The Soapbox: Oh Please, Pinterest Isn’t “Killing” Feminism
My name is Amelia. I am a feminist. I also have a Pinterest account. If a recent lengthy piece on Buzzfeed (wait, Buzzfeed does “lengthy”?) is to be believed, these two things are antithetical. According to Amy Odell, the editor over at Buzzfeed’s lifestyle vertical, Shift, Pinterest is “killing feminism.” So, as a feminist who uses Pinterest, I’m, like, killing some part of myself, I guess?
Odell’s thesis is based on the fact that Pinterest’s 23 million users are overwhelmingly female (60 percent) and that they use it to curate “retrograde, materialistic content,” like “recipes, home decor, and fitness and fashion tips,” which Odell claims are staples of women’s magazines that the Internet was “supposed to help overcome.” Odell also derides the fact that Pinterest users don’t go there to read articles, which I find kind of hilarious coming from someone employed by a website that is dominated by photos and funny captions, her lengthy screed notwithstanding. Odell says websites like Jezebel, Feministing, and The Hairpin are examples of places on the internet where women “can find smarter, meatier reads just for them,” but is clearly disappointed (and even surprised) that their existence hasn’t done away with the female desire to “scrapbook every imaginable physical aspect of their dream lives.”
Call me crazy, but I don’t see what the fucking problem is.
The great thing about the web is the ways in which it has made it easier to indulge in a variety of interests. Newsflash: I love reading “meaty” articles. I also happen to love cooking, and clothes, and sometimes making friendship bracelets while I watch TV because I’m ADD, and figuring out how to trim my own bangs. Just because I could spend every waking spare moment reading “meaty articles” doesn’t mean I want to. Fuck yes, sometimes I want to virtually window-shop at Madewell and pin dresses I like. Sometimes I want to spend 15 minutes drooling over mac ‘n’ cheese recipes I could make this weekend. Sometimes I’m in the mood to consider a hairdo change and need ideas. A website like Pinterest — which Odell insists on unfairly comparing to blogs, for some reason, as if the two can’t coexist happily and separately — makes it easier to catalog and organize those things which would either clutter up my bookmark bar or get lost in my overly stuffed brain.
The real problem here is that Odell thinks these interests are silly or somehow “bad” because they are, in her view, “retrograde and materialistic.” First of all, if Odell had eaten the pork chop I made last night — the recipe for which I found via Pinterest and cooked for myself, because I am single and happy, you guys — she would maybe sing a different tune. But I also find this sentiment insanely hypocritical. I hate to get personal, but Odell was previously employed at NYMag.com’s blog The Cut, which, during her time there, focused solely on fashion. The thing is, I, unlike Odell, don’t actually see the point of comparing the original, sometimes “meaty,” content found on blogs like Jezebel or The Cut with the content curated by users on Pinterest which link out to other sites. In many ways, it’s no different than posting links on Facebook or Twitter, only the experience on Pinterest is more visual and, yeah, looks pretty. Is it somehow anti-feminist to like something visually pleasing now? Do I lose real feminist points for every throw pillow I have on my bed?
Odell also takes aim at more specific trends in the content curated by users on Pinterest, specifically the number of “diet” recipes, fitness tips, and images featuring thin models. I quite agree with her that there is more than enough diet and exercise content in print and on the web and have actively been hesitant to tread into those areas on The Frisky because I don’t want the site to add to the chorus of voices telling women they’re not good enough. But ultimately, Pinterest does not create its own content, its users do. If you’re a user who is looking to get in shape, to train for a marathon, to start cooking gluten-free for health reasons, whatever, Pinterest is a fantastically easy to use tool for cataloging the information you think can help you reach those goals. Ultimately, your experience with Pinterest is dependent on how you use it (what links/photos/articles you “pin”), what other users and boards you follow, and what content you seek out via search or the different categories. As a result, 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.
Odell, however, clearly is not a Pinterest user and neither is the sole person she interviewed for the article, Anna Holmes, the former editor-in-chief of Jezebel. Holmes seems to have a much better grasp on Pinterest’s appeal, however, and likens pinning articles to dog-earing a magazine article — the difference being, of course, that other users can see what you’ve pinned, while the marked page of your magazine is just for you. “You see these things on people’s Facebook [pages] about this ‘6 mile run I just took,'” she says. This, by the way, is the second of only two references made to Facebook, another popular performative social networking platform you might have heard of. The other Odell uses in reference to Pinterest’s potential to drive traffic. “The announcement of one’s lifestyle choices become a way of bragging.” While Holmes has a point, this bragging behavior is certainly not exclusive to Pinterest. It happens on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, everywhere that users create content for others to view and ingest in some way. From what I can tell, Pinterest’s biggest sin in Odell’s eyes is that it’s mostly used by women and in ways she has decided, based on a cursory glance at the site — as a viewer not a user, mind you — that she doesn’t approve of.
Well, too fucking bad.