On July 29, one month after the ban of r/GenderCritical from Reddit, moderators of the former subreddit launched Ovarit, a new feminist alternative site for link-sharing, discussion, and memes. The site, which is still invitation-only, has already gathered over 1,600 users, 2,000 posts, and nearly 15,000 comments in the weeks since its launch.
The new women-centered website fills a hole left in the online radical feminist community since r/GenderCritical was banned from Reddit earlier this summer. At the time of the ban, the subreddit had nearly 65,000 members, and was the largest and most active radical feminist subreddit on the site.
The founding of Ovarit was largely organized by former moderators of r/GenderCritical (for their protection, we will not be using their real names). Girl_undone, a US-based feminist activist and organizer, led the creation of the new site. According to her, r/GenderCritical was an important space to the feminist community since they provided a safe-haven for conversations that were being shut down elsewhere.
"The subreddit was made because women couldn’t discuss certain issues that are really central to women’s rights in other communities," said girl_undone, "such as the changing definition of ‘woman’ which necessarily affects everything else about women’s rights and the movement that promotes women’s rights."
According to girl_undone, the Gender Critical subreddit also served as a public record, of sorts, of the problems women and girls were facing with gender identity. "Our subreddit had seven years of posts that were largely categorized," she said, "including news and articles but also personal comments and original content that didn’t exist anywhere else. That was a useful, somewhat easily-browsed archive of information that is gone for the time being. I think it’s fair to say that it was an archive of historical events and the resistance to these events which is largely suppressed from records elsewhere."
“There wasn’t any notice that they were going to suddenly change this policy and start banning communities with no warning or way to remedy the situation. They completely reneged on the expectations they built.”
The ban was part of a sudden sweep of censorship on the site which removed 2,000 subreddits such as r/the_donald, a pro-Trump community, and r/ChapoTrapHouse, a leftist community. While other subreddits were given warnings and a chance to correct their behavior before being banned, the moderators of r/GenderCritical say that they had never received any warning from the Reddit admins that their community was violating any site rules.
"Previously, Reddit’s policy was to warn moderators that there was a problem, and quarantine communities that continued to be a problem," said girl_undone. "There wasn’t any notice that they were going to suddenly change this policy and start banning communities with no warning or way to remedy the situation. They completely reneged on the expectations they built."
Another former moderator of r/GenderCritical, a feminist from the UK who goes by "womenopausal" online, said that the ban left many women feeling angry and alone.
"There’s always potential for a feminist consciousness to develop in any female-centered space," womenopausal said, "And at r/GenderCritical, that potential was ramped up into overdrive. There were so many women there who had been feminists for years and years, and had so much wisdom and knowledge to share. And in the near-absence of men, women were able to let their guards down and speak much more freely."
"When we were banned, lots of women were absolutely devastated. From the inside, we knew this wasn’t the end of the story, because we wouldn’t allow it to be," she said. "Really I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say they were grieving and angry at the loss of our community."
Jane Clare Jones, a feminist philosopher and writer, wrote a poem decrying the loss of the community. The poem, titled "Male Power," points out the irony of calling feminist speech "hate" while allowing pro-rape subreddits like r/strugglefucking to remain. (That sub was later also banned, apparently in response to feminist outcry).
Sixty thousand women snuffed out
Of speech, while
The Struggle-Fuck goes on
Because our degradation makes them hard
The banning of women-centered communities on Reddit is just the tip of online censorship radical feminists are currently facing. Other major social networks and platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and Medium have all been known to censor feminist speech. In 2019, Spinster.xyz was founded as a feminist alternative to Twitter in response to this very problem. Other platforms such as Saidit.net have been attempting to solve the issue of censorship on Reddit more broadly by providing an alternative platform. When r/GenderCritical was banned, many users flocked to these platforms to set up alternative communities, such as the new GenderCritical sub on Saidit.
However, a true feminist alternative to Reddit that was both controlled by women and followed the link-aggregator format still needed to be built to provide a permanent home for the gender critical community. With the help of the feminist developers from other projects like Spinster and the Women's Human Rights Campaign, Ovarit was born.
“When we were banned, lots of women were absolutely devastated. From the inside, we knew this wasn’t the end of the story, because we wouldn’t allow it to be.”
Ovarit was built on open source software and forked from another Reddit alternative, phuks.co. The Ovarit tech team made significant improvements to the codebase to support scalability and moderation and created numerous new features which were added to the project. Since the new site is controlled entirely by the Gender Critical moderation team, there is very little risk of deplatforming or censorship.
The launch of Ovarit was greeted with relief and applause within the online feminist community. Not having to live in fear of censorship from male admins is a comfort to women who have become necessarily paranoid about where they will be banned from next.
"Women are so thankful and so grateful and so excited when they get in," said womenopausal. "I hope that it might actually liberate us in a way, by freeing us from male control, even if we have to work hard to rebuild our numbers to where they were before. We don’t have to look over our shoulders to see what men are saying about us, and worrying about the power they hold over us. Maybe we have to start again, but now there are no limits to keep us in check."
The site is currently only a fraction of the size of the former GenderCritical subreddit, but it's growing quickly and steadily as invite codes are distributed through networks of trust. In order to avoid an influx of trolls and brigading from anti-feminists, users must obtain an invite code to join the site. Sending a private message to the Ovarit mods on Spinster, Twitter, or Saidit is currently the primary way to obtain an invite. Men are technically allowed to join, but the site is very heavily geared towards women.
“I hope that it might actually liberate us in a way, by freeing us from male control, even if we have to work hard to rebuild our numbers to where they were before.”
The administrators of Ovarit anticipate that as the site grows and gets more attention, they will face increasing push-back from men. "One reoccurring challenge is the conflict over the simple assertion that women get to have boundaries and spaces of our own at all," said girl_undone.
"This has been a constant battle offline and online, and unfortunately women have been struggling with other women over this, even since early in the second wave of feminism. Women are socialized in patriarchy to 'be nice,' to empathize with men, to appeal to men, and to prioritize men, to the point where women feel like they are being cruel just by having healthy boundaries."
Creating these spaces is often a challenge for feminist groups due to a relative lack of resources compared to male communities. Womenopausal points out that while female technologists can certainly be just as a capable and passionate as their male counterparts, finding women to work on such a project is hard.
"In general, we have less money, and less free time," she said. "Many women have caring responsibilities of one kind of another. Women in general don’t earn as much as men or have the same level of access to resources. I know that a lot of feminist activism runs on the passion of its volunteers, and that’s part of its power. But it’s also a huge drag on women who are often already exhausted by a million and one other demands on their time and their purses."
“Women are socialized in patriarchy to “be nice,” to empathize with men, to appeal to men, and to prioritize men, to the point where women feel like they are being cruel just by having healthy boundaries.”
Dealing with the rampant misogyny of the technology sector creates another barrier. Women leave jobs in tech at a rate nearly 50 percent higher than male technologists, often due to sexism and bias in the field.
Even in open source communities, male-led projects have proven to be actively hostile to feminists. In December of 2019, F-Droid, an open source alternative to the Google Play Store, banned the Spinster app specifically because of their feminist content. After the Reddit ban in June, other open-source Reddit alternatives like Lemmy expressed open hostility to feminists, comparing them to "fascists and bigots." Developers of multiple other open source projects related to social network alternatives, such as Mastodon, Tusky, and Moa, have also actively worked against the creation of feminist spaces. Women who wish to forge ahead with creating these platforms despite the challenges will face an uphill battle at every turn.
Sites like Ovarit and Spinster, where women have the decision-making power, are still a novelty on the internet. These sites can often become the subject of attack from men's groups who view them as a threat to their control over online discourse. According to girl_undone, being prepared for these sorts of attacks comes with the territory. "Online, we have to be vigilant against social attacks and technological attacks. Site admins, content moderators, and individual users all have roles in preventing attacks from being successful and maintaining security."
“There has been a hole in my heart since the reddit bans and now it feels full again.”
For the admins of Ovarit, though, it's clear the challenge is worth it for the value the site brings to their online community. Within minutes of announcing the site's launch, Ovarit was flooded with messages of support.
"I'm hopeful that [the Reddit ban] will turn out to have been a blessing in disguise," said one user.
"Now we can be fully independent from men that forbid us to speak the truth," another user replied.
"There has been a hole in my heart since the reddit bans and now it feels full again," said another.
According to girl_undone, the site is also seeing an influx of users who never felt comfortable on Reddit, due to the violent misogyny on the platform. "The need for a new site was bigger than just r/GenderCritical. Women need to be able to speak about a variety of issues without men imposing their will on us."
The admins of Ovarit hope that the site will be more than just an alternative to Reddit, but one step in a wave of feminist online resistance.
Womenopausal said that she hoped Ovarit could "draw together the combined power of the knowledge and wisdom and passion and experiences of women from around the world, and then channel that into action. We can become a new online frontier of women’s resistance to male power, exploring what patriarchy means in 2020 - and uniting to fight it."
Girl_undone agrees. "We need platforms where women can create communities to support each other, hone their ideas together, compare experiences with each other, organize together, and laugh together, without fear," she said. "Ovarit is one of the platforms filling this need. The main things the communication platforms themselves can provide is security and stability. The real magic is born from the community. We’re here to let women thrive together."