As an active user of Pinterest, I thought it is nothing more than a tool to organize images, which should be gender neutral. However, demographic data shows in 2012, 83% of the US users were women. I was surprised at first but suddenly thought of all those wedding dresses, jewelries I saw during my daily update. And here’s my closer look.

I’m not sure whether female are more of visual creatures than guys, but it’s so easy to hear “oh this is pretty”, “it’s really cute” from a female. They are also enthusiastic shoppers and home decorators: sometimes satisfied by just looking around without buying anything. While guys more often do their shopping with a clear goal and looking more into functionality. It’s also women who tend to care more about whether they look good in photos and check their current “image” from mirrors, just like Cleo. Some study shows as early as four months old, baby girls can distinguish facial features and are able to distinguish between photos of people they know versus strangers. Baby boys are not able to do that. Even a brief look into the default categories Pinterest provides for people’s collection boards, seem to give us some hints: there are 32 categories in total, in a quick tag I did, there are 11 categories which are more “female” such as DIY & crafts, gardening, hair & beauty, while 7 are more “male”, such as cars & motorcycles, geek, science & nature. Female also “wins” on the Popular page of Pinterest, where you may see babies, panda sushis, women’s apparel and cute pancakes.

a screenshot of the popular page on Pinterest

The popular page of Pinterest, accessed on April 16. Pinterest is a Virtual Pinboard, where people create “boards” (collections) and put “pins” (images) on it.

In the feminism chapter from the shoe book, Barnard mentioned “Feminism points out that there are gender differences and argues that the gendered position of the understanding subject has a part to play in, and makes a difference to, the understanding of understanding.” To some extent, the user of Pinterest is also creating their understanding of certain words (usually the title of their collection board), e.g. on User A’s board “Spring”, she not only put what people would normally put: flowers, but also pictures of Easter and St. Patrick’s Day, which shows she might be a religious person. The Spring collection might have influence in the following way (1) to other viewers, who has never thought from a holiday or religious perspective about spring, they may have more insights about the season now (2) shape the author’s own understanding of spring by consistent interaction with the board. It’s like the part and whole relationship we covered in previous class: the author’s “horizon” affects what she puts on the board named Spring, and what she put on the board (sometimes may be a random or suddenly inspired choice) will also cast influence on her understandings.

screenshot of a board named spring

A collection named “Spring” (the St.Patrick Day picture is not shown in this screenshot)

When talking about the weakness of feminist is a gender-based approach to understanding visual culture is reductive. I randomly looked into 5 male and 5 female’s collections. There seems to be no big difference in quantity. But very “gender-biased” is the content, even under the same category they might have totally different pictures. For example, under “Travelling”, female users usually have pictures of flowers, landscape, but rarely boats; under “Architectures”, rarely do they post high-tech buildings as some guys do. It does appear to me gender-based understanding is reductive, because the filter of a woman’s eyes might keep the softer, more emotional staff, while the guy’s might retain the harder, more rational things. However, I don’t think it’s a weakness. Actually different individuals, groups, organizations, classes, should have distinct understanding towards the same thing. Feminist might look at the subject from a cultural perspective while scientist are studying the scientific formation or structure. It is such and such reductive understanding that come together to make it more holistic.

a screenshot of a male user's "home home home" board

a screenshot of a female user's "home home home" board

A male user’s (up) and a female user’s (down) collections with the same title “Home Home Home”

Shaowen’s paper pointed out “The interaction design process takes place independent of gender considerations, and even today the central concept of the whole field—the user—remains genderless.” I am curious whether the designers of Pinterest have thought about gender but I will not be surprised that the content of the default categories might have been changed according to what the users are putting up on their boards. If so, then it is a participatory process where the first release of the product can still be counted as part of the design phase. This is similar to the user-centered lane building process where people walk across a big lawn and stepped out a path, then the workers build the lanes accordingly. In that case, if more passers-by are female, the final lane should is more likely to be a female route (if there’s difference btw male and female about path picking).

a picture of the lawn in Stanford

A lawn in Stanford. The walking paths were built according to the people’s walking route on the original lawn (with out any path).

In Shaowen’s paper she also mentioned some qualities of feminist interaction:

Pluralism, which refers to “design artifacts that resist any single, totalizing, or universal point of view”, is well practiced in Pinterest. Though the functions are the same and quite limited, people turn to be creative and everyone’s boards are different.

Advocacy, which encourages designers to “question their own position to assert what an ’improved society’ is and how to achieve it”. I’m not sure if the designers have thought about the “good society” but though what people put up for topics like home, wedding, life, dream, it’s not hard to have a glimpse of at least a small group of people’s image of “good society”.

Self-disclosure, which refers to “the extent to which the software renders visible the ways in which it effects us as subjects”, is carried out by the function that the user can follow the whole collection of a person or a specific board.

I feel just by looking at what each individual has put up there can help me easily create a mood board about gender differences. Those collections cast light on things that women and men like respectively and would probably each be willing to spend effort on. It might face some harsh critique but I think it will be very interesting if we can filter the search result for a certain topic by gender. So far, it’s really hard to pick out males from random users because there are too few…

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