Women, healing, and community: Cyberfeminist activity on Reddit

Meg McGuire

What is reddit

In order to understand how women with PCOS may find reddit appealing as an online space to discuss their illness, it is important to understand how reddit works for users. First launched in 2005, reddit is a social media site organized much like a collection of discussion forums where users share news and links to articles and GIFs. According to analytics company Alexa, it is the seventh most visited website in the United States (Alexa, 2018), just behind Google, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, and Yahoo. In this section, I will discuss the basic functions of how to use the site, what makes it different from other social media sites, and how the r/PCOS has set up their subreddit.

wordcloud reddit robot

"Reddit Alien Wordmap"by rich8n is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Unlike Twitter or Facebook, reddit does not provide real-time information. While reddit is well known as a news site for men ages 18-29 (Pew Research Center, 2016), it does not rely on a newsfeed to update its users. Users curate their own content by voting on posts. Rather than liking or sharing information or content as they would on Facebook or Twitter, users upvote or downvote content. In other words, when a post is upvoted, it goes to the top of the content feed; when it is downvoted, it falls down the content feed. The more upvotes a post has, the longer it stays “current” or at the top of the main reddit page. According to reddit creator Alexis Ohanian, the purpose of reddit is to “give people the power to submit links, vote, discuss, and trust the best stuff bubbles up” (PBSoffbook, 2012). The “best stuff” bubbles up to the “Popular Page” where users are able to see what the most upvoted content of the day is in the larger reddit universe.

Users curate the posts they see based on their interests through subreddits, rather than previous connections to other users, physical locations, or current events, which is typically how people connect on other social media sites. Users subscribe to subreddits, which are subcategories of topics, ultimately generating the information they see. Kevin Morris of The Daily Dot stated that subreddits cater to a “subculture of people who really want to learn” (PBSoffbook, 2012). Subreddits can be as broad as a group discussing science or it can be as specialized or niche as a television show. According to Redditmetrics, there are currently over 1 million active subreddits; “active” means the subreddit has more than 5 posts a day (Redditmetrics, 2017). Volunteer community members moderate subreddits. They have no formal connection to reddit other than being users. While moderators do act as gatekeepers, the fact that anyone can volunteer for these positions shows that reddit is a social news site that privileges the user.

What makes reddit most unique in terms of social media is the ability for users to remain anonymous. Users do not create profiles with their interests or what they do, so the focus is more on the content and information exchanged than on the identity of the user. This ability is unlike other social media where every action a user performs, even joining groups that may be closed and private, is attached to a user’s profile and identity. On reddit, users and usernames do not have to connect to real-life identities. And while many people create fake or throwaway accounts, Kelly Bergstrom (2011) wrote, “there is still an expectation of truthfulness amongst some community members” (Introducing reddit.com, para 4). The reddit community has instinctively created unspoken guidelines about user identities that allow the reddit community to self-regulate in ways that Facebook and Twitter cannot (Silverman, 2012). Users expand, add, and vet content, ultimately curating the information.

dead reddit alien

"reddit broke"by TORLEY is licensed under CC BY-SA-2.0

However, it is the anonymous, “throw away” accounts and lack of official moderation that have encouraged what many see as problematic and chauvinistic content and discussions giving reddit its misogynistic reputation. Users may feel uninhibited by not having someone moderate their comments or know who they really are. With the promise of anonymity protecting their identity, Redditors often don’t practice rhetorical awareness in the public space. The uninhibition can encourage more problematic behavior from users. Further, the demographics of reddit users—mostly male and mostly young—has helped facilitate a male-driven culture where women are discussed as objects, harassed, and cyberbullied. Adrienne Massanari (2015) argued that this behavior is “informed by and reflective of larger dimensions of geek culture” (p. 128), stemming from the hegemonic masculinity of technical expertise. As geek masculinity privileges white, young, straight, cisgendered men, people often consider reddit to be a space where that community can congregate and discuss women in ways that they might not in public because they can hide behind an undisclosed account. While users may find this behavior on Twitter and other social media applications, reddit’s lack of official moderation and anonymous accounts cause exacerbation of this behavior. Further, users who are blocked on Twitter and other social media applications relocate to reddit to have a freer reign over what they post online. Without the policing of content, personal judgement of content is not accounted for and communities mentioned earlier, such as men-only and other NSFW subreddits, thrive. But there are some corners of reddit that are able to avoid this behavior. The r/PCOS is one such community.


Reddit is an often misunderstood social media platform. While it primarily caters to men through certain subreddits, it offers some affordances that can be useful to a group of women looking to share honestly about intimate topics, such as the r/PCOS. This section aims to discuss reddit as a platform and what it offers women with PCOS.



  • Subreddits
  • Anonymity
  • r/PCOS
  • Conversation
|home| |community| |key concepts| |feminist approach| |healing| |references|