Welcome to Reddit
When it comes to sourcing a diverse spectrum of opinions on gender equality, look no further than the internet. There are many social media sources that allow users to post, share, vent and interact with others on the internet, and so I chose to investigate Reddit, an online social media community that is dubbed “the front page of the internet”, covering all these features and more (O’Gara, 2013). Sharing content is a key component of Reddit, whether it be articles, images, reviews, opinions, stories, or simply commenting on other people’s posts, and this enables other users, or “redditors”, to engage with the most popular and interesting content from across the internet. With a reputation as a channel with some heavily opinionated content on an incredibly diverse range of topics from all corners of the web, I wanted to expand and deepen my understanding of gender equality through exposure to some unique perspectives on the issue of gender equality and males.
The Unique Nature of Redditors
An interesting feature of Reddit is the democratic way in which redditors interact with the platform. Although redditors are free to post at will, the spread of content is controlled via up or down voting on posts and comments, bringing popular content to the ‘Front Page’. Further, within Reddit are hundreds of thousands of “subreddits”, which are more specific communities established around topics of interest. These subreddits, denoted as /r/NAME, are often governed by guidelines set by “moderators” who establish and control the subreddit, require subscribers to read the rules before posting (for example refer to source 1, showing the guidelines for The Red Pill subreddit). Due to the anonymity of Reddit, opposed to platforms such Facebook or Instagram, opinions tend to be more open and honest, but can also lead to very heated debates and arguments. Statistically, the Reddit community has a male to female ratio of 2:1, with 18-29 year old males representing the largest and most active demographic.
As a foreigner to this platform, I began by understanding the interaction hierarchy of Reddit. As represented in the flowchart in source 2, I began by searching for subreddits under the broad terms of “feminism”, “gender equality” and “feminism men”. I was looking in particular for posts that challenged my own opinions of this topic, however I maintained consistency in my process restrictions to ensure validity in my findings. Upon searching these terms, I was inundated by a range of subreddits that represented different stances on the issues. Considering the top 3 subreddits from each search term I then narrowed my search into the most subscribed under each topic. Investigating each subreddit, I again refined the search to posts listed under the “controversial” label that were posted in the last week, and then ordered them by popularity of engagement. From here I began reading the top posts and discussion threads for each. The main shortcomings of this refinement process are that I only get exposed to a relatively minuscule slice of the huge expanse of posts on these topics. This said, trying to analyse quantity over quality within Reddit would be ineffective, never ending, and far too difficult to draw singular conclusions due to the uniquely subjective nature of the posts.
A Tone of Surprise
The spectrum of opinions on gender equality ranged hugely in the data that I investigated, however I was most intrigued by one’s focusing on anti-feminism and men’s rights. Although I can only speculate at the gender of the redditors posting and interacting with the comments, I found that the top posts in the subreddits explored relatively controversial issues, usually with a focus on sex or a critique of women. The vernacular used when referring to women by presumably male redditors is almost consistently derogatory and within certain subreddits is condoned. One such post in /r/TheRedPill about an experience with an escort, a sample shown in source 3, one redditor comments that “all women are whores”, and despite a clear and logical explanation, the language and tone discourage an equal mentality (full comment and reply shown in source 4). Even the name of subreddit ‘Pussy Pass Denied’ is extremely offensive to women, with it’s description as “[a place] where women are not allowed to use their gender as a handicap or an excuse to act like assholes” (Mustaka, 2014). Although also stating “no misogynists”, the tone and stance creates a division that begins to separate women from the discussion, despite the overarching goal being for total gender equality. Comparatively, analysing the popular posts on /r/Feminism, there is a more driven tone towards equality, perhaps due to the guidelines disallowing sexism, classism, homophobia, etc. A popular upvoted post in this subreddit is an image calling out the UBC for ignoring sexual assault, shown in source 5, highlighting the difference in tone between the different subreddits.
Considering how different the tones and expression of opinion are across these subreddits, one could argue that this is a result of the guidelines or interests of the subscribers and that this isn’t a fair representation. However, as the analysis represents the most popular opinions across each subreddit, it is worth questioning the notions and mentalities of the people willingly expressing their ideas on the internet and how strong opinions influence those of other people.
Mapping Reddit Posts
As mentioned, considering Reddit posts in terms of quantity to then express them in a data visualisation form would be extremely difficult and subjective, however utilising the algorithms put in place by Reddit to determine the popularity of posts could be something worth tapping into. An interesting visualisation could be representing on a global map the locations of heavily engaged subscribers to gender equality subreddits with use of a colour spectrum to determine stance on the issue. On a much smaller scale, analysing the language of a single post and overlaying maps of the percentage of derogatory, biased and/or informed information from different subreddits; an example sketch of this mapping is shown in source 6. This kind of mapping could be really interesting to compare how controversial issues are voiced and supported by different perspectives, although this kind of mapping is heavily interpretational and would have to be supported by a very wide analysis to show an accurate representation.
Summary of Findings
- There was a significant amount more engagement with subreddits that focused on men’s rights and men’s liberation. A plausible reason for this could be the much higher ratio of male to female (2:1) redditors and therefore increased users likely to relate to and engage with these topics.
- I was fascinated by the rules and guidelines that govern subreddits. This completely altered my perception of online discussion forums, where I ignorantly imagined I would find unstructured pages of arguments and rants by anonymous members of patriarchal societies. I am happy to admit that I was wrong.
- Despite rules disallowing misogynists in certain pro-men’s right’s subreddits, the language used by a lot of presumably male redditors towards women uses a lot of derogatory and offensive language, despite the tone being generally matter-of-fact and content being relatively well-informed. There is an intrinsic culture in these subreddit communities that condone this mentality and discourse around women. To what extent this is hindering or encouraging gender equality I do not know at this point.
- The tone, vernacular and engagement of posts within popular pro-feminist subreddits were completely different to their male counterparts, with a greater emphasis on empowering women, calling out injustice and oppression of women by both individuals and institutions. Contrastingly, the tone was more critical than derogatory towards opposing perceptions, perhaps as the mentality of these subscribers to strive for equality as opposed to the scathing perspective of privileged.
- Analysing this data is so expansive and due to the nature of Reddit, let alone the wider internet, is infinite as new posts are being uploaded every second. Although I was as consistent in my process as I could be, and ended up with a lot of content to look through in the few posts I had whittled my selection down to, I felt that so many interesting opinions, posts, and subreddits were lost in the process. I would love to analyse further the locations and population densities of redditors, or the demographic make up of specific subreddits, however due to the anonymity and privacy restrictions of Reddit this would be a really big challenge.
by Lily Partridge
O’Gara, J., 2013, ‘Reddit 101: a beginner’s guide to the front page of the internet,’ Digital Trends, viewed 5 September 2016, accessed at: <http://www.digitaltrends.com/social-media/reddit-101/>.
Reddit posts and image sources:
‘Yamato403’, 3 September 2016, ‘I went to a highclass escort and thought I’d share some details with you’, /r/The Red Pill, Reddit, viewed 5 September 2016, accessed at: <https://www.reddit.com/r/TheRedPill/comments/50y48f/i_went_to_a_highclass_escort_and_thought_id_share/>.
‘danachos’, 3 September 2016, ‘University of British Columbia’s student society throwing some much needed shade at the start of the school year’, /r/Feminism, Reddit, viewed 5 September 2016, accessed via imgur at: <https://imgur.com/a/nJwoq#SESheqp>.
‘Mustaka’, 2014, /r/PussyPassDenied, Reddit, viewed 5 September 2016, accessed at: <https://www.reddit.com/r/pussypassdenied/>.