Make Paragon Glowie Again
- Feb 19, 2022
Reddit’s /r/TwoXChromosomes and Fourth Wave Feminism
Blog Post published by Wendy Braun on Saturday, April 11, 2015
I frequently peruse Reddit, a popular online community in which users vote on content. It is made up of thousands of ‘subreddits’—subject-specific communities moderated by volunteers—where users can comment on content. Popular posts that are ‘upvoted’ on each subreddit make it to the site’s front page.
According to the ‘About’ page, Reddit has around 150 million unique visitors each month from over 200 countries who visit over 7.5 billion pages.
Over the past few months I have noticed that a new subreddit has frequented the front page:
/r/TwoXChromosomes, self-defined as a “subreddit for both serious and silly content, and intended for women’s perspectives.” The subreddit has become so popular that it has now gained the status of a ‘default’ subreddit, “a set of subreddits logged-out users and new users see as their front page before they customize their subscriptions.”
Around the same time, I became interested in emerging discourses surrounding the term ‘Fourth Wave Feminism.’ The consensus seems to be that the Fourth Wave started around 2008 and is characterized by young feminists who use social media to comment on news and their own lives through a feminist lens.
These young feminists live in an increasingly globalized world with new forms of mass media that increase the rapid input and output of world news, international activisms, and awareness-raising profiles, all of which have been incorporated into their relationship with feminism.
Jennifer Baumgardner, in her book F'em: Goo Goo, Gaga and Some Thoughts on Balls, defines the Fourth Wave as “tech-savvy and gender-sophisticated […] Transgenderism, male feminists, sex work, and complex relationship with the media characterized their feminism.” In contrast to Third Wave Feminists of the ‘90s who created zines and songs, “young feminist created blogs, Twitter campaigns, and online media.”
Ealasaid Munro, in “Feminism: A Fourth Wave?” posits the following:
“The existence of a feminist ‘fourth wave’ has been challenged by those who maintain that increased usage of the internet is not enough to delineate a new era.
But it is increasingly clear that the internet has facilitated the creation of a global community of feminists who use the internet both for discussion and activism.”
Even if young men and women do not identity as feminists, they often acknowledge that “gender equality has become a widespread social policy concern, recognized as a key factor in alleviating poverty, improving women’s health and achieving economic growth” and they incorporate theories of globalization, interconnectedness, and interdependency in their understanding that “inequality is often the root cause of disadvantage, vulnerability and oppression, and is directly related to the loss or lack of power to make choices, exercise freedom and live life with dignity” (939-940).
They are concerned with issues at a global level and incorporate gender analysis into their global concerns like “climate change” and “inequality on a global scale” (940).
Reddit is a notoriously male-centered site and has received criticism for being hostile to women (as well as other historically marginalized identities) and there have even been threads on Reddit that address these concerns.
The subreddit TwoXChromosomes has about 2.5 million readers and implements commenting guidelines common to feminist sites that prohibit prejudicial and offensive posts and encourage gender-inclusive and culturally competent content.
There are other feminist subreddits: /r/Feminism and /r/Women appear to be link-sharing subreddits about feminist theory and feminist issues, though there is some original content; /r/AskFeminists is specifically for users to post queries to feminists about feminism.
None boasts the same readership as /r/TwoXChromosomes (/r/Feminism has under 50,000 readers, /r/Women has around 25,000, and /r/AskFeminists has around 7,000 as of early April) and none have achieved the status of default subreddit.
A search among the TwoXChromosomes archives reveals that many self-identify as Fourth Wave.
One user* defines the ‘evolving’ Fourth Wave as the following:
[T]he mobilization of women online. Some argue that it’s women taking charge of their sexuality in a way equivalent to men. Women who rule their bedrooms also rule their own lives. I think a large part that’s developing here is the idea that nobody is allowed to shame us or make us feel less than we are. We are taking the power to be ourselves outside any gender stereotypes, or prefabricated roles.
Another user articulates the distinction between Third and Fourth Wave as the following:
I must admit, I really like the idea that the younger generations today (that I am a part of) are trying to take the feminist movement, this 'fourth wave', in a new direction. Historically feminism excluded a lot of other groups, but nowadays when I talk to other feminist activists, it seems to me that they're more concerned about including LGBTQ* and POC in the movement than they used to be. Granted, many of the activists I know are POC or LGBTQ* members, but that these people feel comfortable using the term at all says to me that we're entering a new era of inclusion in the fight for human rights.
It feels good when my trans, queer, POC and white friends alike can get together and frankly discuss both the bad parts of the past and how we intend to change things for the better in the future. The more open we all are to addressing the broad sections of problems we face, the better and more inclusive we can make things for everyone.
This mirrors what the aforementioned scholars note--that Fourth Wavers distinguish themselves from Third Wavers through their use of the internet and social media, but also through their internalization of the theories of the previous wave. Baumgardner states, “Much like the Third Wave lived out the theories of the Second Wave (with some surprising results), the Fourth Wave enacted the concepts that Third Wave feminists put forth.” They view social media as a way to publicly share their stories of discrimination and oppression, discuss them analytically with an international audience of their peers, and create personal solutions and political actions that address their concerns.
Research through the other feminist-centric subreddits offer a variety of definitions. In addition to tech-savvy, Fourth Wavers (at least those on Reddit) define the movement as generationally different from Third Wavers (in that the age gap is vast enough to drastically reduce perceived experiential commonalities between the two), as putting into practice the theories developed during the Third Wave, as trans-inclusive, and as advocates of sex worker rights.
Some researchers argue that these tenets are the same as those of the Third Wave, therefore, no distinction is necessary; rather, this is the natural evolution of Third Wave theories becoming internalized and carried out. Baumgardner asserts, “Personally, I believe that the Fourth Wave exists because it says that it exists.”
For me, a pertinent question is why those that identify as Fourth Wave feel disconnected or excluded from the Third Wave. Is it similar to the way the Third Wave built some of their philosophies and activisms on what they felt was alienating and exclusionary in Second Wave philosophies? Is it something else? How can we best address this disconnect in order to facilitate solidarity and inclusion?
Unfortunately the discussion on Reddit doesn’t quite answer this.
Yet. It is interesting that this subreddit has created a space for young feminists to start discussing their own feminism and feminist identification within the evolution and progression of feminist waves. Munro acknowledges that “while research points to the fact that feminism is being reinvigorated by the internet, whether or not this is leading to transformative political action is hotly debated.” Some threads on TwoXChromosomes share personal triumphs, share images of beauty and health transformations, call for discussion or share news and entertainment links, and act as online diaries.
Other threads though, debate who to vote for and why, ways to ‘vote with your money,’ and productive methods for addressing microaggressions and other micropolitics.
Philips and Cree state, “Social Media has opened up significant spaces for the rebirth of feminist debates and resistance and it has been argued that this is the birthplace of fourth wave feminism” (938).
If this is true, then Reddit, and the rising popularity of TwoXChromosomes, might allow for a more distinct articulation of Fourth Wave Feminism, and further research will reveal whether it does in fact lead to ‘transformative political action.’
It is unclear why TwoXChromosomes became more popular than other feminist subreddits.
The difference between it and the other feminist subreddits seems to be that TwoXChromosomes is broader in its content and users. Despite the problematic name, it appears that the subreddit is inclusive to trans identities, who have discussed the risks (especially to trans users) associated with the subreddit achieving the status of default subreddit due to the traffic brought in, which in turn, increases the appearance of trolls.
Nevertheless, the success of the subreddit, especially on a frequently hostile site, demonstrates the success of social media in making gender issues relevant to a new generation.
*username excluded to further protect anonymity.
Ealasaid Munro. "Feminism: A Fourth Wave?" Political Insight. London: The Political Studies Association, 2013.
Ruth Philips and Viviene E. Cree. "What does the 'Fourth Wave' Mean for Teaching Feminism in Twenty-First Century Work?" Social Work Education: The International Journal. 21 Feb. 2014. 33.7, 930-943.
Wendy Braun received her PhD in 2012 from Louisiana State University in Comparative Literature with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. Her dissertation, Southern Bellas: The Construction of Mestiza Identities in Southern Narratives analyzes the representation of Hispanic women in Literature and Popular Culture set in the Deep South. She is currently a Lecturer of English at The University of Tennessee-Knoxville and is also co-editor H-SAWH.