Opting-In: Women as Agents of Their Own Subordination.

Fringe male supremacy groups have increasingly gained mainstream notoriety in recent years. From being tackled by major new sources to being tweeted about by Elon Musk, many of these groups no longer live in the shrouded corners of the internet. Male supremacy movements are garnering increasing popularity online and gaining more support than ever, however, these movements are still relatively fledgling topics in current research. Previous research on offline men’s rights groups, and other male-dominated social movements shows women’s participation is often utilized within the movement. While women tend to play more covert roles in male-centered social movements, but their contributions are often described as being important to the movement itself. Although some scholars have explored femininity within male-dominated movements, due to its recent emergence on the internet, this phenomenon has not yet been thoroughly studied within digital spaces. Thus this thesis aims to explore women’s place within the increasingly popular male supremacy groups online. In understanding women’s place within male-dominated movements online, this paper turns to the Red Pill Women subreddit.

The Red Pill is a semi-anonymous online space located on Reddit.com. The Red Pill is just one example of the growing male-supremacy movements online. The Red Pill believes feminism to be a tool by which to undo natural gender order, and position themselves a solution to fight back against this attempted usurp of male power. Red Pill Women (RPW) is a Red Pill subreddit for women to discuss the corresponding issues of men’s rights, as well as dating strategies within the given framework of anti-feminism and traditionalism. Red Pill Women subreddit follows much of the ideology discussed by The Red Pill, a notable misogynistic online social movement. This makes the Red Pill Women subreddit a good reflection of the work and discourse being had by women within a male-centered online social movements.

In this paper, I analyze how Red Pill Women (RPW) opt into their own subordination through their online participation in a forum that outrightly avows feminism and advocates for traditional gender roles within relationships. Drawing on an analysis of 1,323 comments, as well as sociological theories of dating and relationship dynamics, I show how Red Pill Women negotiate traditional gender roles within contemporary neoliberalism and how these gender dynamics reify inequality within heterosexual relationships.

One major theme found within this analysis a narrative construction of “gender harmony” within relationships. “Gender harmony” is a phrase used to describe the ways in which RPW tend to understand relationship dynamics and their role within relationships. Gender harmony describes a dynamic of stringent traditional gender roles within relationships, but proposes that these roles are not oppressive. RPW understand gender roles as being complementary to each other: women are naturally nurturing and men are natural providers. When both women and men accept this natural order, they achieve harmony. Red Pill Women believe traditional gender roles to be the most stable relationship dynamic for couples, as evidenced by individual anecdotes reporting such, as well as arguments leaning on biology, evolutionary psychology, and gendered socialization. 

Another major theme within this analysis was “sexual strategy.” The themes in this category show the ways in which women are opting in to their own subjugation through policing the behavior of other women as well as changing their own behavior to better market themselves to men. Specifically, the themes shown in this category outlines the way women navigate a changing world where they arguably have more economic and personal power compared to the 1950’s ethic celebrated within the forum. These themes detail the negotiation of traditional understandings of gender within new economic realities.  

Another common theme discussed on the Red Pill Women subreddit is the importance of “being feminine.” Within the theme of “be feminine,” women are expected to have traditional and conservative feminine appearances. Beyond the scope of appearance, femininity is also performed, not only through one’s appearance, but also through one’s actions. The performance of femininity is reminiscent of West and Zimmerman’s concept of “doing gender,” in that the key to performing femininity is embedded in everyday interaction. In anecdotes, women discuss being better able to signal their femininity by performing it in more overt ways, such as smiling more, swaying their hips when they walk, and making more eye contact to seem more approachable and inviting. Performing one’s femininity in more conservative ways of dress (e.g. not showing “too much” skin), and action is how women can better signal their values and fit into the conservative role that is desired within the gender harmony detailed in this analysis.

Lastly, in this analysis, it was shown that themes of “respect,” and “submission” were commonly used in conjunction with one another. The theme of respect has a very specific meaning on the RPW subreddit: trust him, do not yell at him, do not nag him, defer to him, etc. While respect is important for any relationship, Red Pill Women define respect as being something that is inherently earned by virtue of the fact women are supposed to defer to men within relationships. In other words, respect is used as coded language for subordinating women within these dynamics.

I argue that due to the rise of neoliberalism, economic dependence was no longer a viable explanation for male dominance in heterosexual relationships. Thus, the underpinnings of male dominance within relationships had to be shifted to something these populations construct as being more innate than economic contribution: in this case, gender. The explanations used in the RPW subreddit for male supremacy within relationships hinges on anecdotal evidence as well as outdated explanations of traditionalism, biology, and evolutionary psychology. I argue that although women’s participation in male-dominated movements has been studied previously, being that the new avenue to recruitment and visibility is by way of online spaces, not much is known about how women are opting into this new online formatting. 

Social movement recruitment and messaging are moving to online formats. Through these online formats, the cost of participating in a movement is far less than it used to be. Moreover, through the anonymity provided by online spaces, dangerous messaging regarding gender or nationalism can be spread with little to no personal repercussions. Women have always played a large role within right-wing and male-dominated movements, so much so that some movements are even currently attempting to explicitly recruit women. It only makes sense that their participation in the current wave of online male and white supremacy movements is just as pertinent. 

Caitria DeLucchi is a third year student in Florida State University’s Sociology PhD program. This post is based on Caitria’s master’s thesis. You can learn more about Caitria here.

The feature image is from Pexels.

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