Communication Currents

Screenshot of Pinterest

Pinterest Creates New Labor for Women

December 1, 2016
Digital Communication & Gaming, Visual Communication

Women have long used scrapbooks to curate their experiences, celebrate accomplishments, and document memories. Now they are using the social networking site Pinterest, which is visually similar to scrapbooking, but doesn’t serve the same purpose. On Pinterest, women envision ideal versions of themselves and their homes instead of celebrating who they have been and the successes they have had.

In her recent article, Hillary A. Jones of California State University, Fresno, identifies what she calls Pinterest’s “future-oriented affective capacity of yearning.” In other words, Pinterest users collect and broadcast their wishes for their lives rather than their accomplishments. “Rather than helping to celebrate memories and successes, therefore, Pinterest engages users in labor: curating yearning and self-surveilling,” Jones writes.

Crafting (re)collections

As their primary function, scrapbooks offer remembrance. In the analog world, some women formed cropping groups to bond socially, collaborate in honing their scrapbooking craft, and create practical objects and rhetorical frames for their lives.

According to past research, women have also used crafting to mobilize politically. Cropping groups like the ones mentioned above have provided women with access to power and the ability to revalue their own labor. Other researchers complicate this view by highlighting issues such as the privilege required to engage in crafting.

Many women have sought to replicate these cropping group experiences online, Jones explains, which has led to social media adapting traditional practices into digital spaces such as Pinterest.


Pinterest is a digital, visual, bookmarking platform that enables users to collect images and ideas they find online and on the rest of the site. It is composed of individual images, or “pins,” presented as a stream of collected images tiled on a single screen. Users pin images to thematic “boards” that the user curates, presenting an aesthetic similar to matted photos pasted to a scrapbook page. As a social networking site, Pinterest encourages interaction. Users can locate new material to pin by following or browsing others’ boards. The website has approximately 87.4 million confirmed users worldwide.

The traffic generated by Pinterest tends to lead to consumption. One marketing blog reported that, on average, “purchases driven through Pinterest are $168.83 per checkout—nearly double that of Facebook and Twitter.” Most Pinterest users would not opt to watch several hours of advertising daily, but some spend several hours a day on the site creating marketing profiles: curated boards containing the items, practices, and experiences for which they yearn.

Pinning as Third-Shift Labor

In her essay, Jones explains that women traditionally work three “shifts.” The first shift consists of paid labor outside the home. Women also tend to engage in a second shift, performing domestic work to maintain the home. Finally, scholars have theorized a third shift, which accounts for unpaid activities that “purport to be leisure activity but yield production that advantages capitalism.” Activities during the third shift of labor might include maintaining body fitness, voluntarism and community contributions, and working to improve the self in different ways.

Using this concept, scholars explain how capitalism can convert leisure into new forms of labor. Women normally see their time on websites such as Pinterest as leisurely and fun. However, Jones explains that Pinterest causes women to feel what she calls “future-oriented yearning.” This yearning leads women to virtually hoard images of products or practices for imaginary future use or consumption, which creates a third shift of labor in women’s leisure time, one that is aimed at perfecting the first and second shifts.

This future-oriented yearning differs from the mode of scrapbooks, which is remembrance. To scrapbook, women put together what they have access to when assembling the books. A scrapbook may contain photos and mementos from a vacation or a child’s first day of school. This may produce yearning as nostalgia, which is a longing for the past.

Pinterest, however, causes users to look to the future across all aspects of their lives. The author notes that on June 18, 2016, the first five pins on Pinterest’s “Popular” page “typified the broad range of future-oriented yearning common to the site: a Louboutin shoe, a tip for improving teaching, an abs workout, a parenting tip, and a house in Laguna Beach, captioned “luxury design.”

Pinterest’s yearning engages users in imagining and surveilling all parts of life. Looking through the site, says Jones, is like being assailed by Vogue, Shape, GQ, Better Homes & Gardens, and thousands of other magazines at once. On Pinterest, women see a hyper-idealized world that coaches users how to govern almost every aspect of their lives. Jones writes:

The ‘ideal’ woman constructed rhetorically on Pinterest plans perfect meals and custom cocktails for perfect parties (that she makes all of the decorations for, by hand, using repurposed materials), dresses a body honed by perfect workouts with the ideal outfit, dons perfect makeup and nail polishes, dresses her partner and children perfectly, and welcomes guests into a perfectly designed home featuring perfect photos from perfect vacations and previous parties.


While Pinterest might share some visual similarities to scrapbooking, its promise of a space for imagining is undercut by the way it engages women in capitalist behaviors, Jones argues. Instead of curating their experiences or connecting with other people, women end up yearning for an ideal future and surveilling every aspect of their lives. 

About the author (s)

Hillary A. Jones

California State University

Assistant Professor

Hillary A. Jones