It’s safe to say that Pinterest has become a social media sensation. Launched in 2010, Pinterest experienced an explosion of growth this year, expanding from 1.6 million visitors in September 2011 to 11.1 million visitors in 2012. In less than one year Pinterest has moved from relative obscurity to the third most visited social network in the United States.
One factor which sets Pinterest apart from other major social networks is that it’s user base is roughly 82% female. While studies have shown that women are slightly more likely to use social networks than men, the vast majority of Pinterest’s users are female.
A little bit about myself before I go any further. In terms of sex and gender, I identify myself as a male. I’ve had a long time interest in gender studies, recently with a focus on the topic of masculinity, specifically how men identity themselves as men to other men. I’ve also had a Pinterest account for several months now, and tend to visit the site a handful of times each month. So far Pinterest has yet to engage me and I have been wondering why.
Pinterest, for those who have not visited the site, is a “virtual pinboard” which allows users to create visual bookmarks of beautiful or interesting things they find on the web and to share these ‘pins’ with other users. While Pinterest has dozens of categories (including history) and a number of potential uses, I think it would be fair to say that the majority of content on the site relates to art, craft, home design, fashion, and cooking. Browsing Pinterest allows you to stumble across recipes for stuffed pasta shells, ideas for decorating your bathroom, wedding ideas, various internet memes, or whatever other users deem worthy of pinning.
I’ve wondered why I find Pinterest unengaging. After all I love cooking, have a great interest in fashion, and enjoy interior design. Part of me wondered, perhaps, if I find Pinterest too ‘feminine’ for my manly sensibilities.
Well if that’s the case, the find folks behind Gentlemint have the perfect social network for me. For all intents and purposes Gentlemint is a Pinterest clone which bills itself as “…one of the more manly websites on the planet.” In their own words, Gentlemint is a “mint of manly things” which allows you to pin… I mean, ‘mint’ visual bookmarks to your online pinboar… I mean, online ‘mint.’
Looking at the content users have minted gives the impression that Gentlemint is little more than Pinterest with a ‘masculine’ white washing. Sport, alcohol, firearms, cigars, and Mad Men-esque fashion abound on the site, depicting a thoroughly stereotypical depiction of manhood.
Spending even a few minutes on Gentlemint is enough to prove to me that my disinterest in Pinterest has more to do with the format of the social network than deep-seated gender insecurities. As someone who doesn’t drink or smoke, has a passing interest in sports, and abhors firearms, I have little in common with Gentlemint’s target audience. If given the choice between spending time browsing on Pinterest or Gentlemint, I’d choose Pinterest without a second thought.
For me Pinterest fails to engage because it’s not the kind of social networking I’m looking for. Compared to my current social network of choice, twitter, Pinterest doesn’t allow me to feel like I’m connecting and engaging with other users. It’s more like an impersonal slideshow than a conversation. While I enjoy looking at recipes and craft ideas, I don’t feel like I’m making personal connections on the site. In contrast, twitter allows me to converse with other people, sharing ideas and spreading information.
What I find most interesting about my experiences with Pinterest and Gentlemint is the idea of gendered social networks. Pinterest radiates with conventional femininity, showing pictures of wedding dresses, baking, home design, and crafts. Pinterest, however, does not bill itself as a social network specifically for women. Users can customize their accounts to highlight pins in specific categories. Hate wedding dresses? Pinterest doesn’t have to surface them to you. Even though Pinterest’s user base consists mostly of women, it is not a social network exclusively for women.
Gentlemint, on the other hand, takes the opposite approach, presenting itself almost as an old boys club. It bills itself as a social network for men, by men.
I have never really considered the internet to be a gendered space. But this has been rather naive of me. Ever since I’ve used the internet I’ve seen women harassed on message boards by male users. I’ve seen men pose as women in chatrooms to gain more attention. I, sadly, have seen the depths of misogyny that dwell in Youtube comments. While the internet promises to be an egalitarian and democratic place, it has a long and pervasive history of sexism.
With so much latent misogyny on the internet it is not surprising that some men would feel threatened by a wildly successful social network that appeals largely to women. Gentlemint seems, to some degree, like a product of this male anxiety.
I don’t wish to say that Gentlemint is inherently bad, or its users misogynists. It is a completely competent social network. If your interests align with the interests of its users, Gentlemint is a fine alternative to Pinterest. But viewed in the wider context of the internet’s history with women, I believe Gentlemint speaks to a certain discomfort some men have with women on the web.
(If anyone wants an invitation to Gentlemint, please let me know, I still have one remaining)