Last week we told you about the Reddit's internal discussion about its not-so-welcoming attitude towards women who use the site. We called up Reddit general manager Erik Martin to find out what — if anything — can be done about the hostility many said they encountered. Martin said he knows about the site's gender problems. And as we noted in our previous post, this isn't anything new. "It’s something we’ve thought about and read a lot of commentary about for a long time," he told us. Part of the problem, he said, goes back to the beginnings of Reddit as a community for coders "which are also disproportionately male, and that’s a whole ‘nother issue which is something we’d like to see change in the world, too. That’s probably the biggest one thing and it kind of became in its own sense a self perpetuating thing after that."
So, how to fix it? Besides altering the skewed gender demographics, Martin explained making women more comfortable on Reddit will come through helping people find communities, or Subreddits, within the site that are not being trolled by misogynists. "Reddit is sort of a community of communities and there are certainly communities where you don’t see those cultural trends and there are ones where you absolutely do," Martin said. "As we do a better job of helping people find what they are looking for on Reddit and the communities they are looking for on Reddit and also help people do a better job of cultivating and creating the communities that they want I think there will be even more choices to participate and feel comfortable when they are there no matter what their interests are."
This Reddit-will-build-itself attitude also revealed itself when I asked Martin about a rape thread that got attention the day after we posted our story.
Following our post Katie J.M. Baker at Jezebel examined a discussion in which a Redditor asked: "Reddit's had a few threads about sexual assault victims, but are there any redditors from the other side of the story? What were your motivations? Do you regret it?" What followed was a litany of stories from rapists and stories of rape. Baker acknowledged that the thread housed rape apologists: "This is Reddit, after all," she wrote in a parenthetical. This freedom of Reddit as a medium is what allowed the rape discussion to happen. A discussion which, as disturbing as it was, also, as Baker noted, allowed us to learn about the way rape is perceived by those who perpetuate it. "Some of them are tough to read," she wrote, "but their brutal honesty effectively illustrates how a lack of communication and education perpetuates rape culture."
Martin said that the decision of whether to have that kind of discussion out in the open is not one that Reddit's staff wants to get involved in as the site's guiding philosophy is to let its users determine the site's content. "The Jezebel article kind of mentioned both reasons why its good for those discussions to happen in public where people can read them and I’ve heard also compelling reasons why those discussions shouldn’t happen in public and there are some problematic issues with even having those discussion or even giving an outlet for people to tell their stories," Martin said. "That' not a decision we make. Reddit’s a big enough site that you are going to find horrible, vile people in certain threads and sections and people discussing you know, horrible crimes and stories."
But when you hear stories of women hiding their identity in order to more easily enter Reddit discussions without fear of harassment you realize that for some the freedom feels curtailed.