The Pinterest Problem

Recently, Pinterest, the newest billion-dollar social network, has been overwhelmingly characterized by online journalists and bloggers as a women-centered social media platform. While there have been discussions, most notably by Johanna Blakely, which suggest that social media neutralizes gender when it comes to marketing demographics, some of us, like my friend Goddessjaz, still wonder if/how social media can function to ameliorate social and cultural problems stemming from sexism and gender stereotypes. As Pinterest’s value reaches $1 billion, women–who account for the majority of social media users and brand consumers–will most likely be targeted more by advertisers the more the platform’s influence spreads.

It’s generally accepted that Pinterest promotes consumerism and advertising, as evidenced by countless images from retailers and publishers (most notably women’s magazines). Aside from the platform itself, Pinterest users play a primary role in how content is curated across the platform. Some users promote controversial (non)eating habits (see also Kate Moss’ hotly debated ‘Skinny’ poster) and body/beauty ideals through pinning and re-pinning images. On the other hand, users also celebrate women’s bodies (particularly those of women of color) through what I call erotic curation on Pinterest. There also seems to be a growing community of users pinning and re-pinning images that highlight transgender issues and experiences. So while Pinterest might very well be categorized as a contentious online space for pervasive advertising and “otherizing” types of bodies and experiences, it might also serve as a mainstream platform to highlight our faces, bodies and stories.

Some critics have convincingly argued that the recent $1 billion venture capital announcement may in fact place Pinterest at the center of the next tech bubble. Yet, regardless of speculation, Pinterest, as we know it today, can greatly influence the way we communicate, socialize and organize using visual imagery.

Being that we (our bodies, our ideas, our hobbies, our dreams) drive Pinterest, it behooves us to seek out ways to use this platform to enhance our work in improving the lives of cis/women, girls and our allies. That said, however, meaningful content on Pinterest does exist, such as boards that feature topics on feminism, LGBTQ, domestic violence preventionrape culture awareness, and my personal favorite (although terribly scanty) Gloria Anzaldua. But how might sharing and curating these images via social networks benefit our activism work and civic engagement online and offline?  In other words, how can we make Pinterest work for us?

Educators, activists and researchers may want to consider the following questions:

1. How can we use Pinterest as a media literacy tool to combat sexism and gender stereotypes in order to ‘trouble the familiar’, so to speak? (For practical ways of using Pinterest for media literacy education, see Media Make Change.)
2. How can we use Pinterest to organize around issues and disseminate messages using visual imagery?
3. How might the process of curating images on Pinterest work as a method for investigating the ways in which bodies are “marked'”in online social spaces?

Perhaps another important question to consider is whether or not Pinterest is even worth our time. I want to believe so. As an educator, media-maker and scholar, I find it terribly difficult to work towards transformative institutional change without having the necessary tools at my disposal. So here we may have a useful tool in Pinterest. Considering that Pinterest (along with the newly publicly traded multi-billion-dollar social network, Facebook) is here to stay, at least for now, why not use the platform to expand the reach of our projects in ways that benefit our community interests?

I recognize the irony of this query, particularly as it concerns the idea of contributing to platforms that have histories of questionable privacy and “rights to content” practices. Nonetheless, the idea of involving our work within the Pinterest platform as a means to address problems that face its primary users is something we might want to consider with thoughtfulness and care–even if it means choosing not to engage with the platform altogether.

 Photo by Flickr user hydropeek under license from Creative Commons 2.0


  1. I think this board of ours is exactly what you are talking about.

  2. I pinned this page on my feminism/activist/general-politics-that-get-me-riled-up board for all of my fellow pinterest activists to see 🙂

  3. I am artist who frequently explores feminist issues in my narrative sculpture. I had looked a Pinterest a few times, but could see no reason to get involved. I thought it would be a waste of time.

    Thank you for this blog post. You’ve given me a new perspective. I will take a look again.

    • Tara L. Conley says:

      Thanks for sharing, Barbara. I initially didn’t see a purpose for Pinterest in activism/civic engagement. However, after writing this article and receiving a great deal of responses from feminists and activists who are sharing links to some great conscious content on Pinterest, I find that this could be a transformative space. That said, I’m still working my way through Pinterest. I hope the platform proves useful for your work. See Reel Grrls’ board, for example:

  4. We pin images having to do with women and progressive, pro-choice politics all the time. We even feature campaigns to get Johnson & Johnson to drop support for ALEC. So come on by and catch up with us — we’re launching a surprise for Pinterest followers that involves cool women running for office very, very soon!

    The MOMocrats
    (If you’ve got a mom, you’re a MOMocrat.)

  5. Whitney says:

    I found this site and this article has inspired me to make a Feminism board. I can’t believe I hadn’t thought of it before.

  6. We’ve just joined up to Pinterest to share ideas and resources for domestic violence workers, survivors and advocates, as well as promote other (mainly, but not all) feminist non-profits and ally organisations.

    Will be checking back here for more boards to follow, thanks for this post!

    Jen from DVRCV

  7. I have a board on Pinterest called “This is what a feminist looks like”:

  8. I’ve been on Pinterest for about a year now and I was extremely conflicted when I first started using it because there were lots of Pro-Ana websites that were being shared as “Thinspo” pins. After receiving an incredibly unhelpful and insensitive response when I complained about how this type of content could be harmful, I decided that I should share a different kind of female voice that was lacking on the site, instead of just refusing to use it.

    My board, Be More FEMINIST, is what I use to share all of my favorite activist, pro-woman websites. It’s my most popular board and I’ve connected with lots of different feminists because of it! It’s also helped me get more readers for my own feminist blog, CalistaJones. And, the company finally decided to start regulating harmful content attached to pro-eating disorder sites so they are evolving with more pressure!

  9. GREAT post! I love that you’re solutions oriented. Drawing awareness to a problem is always the first step; I think until specific solutions are proposed, however, it’s easy for that issue to quickly become passé or in and of itself a stereotype (much the way Occupy Wall Street has become the butt of jokes). I always loved when Jezebel or other feminist sites would post images of pre-airbrushed magazine covers but it was really fantastic when Britain actually starting passing laws against air-brushing to that degree. again, many thanks for such a great post!

  10. I’m doing my part to combat the gender essentialist, het-centric, Christian Supremacist, pro-ana bullshit infiltrating Pinterest with my board here:

  11. I’ve got loads of feminist boards:

    We are out there!

  12. I believe like any other social media outlet, Pinterest can be used for good (education, awareness, culture) or bad (consumerism, sexism, body image issues). I personally love Pinterest because it allows me to connect to other feminists, Pagans, and gender studies folks. I also love that I get ideas for parenting crafts and the like for my special needs son. However, I am aware of the consumerism it drives and avoid “pinning” such nonsense.

  13. i use it as a platform for my ideas:

  14. The thing with Pinterest is that it is still up and coming (I wonder if it has as many people as Google+, anyone know?). I’m a man and I’m on pinterest, and I too have wondered about political and social-activist uses of pinterest. Still, there are some things like lack of private boards, or allowing one to pin from image searches (i.e. google images) which give the site a poor noise:signal ratio. There’s potential though, but again as a guy, when I went on I was flooded with images of “cute bracelets”, “hot guys i.e. hotties”, baked cakes, etc.

  15. I am new to Pinterest and am pleasantly surprised that its readership is primarily women with something meaningful to share with other woman. I feel a relief from Facebook and LinkedIn because I found myself tailoring my comments to avoid arguments with men who think they have all the answers. I am delighted to join and contribute my thoughts, researched opinions, advice, professional challenges and victories. . I feel like I’ve just discovered a different planet. LOL Wow, thanks Pinterest and all the women who make the site worthwhile. I design and host private retreats for women only in the tropics. Busy women need time out too!

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