Sexism on Reddit

Programmer and self-proclaimed geek Mariya Lysenkova runs Verdage, a consultancy whose offerings include the CMS system Webist. Although happy with her roster of clients, including American Express Publishing and The Economist, she would love to build more websites for woman-owned startups.

Tits or GTFO
sudo make me a sandwich
Go back to the kitchen!

No, that’s not a haiku. Those are some of the comments I’ve come to expect as a girl with an arsenal of geek interests: programming, politics, and of course, silly internet memes. I’m not easily offended. Tits or GTFO. Ha ha ha.

Millions of battered women and I’m still eating mine plain?

Ha…!

Please post a nude pic in the Gone Wild sub-reddit, so we can determine if you are just an ugly angry pig or if you are attractive and therefore have a serious point to be considered.

Umm…ha?

Yet even these increasingly offensive comments are not enough to rattle me. After all, what would the interwebs be without trolls angling for the maximum shock value? Don’t feed the trolls, as they say, and that means ignoring most of the blatant sexist nonsense left in the comments at Reddit.com and other social news sites.

Nor, in the interests of space, will I delve into my experience debating controversial topics: abortion, alleged IQ differences between men and women, appropriate punishments for false rape accusations, transgendered rights, legalization of female toplessness and so on. Suffice to say that my thoughts on these topics have prompted less than enlightened responses.

What really gets to me — I mean really, really annoys me — lies in longer threads, where the topic is too mundane and the exchange too long and nuanced to warrant trolling. That is to say, I’m shocked by what some average Joes think about the average Jane.

Take one hot topic that recently popped up on Reddit, my favorite social news site. The Onion, in typical Onion fashion, published this satirical piece about a girl who torments her lovesick male friend. It’s a funny piece, especially since I’ve been on both sides of the lovelorn friend equation. But boy, what a misogynistic crapstorm ensued on Reddit. If a woman has a platonic friendship with a man, the consensus seemed to say, she is likely manipulating his sexual attraction to her. The comments ranged from “Girls are fucking retarded†to equating coquetry with rape. Never mind that a man might befriend a woman even if he is married, gay, or just not sexually attracted to her. Never mind that a truly unhealthy friendship can be ended by either party at any time. A man out there is not getting laid — and it’s a woman’s fault!

And when women aren’t viciously cock-teasing their friends, they are, of course, busy cheating on their boyfriends, according to some other threads. “If the girl truly cared about her current boyfriend, she wouldn’t maintain contact with her ex†wrote one poster. “Let’s say 5% of women who hang out with their ex’s still sleep with them,†noted another. “I do not like those odds and will not put up with it.†Sure, many couples break up precisely because the “spark is goneâ€, but remain great friends, but why put your new boyfriend through that? Apparently, the insecurities of a woman’s current partner should determine whom she does and doesn’t associate with.

Besides manipulation and philandering, no misogynistic portrait would be complete without greed. “How often have you or your female friends offered to pay for a first date, or even offered to pay your share of a first date?†asked one Redditor. “Would you expect a man to purchase a ridiculously expensive ring for you before marriage? Have you ever considered what it must feel like to be obligated to do something like that? Do you think you would forgo the jewelry or offer to help defray the costs of it?†Never mind that I’m currently cohabiting with my partner in Scandinavia, where couples are expected to split expenses 50/50, and that we have no intention of bringing diamond engagement rings into the equation. Never mind that this is the attitude shared by most of my female friends back in the U.S. No – this is how all women think, everywhere. Period.

The regular readers of social news sites are predominantly younger males, and it’s troubling that the next generation of men are soaking in such caricatures of women, portrayed as something fundamentally different and even dangerous. Indeed, if one constructs a composite image of a woman based on comments seen online, she is a self-obsessed, manipulative, ball-busting harpy. With a penchant for expensive shoes, of course.

Our society has recognized that it’s inaccurate and inappropriate to draw conclusions about a group based on the actions of a few. For example, “Muslims are terrorists†and “Blacks are violent†would make even the most immature Redditor cringe — and downvote. Yet comments like “Women are materialistic†and “Women are manipulative†get electronic nods. Generalizing about a gender is still acceptable.

Some women, of course, also make gross generalizations about men. But, just like our governments and other institutions of power, women are hugely underrepresented in the geekosphere. This is illustrated by the fact that my comments, under a gender-neutral Reddit username, are often met with, “Well played, sir!†So with women in the minority, a comment like “men are pigs†would be downvoted into oblivion, while “women are bitches†stands a damned good chance. And this makes it harder to open a dialogue on the subject. When I posted on Reddit about sexism on the site, only a handful of women responded, most of them through private messages. Bullying, it seems, can drive a minority opinion underground even in an anonymous setting.

But is online misogyny a real cause for concern? One man responded to my post with, “I treat women the same way I treat men; Like shit. Don’t blame it on sexism.†It may well be that people in anonymous settings are, well, jerks. Penny Arcade thoughtfully illustrated this phenomenon:
Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad

So what is a geek girl to do? My advice: make yourself heard online, but don’t take any of it personally. In the words of one wise Redditor: “Getting offended at the attitudes of a bunch of teenage boys is like peeing into the wind. You’re always going to get it in your face.†Never mind, of course, that not all Redditors can pee into the wind.

8 thoughts on “Sexism on Reddit

  1. Laughingrat

    But is online misogyny a real cause for concern?

    Yes.

    Harassment is harassment. Creating an atmosphere full of dehumanization and threats is harassment. It keeps women offline or, if they are online, subdued. It keeps the focus off what women say and on their status, under a sexist dominant culture, as sexual receptacles. This is its intent. That is precisely what such behavior is meant to do.

    Of course the jerkwad you quoted said his behavior has nothing to do with sexism, and of course his eleven million misogynist buddies would agree; part and parcel of sexism is pretending that sexism doesn’t exist. The pressure is on women 24/7, online and off, to sit down and shut up about this stuff, because a refusal to hold both individual misogynists and society as a whole responsible for this is precisely what preserves male privilege. And the men involved? You better believe they’re not going to be honest about their beliefs–but their real opinions of women come through crystal-clear despite their denials and refusals of responsibility.

    I can’t believe we live in a time when Kathy Sierra was repeatedly subjected to the most base and vicious online harassment, and threatened with brutal sexual assault and violence against herself and her children simply for being a female blogger in the tech community, yet there’s actually still questions raised about whether misogyny on the internet is a problem. Yes, it’s a problem, and yes, it’s personal, because it personally affects every woman who encounters it. As your roundup of remarks shows, these ideas and behaviors are hardly extreme; they’re not random outliers, the behaviors and attitudes of a few mentally ill persons. On the contrary, they represent a sizeable norm.

    1. Bene

      Agreed–it’s a concern because it’s revealing of a greater and often hidden problem. When I see crap like that, it’s a reminder to look twice before assuming anything, that there’s a culture of misogyny, not just Bad People.

      A reminder I wish I didn’t need, mind.

      1. Skud

        Good idea :) I’ve been trying to convince Rat to be a guest blogger anyway and she keeps saying that all she’s good for is ranting. Rant on, I say!

  2. Erika

    Definitely. I don’t know of a place to get tech news that’s not served up with an occasional side of misogyny, and it definitely reduces my consumption of tech news.

      1. Erika

        Oh, that O’Reilly site looks good, thanks. The only tech site I read regularly these days is stackoverflow, which seems to be mostly male but is suprisingly female-friendly (no snark yet on questions and answers posted with a female username, and I’ve seen misogyny voted down, not up), but it’s not exactly news, at least not directly.

  3. elfwreck

    It occurs to me that the proper response to “well played, sir!” may be “thank you, ma’am,” regardless of the username of the commenter.

Comments are closed.