Chloe Stevens bought her first stock when she was 10 years old. She and her dad would track the markets on CNBC, buying into Barnes & Noble and the Hershey Company because they were doing well, but also because Stevens liked books and chocolate. When she got to high school, she offered to make monthly budgets, free of charge, for any friend who wanted one.
By age 20, Stevens knew she had a passion for personal finance — and she wanted to get better at it.
Stevens, now 21, kept hearing about one particular subreddit, now known as the community that drove GameStop’s stock market surge. Once she joined, she quickly realized that r/wallstreetbets was not a welcoming place for women.
Since GameStop stock took off last week, much has been written about the various players in the story: the Redditors and amateur financiers who invested in the struggling video game company, and the Wall Street moguls who bet against its success.
On both sides, the vast majority of stakeholders are men.
Unfolding at the intersection of three male-dominated spheres — Reddit, video games and Wall Street — the GameStop story was always going to be “dude-centric,” said Adrienne Massanari, a professor of communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies digital culture and gender and has written a book about Reddit. While women have made inroads in these traditionally male spaces, she said, r/wallstreetbets — the original entry point for the latest round of GameStop trading — can feel particularly inaccessible to many women, Massanari said, with posters trafficking in misogynistic and racist comments.
(The moderators of r/wallstreetbets did not respond to a request for comment.)
Personal finance — especially stocks and investments — can be an intimidating subject for a lot of people, but especially for women. Until relatively recently, women were entirely shut out of financial discussions. Their father handled the money, then their husband handled the money. Married women were not legally allowed to hold a credit card in their own name until the mid-1970s. Single women also struggled to get their own line of credit.
“I feel like it’s just so ingrained for women: ‘Oh, investing, that’s boy talk, that’s not for us,’ ” Stevens said.
She was determined to break into the boys’ club. When she searched for investment advice, she said, r/wallstreetbets kept coming up, surfacing with its avatar of a White man in a suit, with slicked-back hair and sunglasses. Right away, Stevens struggled to understand the dense financial language and acronyms. (“So many acronyms,” she said.) She avoided asking questions, she said, worried that commenters would make fun of her for being too “stupid” to understand.
The subreddit r/wallstreetbets is different from other personal finance subreddits, Massanari said; it’s “impenetrable” to people not already well-versed in both finance and meme culture. The subreddit does not claim to offer investment advice: It’s a community for “making money,” the moderators say — “or, realistically, a place to come and upvote memes when your portfolio is down.” Still, many people join, hoping to increase their financial savvy.
“There is no, ‘Hey, you’re new here, here’s how this works,’ ” Massanari said. “Unless you’re putting a bunch of rocket ships and diamond emoji in a post,” she said, referencing two emoji common on the subreddit, you’re going to feel like you don’t belong.
Of course, r/wallstreetbets is not entirely male. While it’s impossible to know how many people on the subreddit are women — Reddit users are anonymous — there are certainly some women who regularly use, and enjoy, the platform. But it’s not for everyone. As a woman on r/wallstreetbets, you “have to be willing to put up with a lot of racist and misogynistic stuff,” Massanari said.
When Katja Gravel joined, she said, she immediately recognized a “bro-ey, fratty mentality.” Commenters would call things “retarded” and “autistic,” and joke about how “all women are cheaters.” “He” and “his” were the default pronouns.
“These were all words I used when I was 12, before I realized they were not okay,” said Gravel, 32, who works in recruitment in Raleigh, N.C. She never flagged the inappropriate comments, she said, knowing she’d get called out for being a “sensitive snowflake” or a “stupid loser.”
“They told all these crude jokes,” Stevens said, “things women just don’t tend to say.”
These jokes are often told with a “wink, wink, nod, nod,” Massanari said. It’s never entirely clear whether commenters are serious. For many women who come to the platform, she said, it doesn’t matter whether the jokes are told “ironically”: They feel uncomfortable, so they go elsewhere.
“It’s not a fun place to be if you are not a White man,” she said.
Women also might feel alienated by the type of investing that takes place on r/wallstreetbets, said Terrance Odean, a professor of finance at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley who has focused on gender. If you want to invest for retirement, or manage your financial portfolio, he said, you should find a different community. The subreddit r/wallstreetbets is about “betting,” he said, which appeals to men, particularly single men, far more than women, who tend to be more risk-averse.
“Theoretical models predict that overconfident investors trade excessively,” Odeon writes in his study “Boys Will Be Boys.”
Single men trade 67 percent more frequently than single women, according to his research.
Gravel has never been interested in taking major financial risks. After a few weeks on r/wallstreetbets, she said, she realized the subreddit was “basically legalized gambling with a slightly educated guess.” It’s like playing the lottery, she added, knowing only a few of the winning numbers.
“I ended up just feeling like I wasn’t getting enough real advice,” she said.
It’s “refreshing” to read thoughtful discussions about planning for a family and managing your finances during maternity leave, Stevens said. If you ask people to explain an individual retirement account on r/MoneyDiaries, they’ll respond with a helpful description and a link, she said.
“On wallstreetbets, they’d probably say, ‘Haha, you’re stupid.’ ”
Gravel doesn’t mind that her personal finance advice is gender segregated. “I want to be in a subreddit that does not question me as a woman,” she said.
As soon as GameStop stock started to surge, Stevens said, she sought advice from women she has met through r/MoneyDiaries. She eventually decided to buy a few shares.
Even though Stevens probably won’t make much money on GameStop — she bought in late — she’s grateful for the surge. For the first time, she said, her female friends are asking her about finance.
“Wait,” they’ve been asking, “what is ‘shorting?’ ”
Stevens checks her personal finance subreddits several times every day. She’s always looking for people who seem unsure about their budgets or investments.
Even if she can’t give specific advice, she said, she’ll leave a quick comment.
“You’re doing a great job.”