Everyone’s epiphany of what womanhood means comes at different times. For some, it’s their first period. For others, it’s getting married. More likely, it’s the first time some dude in a car yells “Nice cans!” For me, it was clapping eyes on Pinterest.
For anyone unfamiliar, Pinterest is an up-and-coming social network that is based on sharing mostly visual images. You can make albums (“Dining room chairs” “Nice rapper grills” “Wedding dress ideas” “Insides of butcher shops”) and fill them with photos of things you fantasize about spending more time with. The first Pinterest album I saw was a designer’s. It was like a beautiful mood board brimming with illustrations, landscapes and black-and-white nudes; as a visual resource, it made sense to me.
The next time I visited Pinterest, it was because I’d been hearing murmurs about how it was “girly.” I was incensed. Weren’t architects, furniture makers and designers all men and women alike? Didn’t it insult them to be called “girly”?
And then I visited the homepage and was swept away on a pink and frothy tidal current of the most incredibly, undeniably girly content I’d ever seen.
I realize that I’m going to have to unpack what I mean by girly. Excuse me while I get all grad-school-y for a second, but gender, so goes the popular chorus, is a construct. We decide pink is girly and blue is for boys. Boys like sports and girls like cooking. And so on. Eventually, we start to feel all these things are not arbitrary (even though at the turn of the 19th century, pink was actually recommended for boys and “daintier” blue was for girls) but natural. That’s just the way things are, right? Boys like gadgets and space and noise and girls like… well, girls like Pinterest.
Their homepage, which features the most popular posts, is the quickest way to communicate what the average North American seems to think “femininity” is. Remember how girls in high school would paper their lockers with pictures of heartthrobs, puppies in baskets, minidresses they wanted, red, fruity cocktails they’d like to get hammered on? Imagine looking in that locker, then being shoved in it and having the door slammed closed on you. That’s a visit to Pinterest.
And that’s why I find it so bleak. Here is a world devoid of science, of politics, of dark humour, of a social conscience. It’s a world where orgasms don’t exist but babies are everywhere. Where “you go, girl!” affirmations rub shoulders with Mountain Dew cupcakes. This domain is sort of like a girls-only clubhouse, but it’s not about expressing innermost desires, just surface desires—for hair, shoes, nail art, a boyfriend that exists in soft-focus black-and-white.
It’s not a subculture, either. It’s the same idea of femininity that the two biggest female entrepreneurs of the past decade—maybe ever—Martha and Oprah, made their fortune selling. And it infuriates me because it’s so damned archaic—Pinterest circa 1912 would be fundamentally the same.
It’s easy to say that my anger stems from being on the outside of this group, and I wouldn’t deny it. This easy how-to guide to being a woman, engineered by a bunch of other women, makes me not only feel like an outsider (sure, I love cute animals and cake but I also love The New Yorker, talking about bodily functions and looking at cross-sections of sea lampreys’ faces) but also like a jerk for being mean about them.
I can’t really justify wrapping this up with a big huff about how Pinterest oppresses me, because it doesn’t. I have many female friends who share my interests. There are lots of squalid places on the Internet for men and women alike to hang out. But what it says about how women see themselves is slightly depressing. Milan Kundera once famously wrote that, “kitsch is the absolute denial of shit.” He was talking about totalitarian regimes, which brook no dissent, no expression of anything authentic and challenging, because why would anyone want to change the status quo when it’s perfect?
Pinterest isn’t exactly a totalitarian regime, but it is kind of like the Army of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Dissent at your peril.