Men Are From Gentlemint, Women Are From Pinterest

Posted on Mar 8, 2012 | 6 comments


Before we get to the matter in hand, a quick note: I have often voiced my antipathy toward social networks in which the social element is the sole extent of engagement, for much the same reason as I am no fan of small talk. Life is fleeting, and there are too many awesome things in the world to waste time in the shallow pursuit of trivia. That’s not to say that valuable relationships can’t be formed and maintained on these platforms; the problem arises when serving the platform becomes an end in itself, when meaningful communication with real people is eclipsed by a barrage of retweets, animated GIFs or FarmVille updates.

So, with that disclaimer suitably disclaimed, and a sizable fraction of any potential readers appropriately alienated, on to today’s topic.

If you’ve spent any time at all on the internet over the last three months, you must be aware of Pinterest, a photo-sharing site with a pin-board theme. Users collate and share virtual collections of images and links, sorted according to whichever crazed criteria take their fancy. It’s fast, it’s easy, and it’s oddly creative; it also has the unusual distinction of being far more popular with women than it is with men. Some studies have shown that 80% of Pinterest users are female, and it’s easy to draw generalizations about the content on the site in the light of that fact.

Yes, there are cupcakes. Yes, there are throw pillows, and fashion shots, and typographically-enthusiastic quotes from inspirational figures. Is there, then, something essentially feminine about the content found on Pinterest?

Pinterest’s rise to social-media ubiquity has not gone unnoticed, and it has not gone unemulated. From Fancy to We Heart It, from the staggeringly plagiaristic Pinspire to the pornography-themed Snatchly*, Pinterest has spawned a thousand imitations, each dedicated to a different niche.

One such imitative site is the wonderfully-named Gentlemint. This “mint of manly things” is dedicated to the collation and cultivation of artefacts of masculinity; in that regard, despite its superficial similarity, it is the opposite of Pinterest.

Truth be told, I find Gentlemint’s relentless parade of beards, bacon and booze a little tiresome; that’s partly a consequence of the site’s philosophy of masculinity, and partly a function of its weaker categorisation and search features. While Pinterest’s content is more skewed toward the feminine — by which, of course, I mean beautiful, cheerful and crafty — the sheer size of the community, coupled with the pin-board metaphor, allows you to curate very focused, very specific collections. Consider, for example, Jennifer Crusie’s steampunk-themed inspiration board for the upcoming collaboration Fairy Tale Lies — it’s very specific, very considered, and yet entirely consistent with the ethos and aesthetic of the site as a whole. Gentlemint’s content is more fractured, more shallow, more mundane.

Though sometimes, of course, there are pictures of The Rocketeer.

The reason for this difference is simple, I believe. Pinterest is an inclusive community which just happens to be more popular with women than with men; men and their interests are not prohibited. Gentlemint, on the other hand, has taken what would have been a singular niche within the greater Pinterest ecosystem, and spun it out into its own thing. I do not think that the depth of Pinterest reflects something essentially feminine, or that the shallowness of Gentlemint reflects something essentially masculine; rather, the divergent natures of the platforms in question have encouraged a certain type and quality of content.

While thinking about Pinterest, Gentlemint, and these social-sharing platforms in general, I came to a surprising conclusion: while these sites are not creative according to the strictest definition of the word, they engender a secondary creativity — which is associated with or analogous to inspiration — while simultaneously giving the user permission to feel creative. We may not be creating works of art as we curate our collections of exhibits and relics, but we feel as though we are — and that feeling is not only positive in and of itself, but opens mental and emotional space which encourages actual creativity. There’s an old aphorism which states that 90% of any online community is composed of passive consumers, 9% of active consumers and contributors, and 1% of creators; I couldn’t find any statistics on Pinterest or Gentlemint, but it wouldn’t surprise me if those numbers were flatly inverted; that creativity isn’t confined to these sharing sites, but spills out across the internet in a myriad of ways; the “secondary creativity” of curation is far more likely to lead to the “primary creativity” of actual creation than the essentially non-creative consumption of status updates and Mafia Wars advertisements.

Creativity in any form, in any arena, is to be welcomed and encouraged. Pinterest and Gentlemint are permissive spaces, and while there is virtue to Pinterest’s anything-goes philosophy — and the possible serendipity which comes from being part of that larger community — the important thing is to find a space that feels right to you, and play in it.


* Not Safe For Work. Seriously, emphatically Not Safe For Work.

6 Comments

  1. You had me at bacon and booze.

    All of Jenny’s boards are way cool. If fact, she’s the one who got me to go to Pinterest in the first place. I am having fun posting images for my WIP there, mostly for myself, but don’t use it much otherwise. As you said, who has the time?

    On the down side, I followed a link (from Twitter, actually) from someone who had posted a blog about why he’d cancelled his Pinterest account. And it had some very interesting and scary things to say about legal liability. (Because people are usually reposting images they have found elsewhere online.) Pinterest’s user contract expressly says that not only are they not legally responsible for content, but also that the user will be liable for any legal fees should they and/or Pinterest ever be sued over copyright enfringement. Thought provoking, to say the least…

  2. Yep. A romance writer friend told me of a fellow writer friend in England who was fined heftily for using a copyrighted Getty photo. Some photos are free, some available for limited use, and some not available without payment, and even with payment there are often limits on the number of times it can be used. So, nope. I’m staying away from all of that.

  3. I understand the hesitation about Pinterest, but these are issues that apply to all sharing sites, up to and including sites like YouTube. In order to avoid being liable for all the content they carry, the company has to pass the liability on to the user; it’s the only way of operating a service like that without being liable for every copyrighted image, mis-attributed link or pornographic picture that find their way onto your platform.

    You can certainly argue that it’s a bad way to run a business, and I’m not a fan of predatory companies hunting people who share their content, particularly as a means of protecting a dwindling income — if your content is good, you will make money; if it isn’t, you won’t. Getty, from what I understand, are particularly aggressive in that regard; that’s why I don’t and won’t do business with them.

    All of which is to say that the barrier to entry, and the responsibility of the user, are perhaps more significant than I suggested in the article, and individual users must, of course, be responsible for the things that they do online. But for 99.9% of the people, 99.9% of the time, their pins and shares will bring them nothing but happiness.

  4. I haven’t gotten into pinterest or any of these things. I can barely keep up with my blog and my gkids. I don’t need any more distractions.

  5. I don’t know if I’ve pinned something that’s copyrighted. I hope not. I do know a professional photographer who was thrilled to have some of his photos on Pinterest. Turned out several people tracked him down and he made some sales.

    On a personal level, after an initial orgy, I only spend about 5 minutes a day on Pinterest. It’s so easy to grab a recipe or a paint color suggestion or the perfect plant to put in that shady spot in the garden. And don’t even get me started on the sewing tutorials. Some of them are brilliant. “Kick-Ass Stuff” from the Bloggess is always worth checking. Actually, once you know your way around, Pinterest can lead you to some marvelous places.

  6. I love pinterest but I find most of the board useless to me. I use the Food and Drink board to do my meal planning. And, yes, I find that it becomes a springboard for new places to visit on the internet. I also begin to think about new ideas and new meals to create on my own. I am not essentially food creative on my own. If left to my own devices I’d eat the same 5-10 foods over and over and over again for most of my life. It’s my personality type. I’m happy this way. But using pinterest keeps my creativity flowing. It gives me ‘a-ha’ moments. It refreshes my mind. And, as Alastair pointed out, it gives me permission to say, “What if….” That’s what I love. What’s the way I was taught to think in school and it really gets me excited and lordy only knows that excitement can only help my meal planning:)

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