By Matthew Clough
Nathan Clem has just signed an apartment lease for next year with his girlfriend, Rena Stair. After dating for nearly two years, they decided it was time to give living together a shot. He’s already been preparing for the move by collecting kitchen supplies, buying brand new bedsheets, even building a coffee table with one of his friends.
There’s just one more step he’s making in his preparations: getting a Pinterest account.
Clem, a junior from Baldwin City, Kansas, says his sister first showed him the app, and he thought it was a cool way to organize ideas, especially for planning home décor options and DIY projects. The app curates content for you from around the web based on topics you’ve indicated interest in. He was careful to not tell too many people he was using it, though. “I just thought, Pinterest is more for women and I didn’t want to seem too feminine,” he says. “It does carry a certain connotation.”
He’s not the only one who feels this way. According to a Pew Research Center study released at the end of 2016, 45 percent of online adult women use the virtual bulletin board site, while only 17 percent of online men do. This comes after statistics released by Pinterest that claim its male user base in the U.S. increased by 73 percent over the course of 2014.
Among college men, there’s a mix of reactions to Pinterest. Some say it’s a place for “arts and crafts bullshit” or “a platform for people who want to build personal fantasies.” But other men like Clem think it’s useful for everyone.
“Nathan came up to me, and he was kind of shy about it. He was like, ‘I don’t want to be weird or anything, but I think it’d be a really great idea if we shared house ideas with, like, Pinterest,’” Stair recalls. “At this point we had already decided we were going to live together next year,” Clem says. “I just thought it would be a good way to save ideas.”
Still, it’s clear that the concept of men using Pinterest has some taboo connotation. Simply searching “do men use Pinterest?” on Google yields a slew of articles about the site’s largely skewed demographics. But more interestingly, it also brings up the related searches “is Pinterest for guys too?” and “manteresting,” which is a website similar to Pinterest but with more sexy cars and hilarious videos, according to its Twitter. (Instead of “pinning” things to boards, you use manly nails.)
Perhaps more than anything, these searches convey an insecurity among men in using the virtual bulletin board. The most revealing thing about them is the perceived cultural necessity of assigning gender to things that are objectively genderless.
Hyunjin Seo, an associate professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Kansas who researches social media, says that the visual nature of Pinterest may be one reason more women are using it than men. “Think of the topics that more align with visual-based social media sites,” she says. “Fashion, food, travel and so on. There’s more women than men that share content on social media on these topics.”
The visual appearance of Pinterest itself may be part of the reason men shy away from it, although its design doesn’t necessarily cater directly to women. The site is plain white and upon logging in you’re greeted with a collage-like scattering of content. Manteresting, by comparison, looks essentially identical except for a black background. Houzz is a home design site that boasts slightly more male users than Pinterest; its design, like its content, is more architectural.
Instagram is interesting in that its interface is entirely visual-driven, yet according to Seo, the proportions of male and female users are very similar. Although women still outnumber men on the platform – 58 to 42 percent as of 2016, the gap is nowhere near as wide as it was several years ago, Seo said.
Some college men maintain that appearance has nothing to do with it. Conan Lee is a freshman from Overland Park, Kan., who studies illustration and uses the site for inspiration. “I have a sci-fi board and a fantasy board, for stuff like character design and concept art – ideas for drawing,” he says. Another student, Murphy Smith from Westwood, Kan., does not use the site but says “If I want something that seems to be similar to Pinterest, I just go to Reddit.” That site is significantly less structured in appearance than Pinterest.
Regardless of appearance or perceptions, Clem remains adamant in the value of Pinterest. He and Stair have been organizing apartment decoration ideas and projects to take on together over the summer while they prepare for the big move. “I think people should use it no matter what society thinks,” he says.