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Alexis Ohanian pleads with geeks to stop sexist trolling

The Reddit founder reacted to the PyCon scandal and geek sexism with one message: "Stop."


Aja Romano


Posted on Mar 25, 2013   Updated on Jun 1, 2021, 8:34 pm CDT

It wasn’t Reddit’s r/creepshots section. It wasn’t a thread that called for rapists to share their stories.

It wasn’t the objectification of a 15-year-old girl on r/atheism, nor the mocking of a rape victim, nor the hate campaign against Anita Sarkeesian, nor the widespread criticism of Reddit as a place where sexism breeds and Men’s Rights Activists perpetuate misogyny.

It was the campaign to fire developer evangelist Adria Richards and give money to the men she publicly called out for offensive comments at a conference that has finally pushed the co-founder of Reddit into speaking out about the sexism in his community.

Alexis Ohanian, the 29-year-old Redditor supreme, took to his blog—not to a subreddit—earlier today to discuss Adria Richards and the ongoing sexism that seems to run rampant not only on Reddit but in the larger tech community and geek culture.

“Aren’t we better than this?” he asked in a post that addressed the frequent hardcore insults and sexist slurs that Redditors, 4channers, and others within the tech community had been leveling at Richards and other women during the backlash.

Ohanian spoke directly to the tech community’s ties to wider geek culture—the same geek culture which has recently been dealing with deeply entrenched sexism on numerous fronts. Ohanian appealed to the misunderstood geek’s sense of empathy:

Growing up, we typically weren’t picked first for sports, but were first on the Quake II server. Few people really understood our peculiar hobbies or how amazing it was to see “Hello, world” for the first time. Plenty of us got used to being ignored. Many of us were bullied. But what did we learn from it—empathy or hate?

We need to know the answer, because suddenly we are the cool kids. They’re making movies about us. We’re “rock stars.” Holy shit, the rest of the world is finally realizing how awesome we are. The geek has inherited the earth. And now that we’re the powerful ones, we need to remember: with great power comes great responsibility. It’s irresponsible to continue to act as though we are victims

…. Diversity does not end at gender or sexuality or race; people with a wide variety of life experiences and opinions have joined the community. This is a wonderful thing, but it also means that there will be a wider range of reactions and more potential for miscommunication. In other words, we have many more opportunities to decide whether we 1) belittle and ostracize people for being different from us or 2) react with empathy, patience, and kindness.

Ohanian has been vocal about his enthusiasm for opening the tech community to wider participation from people outside of his self-declared ‘not-poor straight white guy’ demographic. But he’s waging an uphill battle where women are concerned: Despite going out of its way to create an extremely supportive environment for women, PyCon was only 20 percent women. What’s even more surprising is that, according to the Ada Initiative’s Valerie Aurora, that 20 percent is so high it’s “unheard of.”

At many tech conferences like PyCon, debates continue to be held about how to make the conference environment more friendly to women. The online backlash faced by Richards, Sarkeesian, and others may actually pale in comparison to the rampant sexual and physical harassment—including rape—faced in person by many women who go to tech conventions and fandom cons.

But Ohanian, who professes a goal of “making the world suck less,” avoided mentioning the ways in which many parts of the Reddit community encourage both the online and offline forms of rape culture.

Instead, he confessed himself disappointed with the tone of the argument, and reminded his fellow geeks that “Your tweets, your comments, and your upvotes matter.”

The comments (and support for them) I’ve seen over the past few days have really disappointed me and I really hope this is a chance for us to reflect on how we use these tools to foster the tech community. This isn’t “political correctness,” this is you having the courage to use your words to create an environment that promotes an open exchange of ideas—not alienate people and certainly not terrorize them.

Fine words; but as critics like the Atlantic Wire and Gawker’s Adrian Chen have noted, it may take more than words to make Reddit and the other mainstays of the geek community safe spaces for all.

In fact, the Reddit backlash to Ohanian’s post has already begun: according to some Redditors, Ohanian “hates free speech” and deserves to be smeared with the same sexist slurs as the women he was attempting—however passively—to defend.

Screengrab via CNN

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*First Published: Mar 25, 2013, 6:41 pm CDT