Feminism / Internet

The Butthole of the Internet: Trading Safety for Visibility on Reddit’s TwoXChromosomes

I can’t freaking stand Reddit right now. Sure, there are worse sites on the Internet, I wouldn’t argue with that for a second. But I’ve always felt that you can thrive in different places, on and offline, as long as you can find your community, and right now there’s at least one community that has gone straight to shit.

On May 7, Reddit revamped its default list. This means that while Reddit is made up of thousands of online communities for everything as broad as r/WTF to as niche as r/Ramen, a number of communities show up automatically on the homepage whether you’ve sought them out or not. In an attempt to make its female users more visible, Reddit incorporated into its list of defaults r/TwoXChromosomes, a subreddit for women. And ever since the change, the community has gone from safe and supportive to a total shit show. The argument here is between visibility, and safety. Reddit would argue that visibility is an important factor, but in making a community of women more visible, they have made them more vulnerable.

reddit woman

“If this is another PM asking me for tit pics ‘for science,’ I’m gonna flip my shit.”

TwoXChromosomes was where women shared personal information, and asked for advice, support, and perspective on navigating spaces as women. It was a nice change from the typical communities in Reddit which are overwhelmingly made of white men between the ages of 18 and 30, and where casual racism and sexism are the norm. I’ve been browsing and commenting regularly since 2011, and have seen a lot of changes made to the TwoXChromosomes community, but one thing has always stayed the same. It felt safe, and people were taken at their word. Users weren’t generally interrogated, or challenged. Many were concerned about whether an experience counted as sexual assault, or abuse (not many users know the signs), or if they were just overreacting or too emotional (another primary concern with users). Most of the time, their first reaction was correct. It was our job to affirm experiences, telling them “No, you’re not crazy.”

When I started browsing that subreddit, my then-boyfriend blew it off as “boring.” But it felt like having girl talk, or a perpetual slumber party where the discussion ranged from goofy, to troublesome. There were times when I worried about the safety of some of the women, and we reached out to each other, offering support and anecdotes of our own, and in some cases, even places to stay or legal advice when situations got unbearable. Women’s voices were upheld and respected compared to the greater Reddit site, where their bodies were critiqued for no reason, experiences were questioned, and they received creepy messages for something as innocuous for showing their faces (“Is OP an attention whore, or did she just take a picture?”).

Since the defaulting of TwoXChromosomes, the dynamic of the community has changed drastically. Some new users are glad to have found the community, to which community members always say “welcome,” regardless of gender. But along with an influx of trolls antagonizing users, is an influx of well meaning men who come in to ask women to explain feminism to them. There’s general seepage of the greater Reddit community coming in and thinking their voices are just as important here as they are anywhere else (they aren’t, sorry). There is an onslaught of Not All Men. New users speculate whether female CEOs being more likely to be fired is based on performance rather than gender, a discussion that would not really have occurred before. In a discussion about rape, a male Redditor brings up the victims of false accusations almost immediately. This is only the tip of the iceberg, and r/SubredditDrama has been keeping a daily account on the continued problems.

Users responded to these changes by creating TMI topics and pushing them to the front page. Topics about “Vaginally secreted mucus: how much is too much?” and “Oh the period shits.” It’s beautiful. It feels like spitting in your own food so no one else can have it. So far, TMI is my favorite form of protest of all time, but while veteran readers of r/WTF are gagging over the mechanisms of the female body, it doesn’t seem to be enough.

Has the greater community become better and more tolerant of women since the defaulting? I would argue absolutely not. In fact, within the past week, there have been highly upvoted anti-women posts that I have not witnessed since I systematically unsubscribed from other defaults with thinly veiled bigotry like r/AdviceAnimals. This includes the GirlWritesWhat video about Disposable Males, a video about the alleged “war on boys,” and most recently, a video where Sean Connery smugly defends his right to hit women. Thinking about how these posts appear on the front page, the thousands of people upvoting it in approval, and the millions more who are seeing them, and using this content to defend bigoted and dangerous behaviorall this makes me so angry and fearful. 

In a poll taken by the community, a huge percentage were vehemently against the defaulting. While mods say it’s impossible to know who in the community is voting, and who is just a troll, the results seem to match up with the upvoted comments expressing fatigue. I know Reddit wants to pretend it’s woman friendly by making women more visible, but in doing so it is exposing normally somewhat more private and anonymous sensitive discussions about health, abuse, sexual assault, body image, etc. The purpose of shuffling the subreddits around is to keep Reddit’s user base active and growing at all costs. This change is not in the service to the women who are affected by it, and it never was.

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