As someone heavily involved in both the AVEN and tumblr sides of things, I think there’s a lot of factors at work here.
Unfortunately, I think one of the biggest reasons that AVEN has such a big reputation for “rape culture” on tumblr is that once the idea started, it’s something that can never be disproved or amended to everyone’s satisfaction. All too often, I see people warning others away from AVEN because it’s a transphobic heterosexist rape culture-y cesspool – only to admit that they’ve never actually been on AVEN. Or they went on it once four years ago. Or they heard from someone who heard from someone. It’s like it’s just become and accepted fact on Tumblr that AVEN is the scum of the earth and no one ever seems to question that.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t problematic stuff on AVEN – there definitely is. Just like there’s problematic stuff on Tumblr, or in real life, or anywhere that people with differing opinions gather. However, I think that the amount of stuff does tend to get exaggerated – people keep citing the same one or two threads (out of hundred), or dredging up posts from several years previously, as reason to forever discount the entire site. And there’s also a lot of vague “I saw transphobic stuff” but without any links or citations or details it’s hard to know what exactly they are referring to, which makes it impossible to verify – and also impossible to fix if we can’t figure out what was so wrong in the first place.
However, aside from the few actually really bad statements that continually get dredged up, I think a lot of the accusations just result from idealogical differences.
As discussed before, differing issues on “compromise” and whether unenthusiastic consent is valid are certainly one of the major points. In fact, several accusations of rape culture do trace back to instances where asexuals have discussed compromising about sex because they think it would help their relationship. And I think what happens is that there are some people on tumblr who would never want to have sex for that reason, but forget that not everyone feels the same – they know that they would never consent to sex in a relationship without coercion, so they assume that anyone who is consenting (or considering consenting) to sex in such a situation must therefore also be coerced, and have troubling imaging a case where it would not be coercion.
Of course, that is not always the case – I for one am an ace who would definitely be willing to consent to sex in order to get/maintain a relationship, or because a partner wanted it, or many other reasons that I know others would not – and for me, it would be completely consensual and not coerced. However, it can be hard to completely understand another persons motivations, and so it may be hard to really get that for some people, it is not coercion or rape. And that’s an issue that goes both way. For example, it can be extremely difficult for some to understand why intense persuasion (enough to be coercion) would be considered rape. I admit to this myself – as someone who is not really vulnerable to emotional pressure at all, it can be hard for me to understand why people don’t “just say no” – even if I can somewhat understand it on a theoretical level, it just clashes with my own experience so much that it’s hard to completely wrap my head around it.
I think another thing that plays a large part in the tumblr/AVEN conflict is the difference in the way that problematic statements on the two platforms are dealt with. On tumblr,the general response to anything deemed “problematic” is to “call it out” – a response which can be anything from politely reasoned responses to just hurling insults. Whether beneficial or not, this kind of response is very visible, instant and self gratifying. It gives people a satisfaction that “rape culture” (or whatever else the issue is) has been properly objected to.
AVEN, on the other hand, has moderation that is relatively invisible. Warns and nudges are not public, so there isn’t as much of a visceral sense of “punishment” for the alleged wrongdoers. And so since the evidence of responses to “rape culture” may be largely invisible, people may often assume that it isn’t there at all (which is not true).
Related to this is another thing that seems to anger certain parts of the tumblr crowd, which is when they are reprimanded for “calling out” problematic statements the way they are used to doing on tumblr. The problem with that style of call out is not the calling out itself, but when call-outs become personal attacks on other users. One of the goals of AVEN is to try and make it as safe as is feasible for all members – not just the ones who agree with you. However, many people who are used to the tumblr style of unmoderated, community response don’t completely understand why their call-outs have been, in return called out. They just see it as a defense of “rape culture” rather than a defense of the person’s right to not be harrassed, regardless of opinion.
However, I do think that there is a good reason for things to be this way on AVEN. Although the tumblr call-out culture can be rather satisfying, it can also be incredibly harmful. There are a lot of people who are less familiar with asexuality (or other subjects) who get harassed for accidentally saying something ignorant because they didn’t know better, or who get insulted and abused because they didn’t happen to “toe-the party line”. The end result is that people who are confused or don’t know much are often too intimidated to try and figure out what they ever did wrong.
(There’s an excellent article about the problems of tumblr call-out culture here)
And all too often on tumblr, disagreements with statements escalate into attacks on the person: i.e. “so-and-so said they think sex is a reasonable expectation in a relationship, they’re a terrible heterosexist rape-culture apologist asexual-hater who should never be allowed to enter any asexual community ever again”; there’s also a lot of call-out culture that comes way to close to just being bullying and aggression.
Of course, there are pitfalls to the AVEN system too: the invisibility of it means that it’s not always clear when things have been addressed, and being civil to everyone even if you completely disagree with everything they say can be stifling. So, for some people, the AVEN style just isn’t what suits them – just as the Tumblr culture just doesn’t work for a lot of people. I don’t think that necessarily means that one system is better than the other, but I do think that it does contribute to why many people on each site distrust the other.
And a then there’s just a couple other miscellaneous things that I see popping up sometimes. One is that I think part of the issue is that AVEN has a much longer “memory” for old posts and such – post on AVEN stay accessible, and people will keep seeing them. Tumblr, on the other hand, moves at such a rapid pace that anything offensive disappears from memory and attention within a couple hours, and so no one cares – or even notices – if nothing is done. As such, things that would pass unnoticed on tumblr are zeroed in on on AVEN.
The other difference, I think, is that people may simply have higher expectations of AVEN. On tumblr, because it is an open, unmoderated community, offensive statements or statements that are disagreed with can be dismissed as just “haters” or “trolls” or stupid heterosexists/transhaters/bigots – but basically, things can often be blamed on “outsiders”. On the other hand, on AVEN, a primarily asexual community, it’s harder to dismiss things, and there’s also a pressure to be the “unassailable asexual”, to be an enlightened group of individuals free from all prejudice. And while I think it’s good for people to have high expectations, I think that they forget that being part of a minority doesn’t automatically make a person completely prejudice-free and completely understanding of the situations and etiquette of other minorities. The people on AVEN are people the same as elsewhere, and there may be people who have different views, or who may be ignorant of a lot of things – just like the rest of the universe. I think that needs to accepted, and it’s a reason to try and educate people, but give them chances to learn instead of demonizing them or exiling them forever.
tl;dr: I don’t think that AVEN is particularly rape culture-y, but I do think that differences in ideology and attittudes between AVEN and tumblr can escalate conflicts, and that a lot of misunderstandings and assumptions have caused AVENs supposed reputation for rape culture to be greatly and unfairly exaggerated there.