Women, healing, and community: Cyberfeminist activity on Reddit
As PCOS influences every aspect of a woman’s life, including relationships and work, turning to spaces like reddit to learn how to live with this illness is an important cyberfeminist activity. Women with PCOS benefit—both online and off—not only from increased agency in terms of their medical care, but from understanding and minimizing the psychological effects of the disease based on other women’s experiences. This is critical cyberfeminist action: creating a network of information sharing that moves the personal into the political and providing a meaningful space for other women to have a voice. This is especially important considering that the space these women have appropriated is a space that is not known for affirming women as equals. Yes, reddit is a site where a lot of problematic content, viewpoint variation, and trolling misogyny happens, but women are exploiting those features for their own surprising feminist gain.
Members of the subreddit r/PCOS move beyond the base assumptions of reddit to develop their own guidelines that work to create a welcoming space and evolve to make room for the wants and needs of other members. In this space, these women can continue working on their identities. Just as Jen Almjeld (2015) argued that it might be easy to dismiss Pinterest as a silly and feminine space while it also offers girls a way to try out various types of girlhood in a safe space, the affordances of reddit and the r/PCOS provide women a relatively safe and anonymous space for this moment in their lives. The active engagement of the r/PCOS members highlights how users can reshape social media spaces by challenging and interrogating the expectations of any given platform.
While these conversations about various issues of PCOS are just a small sample of conversation in the r/PCOS, there are larger implications of this community on reddit. As I have tried to demonstrate, the r/PCOS is a rich community of cyberfeminist activity created through their own use of the reddit space and conventions. While many women posting on the r/PCOS may not realize or understand the feminist nature of their reddit activities, these are very active and political spaces where they are taking feminist action just by interacting in this space. These rhetorical moments of collaboration, reciprocity, non-competitiveness, respect, community building, and patience give women the opportunity to stand together and carve out spaces for their voices to be heard in areas where the loudest voices are often antagonistic and disconcerting. They can be conversations about health issues, such as PCOS or other infertility issues, or discussions on motherhood or any issues women face; while reddit appears to be one of the more troubling gendered spaces online, this feminist approach to sobering issues women need to discuss can happen anywhere. Most recently, we have seen these feminist approaches with hashtag movements such #metoo and #youknowme. As women charge forward, they become more empowered and more equipped to both advocate for themselves offline and deal with behavior on reddit, or other online spaces, as well as assert their right to communicate in other spaces that may not always be female friendly.
While the analysis I present here illustrates just one area of reddit that women are developing as a cyberfeminist space, there are still other areas and questions that I invite others to investigate beyond what I discuss here. For example, what are other corners of reddit that may be pushing back against the misogynist atmosphere of reddit through cyberfeminist activities, and what might that mean for an outside perspective of reddit? Could reddit, because of its gendered reputation, ultimately become a space for women to congregate for feminist movements? Further questions might address other spaces online that women have appropriated for medical self-narratives and interactions with others through a feminist approach. And how might a feminist approach to social media help to interrogate how women communicate with each other in other online spaces? While previous literature touches on issues of technical and cultural competence that impacts a women’s ability to discuss these issues online, there is still much work that can be done regarding the accessibility of reddit and, further, social media for women in many fields.
While it may be easy to overlook reddit as a misogynistic and troubling social media platform, there are opportuntiies for women to use the affordances of reddit for their own specific purposes. Creating space to educate themselves, wrestle with online identities, and forming a network of information sharing is critical cyberfeminist action.
Other Subreddits Pushing Back Against Misogynistic Behavior
Reddit as a Space for Feminist Movements
Other Online Spaces Appropriated for Medical Self-Narratives