Media Sexism Erased The Presence Of Women In The R/WallStreetBets GME Story — Why That Matters

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Media Sexism Erased The Presence Of Women In The r/WallStreetBets GME Story — Why That Matters

One of the narratives that arose during GameStop's January stock rally begged the question, "Where are all the women!?!” as a bunch of journalists took one look at r/WallStreetBets and assumed that no lady could've ever gotten involved in such a crude place — especially with all that talk of money!! 

In the month since, it's been frustrating when female friends and colleagues grumbled that the movement was powered solely “by dudes in basements” particularly because I, a cisgender woman, spent much of 2020 on WallStreetBets along with thousands of others. It became obvious that, despite intentions to eradicate gender inequality, these rumors had started from good, old-fashioned misogyny regarding what women supposedly can't or won't do on their own

Luckily, the gals of r/WallStreetBets have enough of a sense of humor to openly mock these headlines, but the broader implication of this message is more sinister, as it serves only to perpetuate the myth that women have no interest in paying attention to what's happening on Wall Street, let alone getting financially involved.

Gross.

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Last summer, I was suddenly unemployed, bummed out, and looking for any type of distraction from 2020 when I turned my focus to investing. After a month of studying market news and financial reports, it all just started sounding like drivel, and I was reminded of a quote from The Big Short: "Does it make you feel dumb? Or stupid? Well, it's supposed to. Wall Street loves to use confusing terms to make you think only they can do what they do. Or even better, for you to just leave them the fuck alone." 

I found r/WallStreetBets when it was a million-member group of self-proclaimed idiots who treated the stock market like a casino. The subreddit didn't hide that it was a parody account for retail investors, and these maniacs delighted in creative insults and boldly cheering for each other's "loss porn" — screengrabs of evidence displaying massive financial losses.

It was a celebration of voluntary madness, and, dammit, I was entertained. 

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However, within the chaos were detailed due diligence (DD) reports Redditors spent hours researching and composing just to share for free: analysis that traders like me would usually have no access to without paying a financial advisor for, and what's more, they were followed by candid, critical conversation within the comments section that allowed for further insights. I always felt welcome to ask questions without dismissal. (Sure, someone might call me some version of "moron", but they'd do so as a form of camaraderie while lending genuine guidance.)

I learned more in my first weekend on WallStreetBets than I had in a month of doing my own research, and unbelievably, I had fun doing it.

As someone who has always grasped the abstract concepts of the English language and creative arts more easily than math or statistics — and had eternally believed I’d never understand how the economy worked as a result — this felt life-changing.

Redditors posted gratitude for WSB daily, thanking the group for helping them pay off student debts, medical bills, or down payments on their first homes. Whenever someone younger than 25 would post about earning more than $50,000, the majority of WSB dropped its juvenile banter to encourage the young trader to save that money.

There was something special happening here.

It's commonly believed Reddit is currently a male-dominated space, and while I don't believe this makes the site inherently sexist, prejudices exist there in the same way hatred is present everywhere humans are. But if the media wanted to attack WSB for anything problematic, it should be the use of the terms "retards and autists" as part of their satirical hetero dude-bro vernacular. Even though I know it's in self-deprecating jest, I refuse to participate, defend, or excuse any part of it.

That said, of course there are tons of women on WallStreetBets.

Like it or not, historically speaking, if women had refused to appear in spaces dominated by men saying problematic things, we never would've left the house. Also, it's pretty sexist to think there aren't any women who enjoy talking smack and throwing money around, too. Aside from most of us being intelligent enough to differentiate aggressively harmful rhetoric from playful banter, we're also participating in a space where gender is ultimately a non-issue.

The only time I've seen the sub discussing any specific woman, it's whenever they've exalted the business-savvy of Ark Investment Management CEO/CIO Cathie Wood. Otherwise, there's no reason anyone's gender identity would come up in a place dedicated to talking about the stock market and making memes about rockets and diamonds.

If users don’t want to invoke the sub's horrifyingly un-PC descriptors, we call each other “bro” or “dude”, and if a Redditor admits to being female, she's often just called "ladybro" with casual acceptance. To prepare for this article, I spoke to a couple of dozen women who had identified themselves as female on WSB; all but one said they never received any inappropriate comments or DMs, which is surprisingly rare for Reddit, especially given the current size of the subreddit.

It seemed that most of us — male, female, or nonbinary — were just there to laugh and make some cash during a terrifying year. Everyone's labels were irrelevant. What a luxury.

When the GameStop stock price rally made headlines on January 27th, it was a thrilling moment for this little movement I had somehow gotten swept up in.

Thousands of Redditors posted their earnings, calling it  "life-changing money." I caught myself weeping when one user described how they would now finally be able to move their ailing mother to a better home thanks to this event. Another commenter expressed gratitude for being able to pay rent and feed their children for the next few months. It was a beautiful moment to witness.

However, within 24 hours, I watched 2 million of us become radicalized overnight when brokerages suddenly began halting trading and the RobinHood app blocked GME purchases while it was skyrocketing. The next morning, CNBC accused retail investors of “attacking” hedge funds simply by buying stock in a company Wall Street financiers had egregiously over-shorted. 

Other major media soon followed suit, vilifying a bunch of goof-off day traders and framing us as some Anonymous-style internet gang with an organized agenda. Once it was announced that Wall Street's market manipulation would be under Congressional investigation, its representatives went on the air and defended their suppressive maneuvers, claiming they were doing it to “protect unsophisticated investors."

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Later, the CEO of Interactive Brokers admitted that without the market interference the price of GME would have gone into the thousands of dollars, which would have bankrupted the short-selling hedge fund, but also awarded millions of small-time retail investors with payouts that would have been a relief after almost a year of a pandemic in which the economy was decimated and the government failed to provide any real assistance to its citizens.

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It played out like a badly-written satire about class warfare. That GameStop’s slogan was “Power to the Players” seemed too on-the-nose to be real. While explaining the event to friends, I suddenly understood how people get swept up into cults and believe in their cause so ardently that they look a little insane from the outside. In the weeks since, news media outlets have continued to take Wall Street's side and although Congress has launched an investigation, too many of us remember how firmly those in power have stayed planted in the pockets of our country's banks during our lifetimes to feel optimistic that anyone will be held accountable.

It feels like another example of how solidly the odds in Wall Street are stacked against the people; when we try to play their game, they move the goalposts and blame us for breaking the system simply because we figured it out and joined them.

The whole ordeal is maddening, especially those of us who suffered when Wall Street destroyed our economy in 2008 and received bail-out funding instead of facing repercussions.

However, it’s doubly exhausting when anyone distracts from this moment by arguing the reductive, sexist narrative that women have nothing to do with WallStreetBets or the stock market at all. The notion that women aren't producing or analyzing extensive market research or investing in the stock market is just factually wrong.

Of course women can. We have been. We are.

And screw anyone whose internalized misogyny is stopping other women from seeking new methods of learning about investing or even the madness of the stock market if she wants to. Now, with the democratization of information coupled with the availability of trading stocks independent of a brokerage, we suddenly have unprecedented access to the market. We need all of us to pay attention if we want to turn the tides on how Wall Street operates so things like the GME market suppression can't keep happening.

I’m nowhere near an expert, but I'm more knowledgeable about any of this than I was even six months ago because I found a community of people willing to share their information and encourage each other with levity and total inclusion. That feels like power to me.

Elizabeth Z Pardue is a creator and polymath based in the South. Her words have appeared in Huffington Post, Time.com, XOJane, Ravishly, and in a bunch of Letters to the Editor columns.