Reddit: Rape Culture in all its ‘Glory’

Last month, after running into yet another problem with users’ personal safety, Reddit created its first ever anti-harassment policy. The crux of it read:

“Because of this, we are changing our practices to prohibit attacks and harassment of individuals through reddit with the goal of preventing them. We define harassment as:

Systematic and/or continued actions to torment or demean someone in a way that would make a reasonable person (1) conclude that reddit is not a safe platform to express their ideas or participate in the conversation, or (2) fear for their safety or the safety of those around them.

If you are being harassed, report the private message, post or comment and user by emailing or modmailing us; include external links if they are relevant.”

Despite this policy, the following subreddits are still active on the website:
















There aren’t really words to describe these. I could use ‘obscene’, ‘disgusting’, ‘outrageous’. For now, I’ll go with ‘unacceptable’. There is a line, even on the Internet, and these cross it.

These are only a selection of the worst subreddits, but the one I’m going to focus on is /r/rapingwomen. It currently has around 2,300 users, and includes threads such as a 14-part series called “How to Get Away with Rape”, which has been stickied at the top of the forum, “Seeking rape videos with bondage”, “Rape as a service to society” and “Modern Western women love rape”.

Emilie Buchwald, author of Transforming a Rape Culture, defines rape culture as “…a complex set of beliefs that encourage male sexual aggression and supports violence against women. … A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm … In a rape culture both men and women assume that sexual violence is a fact of life, inevitable…”

This subreddit is an explicit example of rape culture in motion; it shows that there are thousands of people (and this is only in one small, niche section of the Internet - think how many others lurk on forms, or don’t use the Internet at all) who see rape as a fact of life and women’s bodies as something they are simply entitled to. The fact that Reddit allows this community to continue and, in fact, thrive is another less obvious example of rape culture. The Internet is already an incredibly aggressive and unsafe space for many women - why encourage the gathering of abusers? The last thing we need is a network who can swap ideas and target individuals as they wish. /r/rapingwomen and other subreddits like it are in direct violation of the anti-harassment policy that Reddit has launched, showing that the website is making an empty gesture rather than a real effort to protect its users.

Luckily for us, a solution may be imminent. But first, some backstory is required. Reddit was co-founded by Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian in 2005. They both moved on in 2009, and some other (not-relevant-to-the-story-so-I-won’t-go-into-them) people were in charge. From 2012, a man named Yishan Wong was CEO. Replacing Wong in 2014 was a woman named Ellen Pao. Pao had previously worked for a company called Kleiner Perkins, and in 2012, filed a gender discrimination lawsuit against her employer, which she won. When Pao left Kleiner Perkins and became CEO of Reddit, Reddit users were immediately on their guard - sexism was already known to be rife across the website and a female CEO was not exactly everyone’s first choice. Then she introduced the anti-harassment policy copied above, and closed five offending subreddits down. Immediately, a petition was circulated, and over 200,000 Reddit users signed, asking for Pao’s resignation. They got their wish. On July 10th this year, Pao resigned. Steve Huffman (the original co-founder) returned as CEO.

On July 15th, ex-CEO Yishan Wong (remember him?) posted a message explaining a few little-known facts. Like, when he had been CEO, there had been a subreddit where users would submit creepy photos of women without their knowledge and/or permission, and he had gone to Steve Huffman for advice:

“The very interesting thing he wrote back was “back when I was running things, if there was anything racist, sexist, or homophobic I’d ban it right away. I don’t think there’s a place for such things on reddit. Of course, now that reddit is much bigger, I understand if maybe things are different.”

I’ve always remembered that email when I read the occasional posting here where people say “the founders of reddit intended this to be a place for free speech.” Human minds love originalism, e.g. “we’re in trouble, so surely if we go back to the original intentions, we can make things good again.” Sorry to tell you guys but NO, that wasn’t their intention at all ever.”

Wong goes on to explain that when Ellen Pao had been CEO, she consistently defended the controversial subreddits, citing the importance of free speech across the website. Of course, she wasn’t to know that the same users posting in these subreddits would turn their toxic sexism on her. Now that she’s no longer CEO, and Steve Huffman is, Wong believes things are going to change on Reddit:

“Well, now she’s [Ellen Pao] gone (you did it reddit!), and /u/spez [Steve Huffman] has the moral authority as a co-founder to move ahead with the purge. We tried to let you govern yourselves and you failed, so now The Man is going to set some Rules. Admittedly, I can’t say I’m terribly upset.”

It looks as though the ‘Wild West of the Internet’ (as it’s wistfully called by people with neckbeards and a hard-on for cowboy video games) is in for some much-needed moderating.

In the meantime, the hashtag #RapeFreeReddit has emerged on Twitter in response to the offensive subreddits. I encourage everyone to join the online fight against these forums, until Reddit agrees to enforce its own policy and start closing threads which make people feel unsafe. In addition to tweeting @reddit itself, it’s also a good idea to reach out to celebrities who have upcoming AMAs, as well as celebrity investors such as Jared Leto and Snoop Dogg.

Rape culture is usually thought of as something insidious and covert, rather than something which announces itself as obviously as this. If it’s going to shout from the rooftops (and “Modern Western women love rape” is as loud as it gets), then it’s time we shouted back. Steve Huffman is going to need encouragement to ban the subreddits as he’s definitely not going to get it from the users, so I say we push for the change and shame Reddit into finally taking action. It’s time that we say, ‘This is unacceptable’. It’s time that we stop accepting it.

Words by Jade Moulds

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