This is a comment by Alastair on the post “Manteresting vs Pinterest – Divided We Fail“.
“A few observations:
“1. The demographics of Pinterest users in the UK differed markedly from those in the US last time that I checked. The majority of UK Pinterest users are male, and the prominent interests of users of the site skew more in traditionally male directions (http://econsultancy.com/uk/blog/9021-more-male-pinterest-users-in-uk-than-female-infographic).
“2. Any homosocial group will tend to accentuate traits that represent loose ‘family resemblances’ within the group, and encourage conformity to stereotypes, whatever the stereotypes associated with the group may be. These traits can easily become accentuated into caricatures. I feel a stifling female homosociality when I visit Pinterest, and am not interested in participating for that reason. Groups exert a centripetal force upon their members and the centripetal force of identity that is operative on Pinterest is not one that I am interested in subjecting myself to. This is despite the fact that I am an avid knitter and crafter, with my own blog devoted to knitting and handcrafts, and with a Ravelry account. While, like practically every male, I am far more than a collection of male stereotypes, traditionally male traits are a very important dimension of who I am, and I like to be in contexts where I can express them.
“On the other hand, the male counterparts to Pinterest have little appeal for me either. I don’t share things online in order to express a highly generic masculinity, but in order to explore far more particular areas of individual interest. These areas of individual interest are often powerfully conditioned by my gender, but they are not reducible to it.
“3. Groups conform to stereotypes less by means of ostracization than by virtue of the fact that groups are formed by sharing things that we have in common. People who share their individual interests that are not held in common can easily be uninteresting bores in a group setting. It should not be surprising that all of the old clichéd stereotypes about men and women start to characterize all male and all female groups. Groups naturally establish feedback loops that privilege, give voice to, amplify, and impose the expectation of conforming to key shared traits. A boy or girl, who can have very distinct individual characters, will almost invariably tend to move in the direction of stereotypical gender traits when put in a group of their peers of the same gender.
“This need not be a bad thing: emphasizing what we have in common is part and parcel of what it means to belong to each other. Stereotypical gender traits and the expectation to conform to them get a worse rap than they deserve. The person who is unwilling to conform in any way to group expectations or norms is often an opinionated and selfish ass, with an overly inflated impression of his or her own importance. One generally doesn’t have to deny your differences in order to fit in with the group, but one learns to downplay them. I can be tremendously frustrated by the fact that many of my colleagues are obsessed with drinking, football, and childish action movies, but I should at least make an effort to take some interest and contribute to the conversation, as a sign that I value them, want to belong to the group, and don’t regard myself as superior. Of course, for those without particular traits that are dominant in a group, this can be alienating. People who have particular traits that cannot easily be shared with the group can also feel stifled.
“4. The most important thing to recognize is that sharing is less about self-expression than it is about group membership and feeling that one belongs. I choose a social network less as a means to facilitate self-expression than as a place where I can belong to a group. Consequently, the mere presence of a sharing format isn’t enough: what I am looking for is a place where I can experience an optimal level of group belonging, which means that the demographics of such a site are hugely important.
“In 2005, when I first joined Facebook, I was a very active user. It was great to belong to an exclusive group of peers from a small set of predominantly high profile universities. However, soon afterwards, Facebook opened up to students from a wider range of universities, to non-university students, and then later to our parents, bosses, and squalling teenage sublings. At each stage the site lost appeal as those things that could truly be shared moved towards a lowest common denominator than held less and less interest for me.
“5. Most of the time, rather than whining about being left out of existing places, people should make their own places. An attempt to ‘masculinize’ Pinterest might endanger a form of sociality that is very important to many of its users. Far better, I feel, to go off and form our own places where we can share things that we have in common and which are important to us. People who invade forms of sociality in order to close down certain shared traits and impose their own make it difficult for people to express important parts of their identity.
“I think that this has been a significant problem over the last several decades, as male homosociality has come under sustained assault, while female homosociality has often been celebrated. The feminist movement has understandably been concerned with breaking up areas of male homosociality, as these are associated with pockets of privilege (in education, business, the arts, unions, pubs, men’s clubs, sports clubs, etc.). However, what has often happened is that men have been left without truly meaningful realms and elevating forms of socialization into masculinity.
“The loss of such realms can leave many men far more isolated and emotionally stunted and perpetuates an infantilization of men. Forms of socialization that are very important to many men have been closed down and replaced with more traditionally feminine forms. For instance, considerable effort has been put into making education an affirming, egalitarian, conformist, test and grade-oriented, inclusive, highly sensitive, communal, non-physical, quiet and sedentary, and non-confrontational setting. The fact that the majority of men may thrive more in traditional educational settings with hierarchy, competition, disputation, a focus on the oral debate over the written or standard test form, less affirmation and more emphasis upon earning one’s place, challenge, agonism, mental toughness, and a privileging of independent mindedness and agentic traits is neglected as contexts tailored to female gendered ‘family resemblances’ are privileged.
“If one wants to understand the tragedy of much modern masculinity, look no further than the fact that traditional male traits, traits that are very important to many of us, are stifled in most settings, save in such (frankly, rather childish) contexts as organized sport, video games and comic books, and the drinking culture. For such reasons, I believe that it is important that we honour the need that different people have to different forms of sociality, rather than homogenizing all social settings for the sake of inclusion.
“All of this said, however, I believe that we should be aiming for more variegated forms of sociality, where different modes of sociality can co-exist next to each other, overlap and interconnect, without one form ever dominating over or crowding out others. This demands an honouring of other people’s spaces, and recognition that there are some important conversations in which one does not belong. However, it also involves recognition that we need to pursue things in common with as many people as possible. Consequently we should be multiplying different shared spaces in which different commonalities can be expressed, so that no one is left entirely stifled or alienated, even though we will all feel that we do not belong in certain forms of sociality. Homogenization of sociality for the sake of maximal inclusion causes lots of problems, but pursuing a proliferation of interconnecting specialized socialities promises far more. Separatist masculinities and femininities are seldom healthy, which is one reason why, although male only and female only contexts can be good things, we probably shouldn’t allow them to become our primary contexts.”
Photo credit: Flickr / TRÈS BIEN SHOP