What’s So “Pinteresting”?

I recently read an article on how Pinterest is “killing feminism.”  When I first discovered the article, just a couple of weeks ago, I knew immediately that I wanted to do a blog entry on it, as I’ve felt pretty strongly about the issue since Pinterest’s inception in 2010.  I’m surprised at myself as I write this post though, because my opinion has radically changed over the span of the past two weeks.  Had I written on this subject in the midst of my initial passion, I’m sure I would have regretted it later.  You see, I initially had the idea that women were being superficial in using Pinterest, and that maybe the social media outlet was giving us a bad name.  But what exactly about women loving fashion is so wrong, and how is that a threat to feminism?  Isn’t a bigger threat when we start thinking it’s okay to regulate the interests of the feminist next door?

Fashion advice, a la Pinterest.

Allow me to explain.  First, for those of my readers who are unfamiliar with Pinterest, it’s essentially a social media platform that allows users to compartmentalize their interests via online “pin boards”, to which they attach links and pictures that strike their fancy (you’re welcome, Mom and Dad).  So, for example, if I’m trying to plan my dream apartment in Seattle, I can use Pinterest to sort through pictures of awesome room décor, affordable living room furniture, you get the point.  I’ll then post them all on a “pin-board” entitled, “dream apartment” or whatever.  Pretty cool, huh?

Well, some critics would say “nay.”  According to BuzzFeed writer Amy Odell, “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.”  She further stipulates that women’s media should be informative “without overwhelming them with superficial information about diet, exercise, or clothes, or wildly aspirational images of thin, photo-shopped models wearing designer dresses and lounging in mansions.”

Is Pinterest brainwashing us?
Is Pinterest brainwashing us?

Okay, two problems.  First, Pinterest thrives on user-generated content, which means that Pinterest isn’t the anti-Christ—the users that showcase their “superficial” interests are (by that logic, anyway).  Pinterest isn’t shoving these notions of femininity, beauty, and materialism down our throats—we’re making those messages available ourselves.  Further, I find it offensive that Odell’s latter implication is that Pinterest is “overwhelming” women with these “wildly aspirational images.”  The assumption here is that, as a female user of Pinterest, I am indiscriminant in the material I “pin”, and that I’m fazed by every image of a size-zero gal, chiseled stomach, toned arms, long legs, etc.

Do I have a Pinterest?  Yes.  And I don’t use my pin boards to piece together my “dream body” or the perfect, 500-calorie-a-day diet plan (seriously, pass the bacon cheeseburger my way).  But the tree-hugger in me loves the DIY, “trash to treasure” ideas.  The movie lover in me is obsessed with the wealth of Pulp Fiction and Fight Club memes.  The dreamer in me loves the pictures of the west coast, and gives me a forum to plan for my future, cozy apartment in Seattle, Washington.  Shockingly enough, my Pinterest hasn’t served the purpose of brainwashing me into a mini-Martha Stewart minion; rather, it’s reflective of my personal interests, and gives me a cool, organized, cyber-space to put them.

Good ole June...
Good ole June…

And by the way, if I wanted to get my inner-Martha Stewart on, what the hell is fundamentally wrong with that?  If I wanted to work on my beach bod, how is that problematic?  Being a feminist doesn’t mean that I have to forgo any aspect of my femininity, even if it does align with traditional, socially prescribed gender norms.  Ladies, if you want to channel your inner-June Cleaver and bake a pie, you go Glen Coco.  If you decide to pin a motivational fitness quote, I won’t disparage you (but sister, remember that your pant-size doesn’t define you).

Granted, I think it’s ridiculous for women who don’t even have boyfriends to be pinning their “dream wedding”, all the way down to the cut and size of your engagement ring.  To me, that’s not remotely romantic, and that’s got to make the guy feel like he’s just one last box to check off.  Not cool, but I digress.  On the other hand though, for brides-to-be, Pinterest is a god-send, and a great tool to organize the fine details of the big event.  Moms will benefit from Pinterest’s 30-minute meal ideas, so they can quickly feed hungry mouths after a long day of work (whether it’s inside or outside the house).  I personally love the fashion pins—who doesn’t love a good little black dress?

Here’s the deal.  Pinterest is user-generated, meaning that the “stuff” that’s available for us to pin, we put up there ourselves.  And yes, that’s obviously reflective of our interests as the users, but just because we pin recipes, jewelry, clothing, and fitness links, doesn’t make “us”, the collective female Pinterest community, bad feminists, or guilty of destroying feminism.  (Nor is the list I just mentioned exhaustive—there are a host of social, political, and pop culture topics for users to explore.)  Yes, it’s an interactive forum for folks to organize their interests, but let’s not act like Pinterest is the source and summit of our information.  In this day and age, we’re so plugged in to social media, and Pinterest is ultimately one small facet of that.  So before we disparage Pinterest for putting feminism at risk, can we please remember that feminine is not anti-feminist, and at the end of the day, it’s just a pinboard?

20 thoughts on “What’s So “Pinteresting”?

  1. I’m a working-soccer-mom feminist who follows this blog and I want to say, right on! I have had a Pinterest account before it was all half naked models and wedding dresses (I’m an old-lady-hipster) and I have boards on feminism, roller derby, makeup, food, history, home remodeling (because I know how to use a saw and wire cutters) and things that make me laugh. If anything, it’s given me more of a sense of “I can do this myself” because it’s easy for me to find a tutorial on how to do whatever I want.


    1. Thank you, Lyndsey! I’m so glad you enjoyed it, and I appreciate your personal testament as to how Pinterest can be used for meaningful reasons–not just to pin your dream wedding or dream body (; Rock on


    2. Why self identify as hipster? It was a joke. I wa on Pinterest before it was cool. Back when an invitation meant something and you waited to receive it in your email. Better to ask why I self identify as an old lady. But that was a joke too. I’m not yet 40.


  2. Reblogged this on sarahjanelives and commented:
    Great post! I found this interesting. I also have a Pinterest. You will find next to no fashion or frills on it. That is largely because sifting through Pinterest and pinning the things you like is very much like going to the mall. You are surrounded by things that both interest and disinterest you, with a few things that might offend you or that you might be indifferent to. You pick what you like, and move on, leaving the rest behind you.

    Are your choices wrong? Nope. Are others’ choices wrong? Nope. Just different. Pinterest is what it is. It is a social platform where people find commons interests. I am puzzled that anyone could find that a threat to feminism, unless they want us to reject anything sufficiently militant and focus on what they feel to be properly feminist pursuits.

    Come to think of it, that is pretty much the attitude that gave birth to feminism in the first place, no? For me, feminism is about freedom of choice, empowerment, and the ability to enjoy our lives and make our choices without being directed down ‘acceptable’ channels.

    I certainly consider myself a feminist and I am damn proud of it. I would still think so if every piece of furniture I had was baby doll pink and covered with frills, and my own Pinterest board was nothing but catwalk stills and home design and pictures of myself in a retro kitchen dressed like June Cleaver.


    1. Thanks for your input, and for the reblog! I appreciate it (: I think that Pinterest has problems, and we can certainly be up in arms about the materialistic propaganda that’s generated on the site. But then, the larger issue is with what society, through the media, tells us is acceptable. Pinterest isn’t making these rules–they’re just a platform mirroring what we consumers value. Pinterest doesn’t suck for featuring these images, though it mirrors our potentially-shallow interests, given what we choose to pin. By that same token, you’re absolutely right–my favorite color is pink, and what does that have to do with how good of a feminist I am? Absolutely nothing. And thank you for reaffirming the true spirit of feminism. It’s not about set expectations. It’s about equality, support,and sisterhood, from June Cleaver to Jessica Alba.


  3. I love how you share your evolving perspective on the relationship between feminism and Pinterest. I’m a new user and given my interests I see very little of the cosmo-magazine content that most critics talk about. I do worry a bit that as the content on Pinterest becomes more narrowly focused on self-improvement that the range of “normal” interests may also narrow for young users. Another point of concern for me is that Pinterest is a space for identity work, not just private scrap-booking, which makes it a more political site for constructing what is valued and normal among people (mostly women).


  4. Good article. You’re right, and every time I slightly started to shake my head, you would address my objection in the next paragraph, and force it into a nod. A fantastic position piece. Keep it up!


  5. Great post and idea. However, I want to encourage feminist scholars not to get too swept up in the assumed non-hierarchical and ideology-free nature of user-generated-content (USG). The act of repinning is akin to following something that is “trending” on pinterest. You pin something someone has already pinned, and that pin is then seen by your followers, who pin it and on and on. The content we are seeing on each other’s boards is therefore a product of something beyond our untainted and unfettered selection of whatever strikes our fancy. It is, in a way, preselected. It has run the gauntlet of acceptable femininity, or acceptable protest, etc. That is not to say you can’t find “out there” stuff on pinterest, but it is to say the majority of stuff on pinterest is a product of, well, the majority–and it is imbued with the same ideological (ahem) underpinnings as any other media we consume: skinny is most desirable and something you should work for; consume!; the private sphere is still the realm of women, etc. To think pinterest is immune to these influences because it is based on USG means we are neglecting to examine how pinterest works and assigning a lot of undeserved democracy to USG.

    I also think we owe it to ourselves as feminists to confront the very popular neo-liberal notion that just because we “freely choose” something as women means whatever that choice is, it is ok. We need to think more overtly about the connection between our politics and our performances of femininity and feminism. Check out my posts on the topic:


    1. Virginia, I appreciate your comments, and thank you for touching on the other side of the equation. I agree with you that user-generated material is pre-selected, and indicative of what we value. But is it fair to blame Pinterest for conveying socially-prescribed norms for femininity, and what we should value? To me, Pinterest exposes a bigger social threat, but to vilify the social media platform is akin to “shooting the messenger”. Additionally, I understand your logic behind “the connection between our politics and our performances of femininity and feminism”, but I fear that that rationale is a slippery slope. Are we now going to prescribe certain expectations for what makes an individual a feminist? I thought feminism was about equality for women, period. I’m uncomfortable with the logic of criticizing women for their personal interests–it starts to make feminism sound exclusive. Are we to make women feel insecure about whether they’re feminist “enough” based on what they pin? Yes, the personal is political, and that’s a huge part of the equation. But to censor my interests, or to be any less “myself” in order to fit a narrowly-defined (frankly arbitrary) prescription of what a feminist should be like, runs counter to the notion that this movement–this rhetoric–embodies: liberation and empowerment. I’m curious as to how you would respond to my argument–I’m sure there’s a middle ground. I’m looking forward to enjoying your posts on the topic, and again, thank you for taking the time to comment. Looking forward to your response (:


      1. As I think through this difficult question of the political value of different feminisms one thing that has helped advance my perspective is to think about feminism as being about ending/reducing oppression – rather than being about fighting for equality. Obviously it’s both, but I find a stronger politics in thinking about how oppression operates, how to identify it, and then how to combat it. From a communication perspective on this, I am paying attention to the extent to which I believe women and others have the ability to make free and open choices — a key issue when it comes to pinning and user generated content.

        Here’s a silly example – If I’m at the big box grocery store & I look at the peanut butter options I might say, I’m choosing Jif. I like the style of the label, it suites me; I like the flavor; I think there is a good dose of protein; I’ve read the reviews on blogs and in consumer reports; and I recognize it as better than the two other options Skippy and Pete Pan. I might be protective of my choice, of my agency to make an informed decision about peanut butter (so important to a meaningful life), of my ability to assert my voice about preference and style. But, have I really made a free and open CHOICE? Well, in this light example it’s easy to see that MY choice is constrained. It is limited by the available options, by those who placed those three brands in front of me, by the lack of alternatives like MaraNatha that are organic and much lower in sugar. But, I’ve never considered this alternative because I didn’t know it existed.

        The same idea is true for more important issues like women’s perceptions of what type of work is available to them, even what counts as work. It carries over into how we think about what counts as beautiful and meaningful. FemonFire got at this issue in her discussion of Song of Solomon and the message about a narrowly defined white standard of beauty that can never be attained by women of color. It’s hard to see a range of truly diverse options under the blanket of the majority perspective.

        Like Ginna, I’m worried about the slippery slope of “any-feminism” as good feminism. I totally believe in and want feminism to be inclusive, to represent and be accessible to diverse women, to focus on intersections of difference. But, I also want a feminism maintains at it’s core a political project. That looks for oppression that is hard to see and works against it.

        So, the tough question still faces us – how do we do both? How do we allow an every changing and multifaceted feminism that can still draw a line in the sand and say “I see oppression here;” “This is not good for the general health of women;” “This dominant view of what counts as femininity is bad for women and their quest for equality” ?

        This doesn’t mean I’m ready to throw out my makeup or chop the heels off my shoes, I definitely am not going to stop admiring vintage jewelery. But, I am ready to say – these things aren’t great for feminism.


    2. Ginna – I love your blog posts on this topic. I especially connected with your description of standing over your makeup feeling conflicted about how to proceed. I recently had a similar experience and while I intended to take a work-day off from makeup I just felt like I would be too uncomfortable. I wonder how much of this is habit, vanity, fear, pressure to look young, norms, vs style. I’m sure all are at play.


      1. Ladychaotica21 and Janell: great discussion. Ladychaotica21, you make some good points, and I agree with you: Pinterest may be an opportunity for women to express themselves outside the mainstream. But I use the word “may” purposefully. For the most part, I think it does not provide this opportunity–just at the big grocery store in Janell’s example doesn’t provide a good deal of opportunity for variety. (Excellent example, btw.) Note I am not in any way “vilifying” Pinterest–I am just saying let’s not get too excited about our peanut butter “choices.” Choices are never made in a vacuum and as feminist scholars, we want to make sure we remain critical of the larger social systems at work in our lives, especially in our media.

        Ladychaotica21, you ask: “Are we now going to prescribe certain expectations for what makes an individual a feminist? I thought feminism was about equality for women, period. I’m uncomfortable with the logic of criticizing women for their personal interests–it starts to make feminism sound exclusive.” My response is, what is so wrong with expectations about what it means to be a feminist? And, in a world where Sarah Palin calls herself a feminist and the label is currently up for grabs for anyone who wants to claim it (i.e., post fem discourse along the lines of “I am a feminist and that gives me authority to say feminism is over–we’ve ‘won’ and we don’t need to talk about this stuff anymore”), maybe feminism should be more exclusive.

        Feminism is lived politics. It is hard work. It should require us to have difficult conversations and experience unease. If we are not feeling these things—if we are operating in a feminism that is more concerned with “I’m ok, your ok,” and “you do whatever you want and call it feminism,” I am not sure we are working toward the right things. Don’t get me wrong. I am all about respect for one another in feminism. I am not a perfect feminist—I struggle with this stuff everyday—and I am not looking to create one single standard of feminism to which everyone must prescribe. However, I think we can work toward a more complex definition of feminism beyond “it is about equality” that holds women more accountable for their actions, their discourse, their politics.

        In my work, I offer a definition of feminism as follows:

        1. Recognition/awareness of the lack of GOOD choices for women, free from injury, harm, insurmountable obstacles, and punishment in many social, political, or economic situations
        2. Recognition of the systematic and structured nature of this lack (it is not simply isolated to individuals, but occurs across social groups and is maintained by systemic practices)
        3. Participation in efforts to address/redress this lack via attention in part to systemic change

        Janell, this definition centralizes oppression (particularly in defining oppression as the lack of good and unfettered choices)—and I think you are right in taking this approach to considering feminism.

        This definition also moves beyond the realm of the individual and calls upon us to take political action and work toward change at the level of systems and structures. Here I am calling on feminists to engage in some action beyond the level of an anything-goes individual politics. Ladychaotica21, your comments are good ones. They are the same comments my students often make in my classes. They are very accepting of each other’s feminism and very reluctant to criticize any feminism—unless it is a feminism they see as criticizing or limiting personal practices of feminism. I ask them to dig deeper. To ask themselves what messages their practices and actions are communicating and how that aligns with their commitment to feminism. I also encourage them to welcome criticism. If they receive criticism regarding their actions and can defend their actions as supporting their feminist politics (i.e., they can render it meaningful), they’ve just participated in an incredible political, intellectual, and self-reflective exercise. But, the answer, “it’s my choice” or “who are you to criticize my feminism?” is a non-answer. Like I said, this is hard work but it is work that ensures feminism is not diluted to lip-service.

        Wow, this has become a very long comment. Perhaps we can explore this issue further in a future Shout Out post. ☺


        1. Virginia, wow. Thank you so much for your honest feedback. You’re right, feminism is hard sometimes, especially in the midst of finding my own voice–what am I willing to accept? What am I willing to challenge? Above all, though, to welcome criticism and have the tough conversations is invaluable. While in my previous comments, I expressed fear of a perceivable slippery slope, yet the same fear applies in terms of ascribing a “one size fits all” brand of feminism.

          Will this conversation make me rush to my Pinterest account to shut it down? Definitely not. As I’ve mentioned, I find it useful for compartmentalizing my interests, cool quotes, feminist interests, etc. But, this exchange serves to reinforce how the personal is political, and how what I pin is a political statement of sorts. So, no, you won’t find skinny girls or “get slim quick” schemes on my boards. But more importantly, I’ll have a more discerning eye when it comes to what I will pin. I can deliberately use this as a platform for reinforcing feminist ideals, and perhaps shed light on that figurative organic, lower sugar, alternative brand of peanut butter Janell so profoundly mentioned (:


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