Fashion and puppies and cupcakes, oh my!

Pinterest's user base is mostly made up of women — and this has led to a mad scramble to try to define the site itself by gender.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
5 min read

Pinterest's user base is mostly made up of women — and this has led to a mad scramble to try to define the site itself by gender.

Look at all those wedding cakes! (Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET)

Let's do what everyone's doing. Let's talk about Pinterest.

I'm not ashamed: I think Pinterest is tremendous fun. I often stumble across cool/nifty/beautiful things as I'm cruising about the interspace — and, because I'm friends with some really interesting people, I love seeing what they stumble across. It's one big, friendly, communal virtual collection book where we can share whatever we like.

For me, it's mostly art and baby animals, but another of my friends is really into tattoos, another into period-accurate Victorian dress, another into delicious recipes. Another is a jewellery designer, who posts his own creations.

And then there's the craft projects and the strange buildings and the motorcycles and the interior design and the life hacks and ... it's as wide as the internet, and 10 times as pretty. Not to mention how easy it is to use.

But there's something strange going on.

Statistics tell us that the site's user base is skewed vastly towards women. The exact figure is hard to pin down, but it's somewhere between 68 per cent and 97 per cent. And this has led to a very curious phenomenon: reporting about the site has an air of bewilderment and minimisation not seen when discussing something popular with men.

Because ha! Ha! Women! (Credit: G4TV)

Let's take a look.

TechCrunch says:

What we are about to say is 100 per cent sexist, so don't say we didn't warn you. Here it is: guys just don't get Pinterest! We've spotted a few popular male Pinterest users, but they're a rare commodity. Apparently, women between the ages of 25 and 44 make up 59 per cent of Pinterest users. Remember the days when women used to clip magazines and put stuff they liked in a scrapbook? Pinterest has raised the bar from homemade scrapbook to a social experience that serves up brands in the fastest digestible format to date: digital images. Having said that, we still just don't think that guys, regardless of the content curated on Pinterest, will be as interested as women. The fact that such a big portion of the users are female leaves out a huge market: men. In the tech industry, that's a problem.

(Remember when we talked about how women buy more tech than men? You're 100 per cent correct, TechCrunch, that is sexist.)

Elsewhere, the same website narrows Pinterest's popularity down to: "With gorgeous photography, and links to shopping sites, Pinterest is becoming an obsession for flocks of women."

Says website PolicyMic:

What happens when you mix women's gossip with social media? The next big internet site, called Pinterest.

"What am I making for dinner?" "What dress should I wear?" "How do I out-decorate my neighbours?" Suddenly, social media has provided a forum for women to brainstorm answers to these critical questions.

The front page of my Pinterest. (Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET)

Alison Harrell of Relevant Magazine seems to think it's about low self esteem:

Pinterest actually represents a handy, online measuring stick where I can gauge my own effectiveness as a woman, mother and wife against that of other women.

Petula Dvorak of the Washington Post suggests:

It's so crafty and girly, I can almost wonder if it's part of a sinister plot — aligned with the attack on Planned Parenthood, Girl Scouts and access to contraception — to enmesh women in yarn craft and divert them from political action. Back to the kitchen and crafting table, ladies!

(Get it? Because we're so easily distracted by cupcakes.)

Donna Trussell of the Washington Post calls it a "female ghetto" in a headline that implies that she is quite surprised that the female user base isn't what's wrong with Pinterest.

Ashley McCollum of BuzzFeed made this hilarious post about how lol girls are so wedding crazy amirite, fellas??? (It's okay, she's a girl; she's allowed to be sexist.)

And everywhere you go, you see writers focusing on animals, hairstyles, fashion, shopping and baking, and using infantilising words, such as "cutesy" and "girly" — as though it's a novelty, a curiosity, that anyone should like those things. And as though the site's popularity has to do with its content, as opposed to its ease of use, simple and functional sharing features and unique at-a-glance layout that lets you take in and compare a lot of visual information at once.

Meanwhile, blog posts are springing up about how you can find the real value in Pinterest. MSN Money says that "Even though the site may be dominated by women's interests, think of it this way: it's essentially a guide telling men everywhere exactly what women want" — as though the site's value is in spite of women, rather than inclusive of them.

Aaron Biebert of 8pm Warriors is surprised to find that the site is what you make it, Rachel Parker is relieved to find that it has a marketing use and business publications are talking about how you can use Pinterest to leverage your business.

So what about the men?

Meanwhile, men are feeling increasingly as though they're not allowed to like Pinterest. It's not surprising, given how much of the coverage is goggling over the women using it, placing an emphasis on the female participation. Naturally, though, this leads to a feeling of being left out, and nobody likes that.

We get blog posts about ways in which Pinterest should be actively providing incentive to the male demographic, why men should just jump on-board (again citing the mysterious find out what women really want) and suggestions that the relative absence of men will spell Pinterest's downfall — even though the site has had the fastest growth of any social network ever, and now drives more referral traffic than Twitter.

And Mind of the Geek (MotG) bemoans the site's focus on silly feminine interests (DIY, home decor, fashion), asking where the serious stuff is:

Where's the photos of someone's awesome homemade lightsaber, sports memorabilia, video-game collection or awesome action-figure collection?

Putting aside for the moment that MotG could post that content itself, never fear! The internet has responded to this horrible injustice with a few Pinterest clones, just for men.

First up, we have Manteresting, which makes the brave assertion that "Although we are not the first social bookmarking website to hit the internet, we are the first to specifically cater to the male population. Last time we checked, there were 3.4 billion men on earth. It's about time." (It uses nails instead of pins.)

Here's a screenshot of the front page.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET)

There they are — wait. Fashion, home decor and DIY. That can't be right.

Let's try Gentlemint. (Where you use the more manly "tacks" instead of pins.)

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET)

Whew, lightsabers and video — hang on. Homewares, recipes and TV shows.

It's all right, I got this. Surely Dartitup has the content we seek. (Get it? Because you "dart" your content instead of pinning it!)

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET)

Finally — wait, what? Home decor, fashion and pets?

Oh. I'm beginning to get it now. Could it be ... could it actually be ... that maybe our interests aren't divided by gender at all, but in fact vary from individual to individual?

No ... surely not. Surely all these venerable pundits couldn't have got it wrong. What a silly thing to suggest.