I hosted a Reddit AMA and here’s what happened
I asked the internet to ask me anything
Last July, I was diagnosed with genital HSV-1 (genital herpes). Since being diagnosed, I became incredibly aware of the stigma surrounding the common and benign skin condition, especially how it ties into slut shaming and victim blaming among women. Because of this, I consider ending herpes stigma a feminist issue and have written about it quite a bit.
I’ve had a Reddit account for a couple years, but didn’t really use it that often. Looking for a new place for discussions, I decided to host an AMA (Ask Me Anything – though I chose to do an AMAA, or ask me almost anything) about my experience as a woman living with genital herpes.
If there’s anything doing this showed me, it just confirmed what I already knew about interacting in the world – online or off – as a woman: I had my experiences and knowledge questioned and invalidated, I had people talking down to me, and people trying to “prove” me wrong. I’m merely a woman living with herpes – not a medical expert. AMAs are for people who have experienced something to open themselves up to questions. And while some people did ask valid questions, others seemed to be there simply to show me that my scientific knowledge of how the virus is tested for was inaccurate – not exactly the purpose of the AMA. So, I had to include this edit:
During this AMA, I had people telling me I was sexist and thus I deserved to be targeted and harassed:
Someone denying my lived experiences and dehumanizing me by referring to me as “it”:
People misinterpreting everything I said and implying I should be quarantined because of herpes:
Someone saying I’m not credible because I identify as a feminist:
And countless individuals claiming I’m trying to “pick fights,” that I’m “defensive,” “aggressive,” “violent,” and “sensitive,” when you can’t even read tone via text. My straightforwardness was not any of that, and it seemed to be just the same old sexist rhetoric coming back again – that a woman has to be “nice” and “polite” when having discussions, that any anger isn’t validated.
All these types of replies reminded me of this Kathleen Hanna quote from The Punk Singer:
What even made this quote hit even closer to home was that on the same day my AMA went live, another person (presumably a male) hosted an AMA about having surgery on one of his testicles. And there were no people questioning his legitimacy or his medical knowledge of the surgery.
Then, of course, there were people denying that herpes stigma even existed:
And that just reminded me of another relevant quote:
Overall, this experience just reaffirmed that interacting and sharing your experience as a woman is incredibly frustrating. The internet is just life reflected back at you, but in text form. All of the age-old assumptions about women being liars, being uneducated, etc. were shown in my AMA. I got mansplained to, spoken down to, got told I was “too angry” and “too sensitive,” and even had my personal, lived experiences flat-out denied. However, I did get a couple very nice and supportive inbox messages of people thanking me for my bravery in doing the AMA. As long as what I did was helpful to at least one person, that’s enough for me. I don’t expect I’ll change everyone’s minds, or that everyone will be 100 percent onboard with what I’m trying to do, but it was great to see that what I did meant something to someone out there.
I don’t think I’ll be participating on Reddit that much in the future, unless I can find some parts of the site that don’t cause me annoyance and resentment. So if anyone has any recommendations of subreddits that are more accommodating of different types of individuals and viewpoints, please, feel free to let me know!