Shortly after Pinterest launched in 2010, it became a visual smorgasbord of food recipes, home décor ideas, and wedding inspiration. As such, Pinterest quickly attracted a passionate following of almost 50 million users in the U.S., and a whopping 83 percent of them were women. But as an increasing number of men join Pinterest, the site risks becoming a boys’ club with men creating more and more boards dedicated to “manly” pursuits, like fishing, vintage cars, and decorating one’s man cave.
Pinterest’s three founders, which all happen to be male, claim that their digital scrapbook website is gaining steady traction among men.
“We doubled our male user base in the U.S. this year,” Pinterest told Business Insider. For their social network to become an advertising heavyweight, Pinterest needs to attract a young male demographic that’s as passionate as the female one they currently boast. And if their figures are accurate and they’ve managed to double the number of male users in one year, they’re aggressively trying to reach that goal.
But these male Pinterest users would like us all to know that they are not into pinning colorful cupcakes and cute wedding cocktails served inside mason jars. Nope, male Pinterest users are into manly stuff!
One male user mentioned in the Business Insider article has a board for his “Manly, Man Book Collection.” Apparently Hamlet and Ernest Hemingway are off-limits to female readers. He has another board for “Manly DYI, Man,” and another for more miscellaneous “Guy Stuff.”
There are so many of these dedicated boards that doing a simple search for “manly” on Pinterest brings up almost 120 subcategories, everything from “manly gifts” to “manly ideas.”
Male users are also fond of contributing to boards featuring the “Manly Bedroom,” “Man Cave Grills,” “Manly Design,” “Manly Food!!!” (can’t you just hear the bear growl…) and “Clothes, Gadgets, and Manly Things,” which also has photos of actor Jamie Dornan and former porn star Aiden Shaw. Sure, those men can be seen as fine specimens of the male clan, but can things like books, furniture and typeface be considered “manly”? Can the way a bedroom looks be considered “manly”?
“I’ve never seen that, actually,” said Thomas Page McBee, “masculinity expert” and author of Man Alive, a memoir detailing his transition from female to male, adding, “I think books and furniture are gender neutral, unless you’re speaking French.”
Perhaps these male Pinterest users feel an innate pressure to proclaim their masculinity because they are participating in a space that has long been a territory dominated by women and driven primarily by female interests.
“On a larger social level men tend to assert our ‘manliness’ when we feel it’s vulnerable or under threat,” McBee said. “Internalized pressure results from societal norms. Men aren’t born anxious about their masculinity. Men aren’t born afraid of being associated with the feminine. We learn to be territorial.”
In a way, male Pinterest users are overcompensating for being a part of a mostly-female environment. This overcompensation might mirror how men act in predominantly female spaces in the real world, but those spaces are rare, according to McBee.
“I can’t think of too many spaces where men are that are predominately female, actually,” he said. “That speaks more to a broader issue.”
Pinterest is one of very few spaces — either in the real world or in the digital realm — where women are more active, more vocal and more popular than men. That means that soon Pinterest could stop being endearingly “feminine” and instead be bombarded by more more manly reading material and more manly ways to make your bed.
It could also mean that Pinterest might want to start ramping up its team of moderators and be on the lookout for offensive or otherwise hateful content. Reddit, for example, has a long history of female users experiencing misogyny by its predominantly male base and many women report, and one study has show that female-identified users experience up to 25 times more harassment online than their male counterparts.
“Heteronormative, hegemonic masculinity is centrally about power — getting it and keeping it — and insecurity (and violence) is a natural byproduct of a rigid, exhausting worldview,” McBee said. “We learn that only a certain kind of body is valuable — a male body, preferably a white, cis one — and that other bodies are not only less valuable, but a threat to our value.”
Or maybe Pinterest will become more egalitarian, and as more men join the site, they’ll feel less of a need to assert their manliness. After all, a man who is unapologetic about posting flower arrangements might feel more confident about their masculinity and less inclined to post “manly” images.
“Men who defy expectations of masculinity while embracing others (if they want) with intentionality are not only confident with their masculinities, but also modeling integrity and humanity,” McBee said.
Take for example, Pinterest designer Victor Ng, who has a wide variety of boards dedicated to graphic design, sweaters (not “manly sweaters” mind you) and vintage cars. And how can you not admire a dude who has an entire board dedicated to “Best of Beyoncé Live”?
Victor is not preoccupied in defending his manly interests on Pinterest because he doesn’t feel his masculinity is threatened in any way. Perhaps that’s because he works for the site and understands how it works beyond its assumed gender binary. Or perhaps it’s because he is gay.
“We alone are capable of committing to be intentional and thoughtful about what kind of men we want to be,” McBee added, “for ourselves and everyone whose lives we touch.”
Now put those words on a Pinterest board to live by.
(feature image via Laurie Wilson)