The Washington Post

The online dance of social media sites

The president and the GOP presidential candidates have tapped into the powers of social media to fuel the White House race. President Obama uses Google Plus. Twitter feeds are full of Republican primary schedules.

And, last week, on the most talked-about social media site of the moment, a Romney joined the reported 10 million-and-growing Pinterest fans.

It was not Mitt Romney who joined. It was his wife, Ann, who presents a glimpse into her tastes on digital pinboards: a love of “Anna Karenina,” a healthful banana-bread recipe and photographs of the New England Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. The site allows users to “pin” images from around the Web into categories they create. Ann Romney’s photos of the MS Society events, for instance, are in a category called “Things I Love.”

Why Ann Romney, and not her husband, stepped in as the de facto pinner of the Romney campaign, is easily understood with a quick look at Pinterest’s audience: More than 60 percent of the pinners are women.

A few months ago, when the site to sample was Google Plus, the opposite was true. Early numbers claimed that nine in 10 Google Plus users were men. That prompted women to start campaigns — such as Women of G+ — to lure more to sign up.

Similar gender dynamics play out across the Web. Women use Facebook more. Men turn to LinkedIn. On the social news site Reddit, where users often post under pseudonyms, a common refrain is posted anytime a user identifies herself as female: “There’s a girl on Reddit!?”

Are social media sites destined to always be the online equivalent of a seventh-grade dance? Men on one side, women on the other?

The numbers suggest that, instead, women will soon overrun the dance floor of social media sites — and what’s more, be the DJs, too.

Since 2008, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project’s Kathryn Zickuhr, women have led men in the use of social media sites. Women not only outnumber men on the sites (69 percent of women use social media, compared with 60 percent of men), they also spend more time on them.

For Johanna Blakley, who researches the impact of mass media as a professor at the University of Southern California, the predominance of women on social sites could lead to a positive, although subtle, change in the way women are represented in media. In a TED Talk on the subject last year, she spoke about her belief that social media will help “dismantle some of the silly and demeaning stereotypes that we see in media and advertising about gender.”

Thanks to sites including Pinterest, women can assert via pins, posts and updates who they are and what they want, rather than be mere observers of an advertising-fueled culture.

Women are moving from passive purchasers to online authorities and tastemakers. Gender differences remain, but some of the false stereotypes might die a death by a thousand pins.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Sleep advice you won't find in baby books
In defense of dads
Scenes from Brazil's Carajás Railway
Play Videos
For good coffee, sniff, slurp and spit
How to keep your child safe in the water
How your online data can get hijacked
Play Videos
How to avoid harmful chemicals in school supplies
Full disclosure: 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 1 ghoul
How much can one woman eat?
Play Videos
What you need to know about Legionnaires' disease
How to get organized for back to school
Pandas, from birth to milk to mom

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.