If you're a woman and you use the internet, you will most likely have a complicated relationship with reddit.
It's not not like virtual bro forums 4chan and 8chan – homes of Gamergate, "jailbait" photos, doxxing and very angry young men – but a social forum largely made up of young-ish male Americans. Think of the archetypal reddit user as a fedora-wearing "but actually" atheist who likes Obama and maybe doesn't have objectionable opinions about women, but does think they should shave more often. And then imagine him getting slightly offended about my generalisation of a large group of men. That's a typical reddit user.
I used to spend a large amount of my time on the site. Although low-key sexism permeated most threads, I was able to overlook it – because how sexist can you really be on a food porn thread? I spent years on it finding news stories before they went mainstream; I read about relationship problems; and I looked at a ton of puppy pictures.
But then it changed. After various messages in response to my comments on boards telling me to "suck dick Gloria Steinem", the final straw came when a story popped up on my feed: Feminist SJW (social justice warrior) gets "destroyed" by David Starkey. This feminist was writer and activist Laurie Penny. The thread was pages of vitriol and hatred for a young woman attempting to take down an old white historian. It was full of misogyny; it was full of lies about her credentials as a journalist by American men who had little understanding of how journalism worked. It was a circle jerk of bullshit. I was out.
That was until Trump won. As with all defeats of the left, soon came the accusations that we needed to "understand the right" more. So that's what I did. I spent a month hanging out on "The Red Pill", the men's rights activist (MRA) forum hosted on reddit and populated by plenty of "alt-right" types. It's a hateful, bitter place. Most of the posters are explicit about how not being "given" sex or rejection has shaped their attitudes to women, so it's easy to see the motivation behind their misogyny.
Feminism, the MRAs say, is stupid because women actually hold all the power in the world. This is because they're given the agency to deny sex. And so the forum pedals terrible pseudo-science to justify a "survival of the fittest" sexual market where "alpha" and "beta" men are rated in terms of value. For example, an "alpha widow" is someone who has been "abandoned by an alpha male". This is a real blow for her and for lesser males because women can't "date backwards" – once she's got with a male 8, she can't date anyone with a lower rating and be happy.
The result is that she becomes a "damaged woman accustomed to a tier of man she can no longer attract". Or, as TRP bros will say, she becomes "post wall", where her own view of her "sexual market value" exceeds her "actual sexual market value". Nice.
Out in the real world, Donald Trump has given new hope to the men of TRP. Who better to idolise than an unwavering sexist figure with a model wife who bullshitted his way into ultimate power via stepping on a feminist? He is an "alpha" who convinced the white women of America to vote for him.
With Trump's win in mind, one of the main things I noticed was that rhetorical tools used in these threads are very similar to the lefty groups I spend time on. The memes, acronyms and echo-chamber way of thinking are all familiar. But instead, in TRP world, women do lie about rape and do like to be treated like shit. Seeing the exact opposite of your own opinion being spread via the same memes you would use does make you step outside your own online bubble and realise how absurd you must appear to a political opponent. Except, people on the left generally don't call rape survivors liars, or reckon they know better than the overwhelming majority of climate experts when it comes to whether or not climate change is real.
Americans are the biggest users of Reddit, ahead of the UK and Canada, but the politics is international, especially after Brexit became a buzzword for success among the right. And much like the way Brexit rhetoric was built on a bed of falsities, reinforced and regurgitated with authority, TRP is a similar example of lies, suddenly reinvigorated by the world's inexorable shift to the right.
One of the incredible feats of TRP is how it's managed to pack so much clout behind the ideas it purports. At every step there's a Red Pill theory that can be cited, backing up shallow arguments with more shallow arguments that have a Special Name. Just like the UK's Oxbridge universities maintain exclusivity with an entire language dedicated to the ins and outs of the institutions, the lexicon of TRP makes the users feel part of an established pseudo-academic sector or club. It's a home for the self-proclaimed "beta-male" rejects. This, like most cultish ideology, appeals to the lost.
The narratives created by TRP, in my opinion, are myths to enable its users to justify rejection, overcome a lack of self-confidence and are the result of a crippling power complex. Before I delved into TRP, I thought that the harmful, hateful opinions held there were alarming but unthreatening, occurring in an online space so distanced from my own personal political anchor. But perhaps we shouldn't be so detached: if today's politics are evidence of anything, it's that those who feel ignored have finally managed to wield the most power.
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