Pinterest for Dudes

Is it sexist to create a visual sharing site for men?

Tapiture screenshot

Around this time last year, America began to notice that something called Pinterest was taking over the Internet. By some measures, this image-centric social network was the fastest growing website of all time. And yet it seemed to sneak up on many of us. Where had all these photos of wedding dresses and cupcakes come from?

Some suggested that Pinterest’s stealthy ascent stemmed from the fact that most technology pundits are male, while most Pinterest users are female. Nielsen figures reveal that women make up 70 percent of Pinterest’s user base. On mobile devices the ratio skews even higher. First-time visitors who log on to Pinterest’s front page—and see photos “pinned” there by Pinterest users—tend to be greeted by a collage of wedge heels, DIY knitting projects, and recipes. Perhaps men felt vaguely unwelcome in this environment, or maybe they just weren’t interested in the content they found.

Whether or not guys understood Pinterest’s appeal, they had no difficulty intuiting that pins could make them rich. (Investors recently pegged Pinterest’s value at $2.5 billion.) If Pinterest was disproportionately attracting women, thought clever entrepreneurs, why not zag and target an underserved market? The race was on to create a visual sharing site designed for men. Soon enough, an onslaught of “Pinterests for Dudes” hit the scene, starting with Gentlemint and Manteresting, followed not long after by Dudepins, PunchPin, and probably a whole slew of other clones that feature portmanteaus built from the word bro. Strongest out of the gate so far, in terms of traffic and funding, has been Tapiture, which received $825,000 in seed investments in February.

My initial reaction to these sites was that they seemed a little silly. There is nothing inherently “female” about Pinterest. It’s just a tool. Yes, you can use it to archive and organize images of wedding dresses and baked goods, but there’s also nothing stopping you from pinning hotrod cars and power tools. Why should dudes feel a need to escape to a whole new site with nearly identical functionality?

I asked Slate contributor Amanda Marcotte—an avid Pinterest user as well as a feminist blogger—what she thought about these male-targeted pinning sites. “I think if the female-heaviness of Pinterest scares dudes and makes them think they need a separate site that does the same thing, that’s pure, unadulterated sexism,” she replied. “Pinterest is great for a variety of interests, and the only reason for men not to use it is fear of female ‘taint.’ ”

Manteresting screenshot

The founders of the dude sites don’t see it that way. Manteresting (a recipient of some recent snark from Jezebel) launched in February 2012, after 27-year-old co-founder Brandon Patchin noticed his wife spending inordinate amounts of time on Pinterest. Where Pinterest has “boards” and “pins,” Manteresting has “workbenches” and “nails.” When I asked Patchin why men need an XY-friendly place apart from Pinterest, he acknowledged that the functionality of the two sites is very similar. But he says that if a man visits both sites for the first time—before he starts following specific users, and begins molding the site to fit his personal interests—he might more easily find topics that appeal to him on Manteresting.

Well, let’s see: As I visit the Manteresting homepage right now, I see images of wingtips, motorcycle helmets, a 1970 Pontiac Firebird, and Mila Kunis in her underwear. The first time I went to Pinterest? It was mostly food, women’s clothes, and beautiful furniture. It’s not hard to imagine that these contrasting arrays will appeal to different kinds of users.

Is there a problem with this divide? When I asked if there was a risk that Manteresting might turn into a space that’s unfriendly to women, Patchin hastened to point out that he bars not-safe-for-work imagery. He and his co-founder “are Christian and have wives, and we ask our wives, ‘Hey, is this appropriate, if you walked into a room and saw me looking at it?’ ” He says one of the most popular Manteresting posts of all time is a graphic demonstrating various ways to knot a necktie.

Dudepins screenshot

As for Tapiture, its CEO John Ellis says visitors to the site are currently running at 80 percent male and 20 percent female. “But we’ll let the community decide how that evolves. We want to be inclusive,” he says. When Ellis talks about Tapiture’s future, it’s clear he’d like it to be a site where people gather to look at fine architecture and design—though I’d warn them that they may also catch a healthy glimpse of Kate Upton’s cleavage. “Technically speaking,” says Ellis, “Pinterest works for a guy the same way it works for a woman, from a product feature standpoint. There’s a lot of great stuff on Pinterest if you’re into recipes and home-ec projects. Our audience is into different stuff.”

It’s true that you can train Pinterest to show you pictures of power tools and bikini babes, if that’s your cup of tea (or a manlier beverage like, uh, bacon-infused bourbon). But it does take a little work. That stuff is far more readily available on the dude sites. To me, the decision to use Manteresting or Tapiture instead of Pinterest seems akin to subscribing to GQ instead of Marie Claire. I don’t find that a sexist choice. It’s just a matter of taste. And indeed there are plenty of women who subscribe to GQ and no doubt some men who subscribe to Marie Claire—just as there are women on Manteresting and men on Pinterest.

Now, if these dude sites didn’t aggressively prune the NSFW images that men try to post, would the sites quickly begin to resemble Penthouse (or, more accurately, a porn-y subforum on Reddit) instead of GQ? Quite possibly. And then men looking for a less pervy atmosphere would likely end up migrating to Pinterest.

It may be that there’s just not much of a market for a male image-sharing site that has the functionality of Pinterest and doesn’t allow porn. Do men really want to create collages that say, “Hey world, this is who I am and what I’m interested in visually, and it doesn’t involve boobs”? It’s not clear that they do—at least not in large numbers. Ellis says Tapiture is getting about 1.3 million unique visitors each month, and Patchin says Manteresting attracts far fewer than that. Meanwhile, Pinterest boasts 30 million monthly uniques.

Ultimately, these Pinterests for dudes are just an amusing sideshow, but a harmless one. There’s been a lot of ridicule directed at products like the ePad Femme (a tablet targeting female buyers) and the Bic Cristal for Her (a ballpoint pen with some pastel flair). Women don’t need products spritzed with a lady-friendly gloss, the argument goes, and it’s incredibly condescending to think that glitter and sparkles will win the hearts of female consumers. And what is Manteresting if not a Pinterest Homme? Seems about time that dudes get some equal-opportunity condescension.