Pinterest is Popular
Although social media sites have become ubiquitous in the last decade, Pinterest is unique in its growth and popularity. In short, the site's user base grew explosively as the site became open to more users (initially, the site was launched in a closed beta before moving to invite-only status, and finally it was made open to the public). Pinterest "became the fastest social network to reach 10 million users, growing 4000% in 2011 alone" (Gilbert et al., 2013, para. 3). Pinterest remains a popular social media site and has 70 million users as of July 2013 (Horwitz, 2013).3
According to recent survey research by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, "21% of online adults use Pinterest, up from the 15% who did so in December 2012" ("Social Media Sites" table). This puts Pinterest users ahead of Twitter (17%) and Instagram (17%), two other popular social media sites. However, Pinterest does not have many users who visit the site frequently: "Just 23% of Pinterest users ... visit the [site] daily, and around half say they use the [site] less than once per week" (Duggan & Smith, 2013).
As the site continues to grow and change, the statistics and demographic information for Pinterest will change quickly. Overall, Pinterest has been (and remains) a popular site, drawing many users. Beyond this general popularity, Pinterest has also proven to be particularly popular with female users.
…Particularly with Ladies
Of Pinterest's many users, a large portion of those users is reportedly women: "In the United States, about 80% of its users are women" (Gilbert et al., 2013, para. 5). Other reports vary in their estimates of the number of female (and/or female-identifying) users on Pinterest, reporting statistics that range from "58% to 97%" (Fehling, 2012, para. 4). Accordingly, the site has become characterized as a women's space, particularly in popular media. As April Fehling (2012) noted, "Whatever the exact figure [of female users], the site's been tagged as everything from 'digital crack for women' to 'Tumblr for ladiez'" (para. 5). The ostensible feminine nature of the site has even spawned some male-centered spin-offs, like Manteresting.com, which "uses 'nails' and 'bumps'" instead of pins and hearts (Peggy Wang, 2013).4
Defining Pinterest as a women's space, based on the demographic information and site content, has generated various characterizations of the site (and its users). Pinterest has been situated as particularly useful and popular among mothers and women interested in domestic issues. For instance, from her perspective as a "regular mommy blogger and active Pinterest pinner," Lindsey Harding (2014) wrote, "Pinterest was responsible for a lot of my life" and influenced her identity as a mother: "I came to feel like a crafty mom by pinning DIY projects to my Craft Ideas board, even though I didn't own a glue gun. … Pinterest put me in a box captioned 'confident, creative mother'" (paras. 1, 3, 17). Harding (2014) argued that as an "Inspriation Hub for mothers," Pinterest "places constraints on interactors' identities" and suggests there are "real-world consequences of those constraints for individual mothers and maternal culture" (paras. 8, 19). Harding likened Pinterest to Tupperware parties, providing opportunities for mothers and women to come together to discuss and share domestic tips and tricks but argued that the site and activity of pinning elides the "messiness of mothers figuring out motherhood on their own" (paras. 20, 35). Although Pinterest seems to provide an "alluring identity" of the "networked mother" and there is plenty for mothers on Pinterest, Harding suggested that users should avoid "los[ing the] maternal instinct to recognize the value of unplanned moments to make memories that cannot ever be reduced to a pin" (paras. 39, 40).
In popular media, writers have been critical of Pinterest's effects on women and feminism. For instance, Amy Odell (2012) wrote that Pinterest "seems like one big user-curated women's magazine—from the pre-Internet era" (para. 2). For Odell, Pinterest represents a step backwards for female-friendly web sites; she contrasted the site with other feminist sites, like Jezebel.com and Feministing.com (Odell, 2012, para. 2). Odell argued that "the Internet has for many years now been thought of as a place where women can find smarter, meatier reads just for them," and that Pinterest represents the very opposite of this feminist vision, "rife" as it is with "recipes (diet and otherwise), inspirational quotes, and aspirational clothes and homes" (para. 2-3). Ostensibly, all of these categories, and their attendant pins, smack of anti-feminism to Odell, as she contended that the focus on the aesthetic and the domestic fail to provide the "smarter, meatier" reads she casts as characteristic of truly feminist web sites (para. 2).
Odell's argument did not go uncontested, however; Amelia McDonnell-Parry's (2012) article took a different stance. In short, McDonnell-Parry argued, "the great thing about the Web is the ways in which it has made it easier to indulge in a variety of interests" (para. 4, emphasis hers). For McDonnell-Parry, the Web as a whole, and Pinterest in particular, seemed to represent an opportunity for a third-wave experience (see R. Claire Snyder, 2008): she has the opportunity to "[read] 'meaty' articles" and also "virtually window-shop at Madewell [a women's clothing store] and pin dresses I like" (McDonnell-Parry, 2012, para. 4). McDonnell-Parry took issue with the narrow view of feminism that Odell's article promotes, and I agree with McDonnell-Parry that Pinterest represents a feminist experience, whether recognizable as such by the users of the site or its critics (like Odell). The feminist potentialities of the space are one of its greatest strengths, particularly as it provides the opportunity for feminists to engage in the variety of interests that McDonnell-Parry cites, and to explore the rhetorical capacities of those interests.
Aligning with McDonnell-Parry's assessment of Pinterest's feminist potentialities, Cindy Kay Tekobbe (2013) argued that rather than dismiss Pinterest as just a women's space or just a space for "frivolous" digital literacy practices, Pinterest and its users should be recognized as "valuable as a case study" of a women's online space and digital literacy practices (p. 389). According to Tekobbe, "Pinterest's member community demonstrates rich digital literacy practices by creating elaborate information-sharing networks and by collectively and individually organizing as pastiche, montage, art, and, ultimately, as a statement of digital/virtual identity" (p. 386). Like Tekobbe and McDonnell-Parry, I do not see the online engagement of women on Pinterest as a space filled with "disempowered consumers rather than empowered content creators and producers" (Tekobbe, 2013, p. 384). Rather, Pinterest and the rhetorical engagements that users undertake on the site can be positioned as significant digital literacy acts, where "digital competencies [are] defined … by the way … spaces and their members engage in the technological affordances in the expression of what we think of as good effect" (Tekobbe, 2013, p. 385).
As demographics suggest, Pinterest is a space populated by mostly female (or, perhaps, female-identifying) users. And the users' subscriptions to other boards and profiles also seem to indicate the by-women, for-women nature of the space: For instance, of the ten "most followed" users on Pinterest, seven are women (Indvik, 2012). The top first and second most-followed users are both women and have over 14.5 million followers and 9.8 million followers, respectively, as of this writing.5 It is important to pay attention to how this social media site values the contributions of women, creates space for their rhetorical discourses, and provides insight into the ways in which digital citizens are making use of social media rhetorically.