Last year Amy Odell at Buzzfeed posted an article, “How Pinterest is Killing Feminism,” which spawned related articles such as this one at Feminspire. I’m going to sidestep how annoying it is that everyone wants to say feminism is dead or dying all the time. (It’s alive and well, thanks. And online. #Femfuture) The articles, however, make some pretty solid points about how much Pinterest emphasizes thinness, domesticity, and the wedding circus. I think what they miss, however, is that there’s also a great deal of self-reflexivity–Pins spoofing other pins and boards titled things that gesture toward the group fantasy of perfect homes and wardrobes. Sure, there are plenty of girls and women on Pinterest blindly repinning classist or sexist things, but there’s also a lot of women who aren’t and who are also aware of the constructedness of the way Pinterest acts as a sort of public daydream.
As Terri Ciccone argues: “It’s important to remember that if we don’t like something we see on Pinterest, we should remember that it was put there by a fellow user. It isn’t bombarding us like a billboard or an ad in the subway; women are curating their own experience on the site. They’re not victims; they’re actors. And that’s a positive thing” (Jane Dough).
At one point, I got frustrated with a lot of the petty, sexist, or hideous stuff I saw on Pinterest and started a board titled “BULLSHIT.” But I couldn’t bring myself to pin anything to it, because of this idea that it was put there by another woman and I didn’t want her to be able to see that I thought her dream of a giant diamond, a forehead kiss, and a striptease wedding photo were bullshit. In all caps.
So, this post isn’t about how Pinterest is killing feminism. Clearly, that is hyperbolic and silly. Instead I want to talk about some trends on Pinterest I find either alarming or annoying because of what they indicate about what women want to “curate” in their experience. To borrow Terri’s metaphor, I’d like to suggest a few artifacts for us to collectively relegate to the museum basement.
On an average day, when I click on “Everything” on Pinterest, it feels like it’s 40% food, 45% wedding stuff (15% everything else). It seems like everyone has a wedding board whether they’re engaged or not. I get it, the notion of dream weddings is pushed on women for most of our young lives and the wedding industry is enormous. Plus, so many of the wedding pins are just gorgeous, and it’s easy to get sucked in. No shame. Whatever. But, there are many wedding pins that send questionable or exclusionist messages.
For example, the image at right, in which the bride is being stripped follows the logic that weddings are really about sex and the bride is the sex object. Further, I only rarely see pins that feature non-white, interracial, or same-sex couples. There are also only images of Mr. and Mrs. decorations, which somewhat rubs me the wrong way because what about Mr. and Dr. or Dr. and Dr. or other permutations? And, finally, so many of the father-daughter wedding pins continue to promote the idea that you belong to Daddy until you belong to another man. We can love our fathers, but come on. My point here, and I do have one, is that if Pinterest is supposed to be this playful space curated by women and somewhat free from the interests of advertisers and editors, can’t we use that space to move away from their interests and, I dunno, into the 21st century?
And, just a bone I have to pick. I see the image at the top of this post all the time. These Six Rules make me so angry. Usually the caption on the pin is something like “I’m dead serious.” or “Make sure he knows.” In case people needed a reason to call young women shallow or self-involved… Seriously, though, this one upsets me because it’s not only shallow, it’s ungrateful and contradictory. How is this guy supposed to both make it a surprise and make sure your nails are done? Either your nails are always done or you’ll suspect something. Shouldn’t you just be happy that you have found someone you love enough to commit to for forever? Why does he have to propose?
Racism and Classism
There is quite a lot of classist stuff on Pinterest. I guess it’s not that surprising, because it seems to be predominantly used by upper or middle class white women. To my eye, a lot of the classist stuff revolves around “People of Walmart” type images. There’s also a fair amount of mocking rednecks and hillbillies, which is pretty common in American culture, but let’s not forget it’s also a classist type of humor.
Then there’s the pin at right. This lovely image pops up all the time and it mixes racism pretty heavily with classism. The whole “aks” pronunciation of “ask” is pretty common in African American vernacular, and a lot of people find it annoying. Even Henry Louis Gates Jr., as he explains that it is a pronunciation that has its roots in Old English, says that it’s like nails on a chalkboard to him. But there’s a difference between disliking a particular use of language and connecting that to classist or elitist assumptions. Point is, the logic of that pin follows that Walmart is beneath you, poor people shop at Walmart, poor people are black people. Yikes.
If you’re obsessed with achieving the thigh gap, Pinterest is there to help. Buzzfeed points out that a huge portion of recipes on Pinterest are diet recipes. I don’t think that’s wholly accurate, and if it were, that doesn’t make it anti-feminist. The real problem is pins like the one at the right. There are plenty of healthy bodies on Pinterest. I found my all-time favorite work out on there (Ballet Barre Boot Camp). There are also, however, endless pins of half-naked women, never with faces, meant to inspire (read: shame) you into getting super skinny. This pin is the most gratuitous I’ve ever seen, but there were plenty of others to choose from.
Thinspo is where the idea that women are using Pinterest to curate their own experience starts to break down. I think these pins are where the influence of body norms, the fashion industry, advertising, etc. start to come in most clearly. I have no doubt that many women feel enormous pressure to look like a Victoria’s Secret model and, to my eye, that pressure stands out starkly when it shows up on Pinterest next to waffle recipes and DIY tutorials.
Thankfully, there are plenty of pins commenting on this trend, but that doesn’t make the Thinspo any less visible. There’s also blessed Jennifer Lawrence and her line about listing the things that taste better than skinny feels. And this one:
What is with this kiss on the forehead?
I’ve seen many iterations of a pin emphasizing the romance of kissing on the forehead. It says, “…wait for the boy who kisses your forehead, who wants to show you off to the world when you are in sweats, who holds your hand in front of his friends, who thinks you’re just as pretty without makeup on. One who is constantly reminding you of how much he cares and how lucky he is to have you…The one who turns to his friends and says, ‘that’s her.” Like Disney movies and romantic comedies, Pinterest also propagates unrealistically specific expectations for significant others. The bottom line of this gag-inducing pin is that girls should wait for a guy who treats them with respect and like they’re special to him. Yes, that’s good. But, and maybe this is me, if a guy turned to his friend and says “that’s her,” it would be weird. Further, there are seemingly endless pins about how romantic forehead kisses are. I don’t get it. Why am I supposed to be so enthralled with a forehead kiss? What am I missing?
So, what do you think? I admit that I spend way too much time on Pinterest, because, as others have pointed out, it’s a visual playground full of helpful tips, gorgeous pictures, and just plain weird stuff. It’s changed the way I organize information, has shown me great ideas ranging from making my own cleaners to ways to improve inquiry-based teaching or sustain my long distance love. And the hairstyles. And the cupcakes. But, I also find it endlessly frustrating because of the way it creates certain expectations for reality or acts as a platform for prejudiced attitudes. It’s the internet, after all, and it’s going to show us the best and the worst of our cyber community.
Parks and Rec has a Treat Yo’ Self Board full of insane things to buy. It’s awesome.
Also, I have a Pinterest board, called Girlhood on which I pin a variety of stuff about feminism, herstory, parenting, and silliness for girls.