital, seo and marketing, PR, and web stats and analytics.

What needs to happen is a meeting in the middle. Pinterest in the U.S. needs to find ways to pull in more male users. There are gender-neutral ways of doing this. It doesn’t suddenly need to have pictures of naked ladies and tips on picking up women (Extreme measures–I know that’s not all guys are interested in, I promise). Maybe by having less about weddings and more topics and pictures that apply to both men and women.

But for the users, I think that the lesson learned here is that it’s not what the website is, it’s how you use it.

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Main image via MRBECK

India Kushner is a HyperVocal staff writer. Follow her on Twitter here.

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