Are they gone?
You have to understand. No way in hell would I send my writing to Feministing. No interest. I write a small niche blog that sees the same visitors every week: Cherry Hill, NJ; Chatham, ON; Helsinki, Finland. One reader checks in every morning at 6:15 and I wish I knew who she (I assume she) is, so I could say thanks and tell her to subscribe to updates by clicking on the “sign me up” thingy. I feel guilty when a couple of weeks go by without anything new — aaahhhh, she keeps checking! I need to get on it!
I’m not an arguer, though I admire the mad rhetorical skillz of many women on my blogroll. I’m uninterested in persuading anyone to adopt my point of view. (Everybody, h/t Nikka Costa, got their something). Most of my readers are part of a particular feminist crowd; others are into CrossFit/powerlifting or secondary-school pedagogy. Or maybe hairless cats.
But I do read Feministing occasionally, and last week they ran a piece that bothered me intellectually and viscerally. I wrote down my reaction (quickly, and without wearing any pants) and went to bed. I woke up to 3,000 hits because a friend had forwarded the piece to Feministing. Such is the nature of the Internet, yes?
I wouldn’t change a word of what I wrote, but the piece was not addressed to or intended for the Feministing author. She’s a woman writing about what’s important to her. Fine. I took issue with what she wrote, though, and my critique was intended for a specific, seasoned feminist audience.
I am a Christian with a Jewish soul: I don’t proselytize.
The negative Feministing response didn’t shock me (nor did the number of lovely, supportive emails and new readers). What was interesting was the tone of many comments I got — as though the writers were about to detonate with self-righteous outrage. My own tone wasn’t gentle, of course, but the weight and force of all the YOU FUCKING MONSTER!s was a battle axe in response to a fencing foil. It was personal (“you’re just too fucking old to understand, but…”) smug and pseudo-academic (“You may not realize the problematic bigotry and horizontal violence of your response; you need to unpack your privilege” and condescending (“Your blog post gave us all a good laugh.”) I published the ones I thought moved the conversation forward; spammed some unread because the first line was abusive or profane. These writers were going to fucking bring me into line and, failing that, were going to try to hurt me as much as possible. I was wrong, so I deserved to be punished.
Internet incivility and aggressiveness is a thing, no matter what you’re into — I mean, Elizabethan historians and chemical engineers must get up each others’ asses online all the time — but I hadn’t experienced it firsthand until last week. I’ve got friends with unpopular opinions who receive actual death threats, and it’s eye-opening to experience the tiniest, slightest inkling-hint of how that feels.
I don’t mind people thinking my opinion is derp — go nuts! I work with teenagers, so I maintain equilibrium in the face of whiny fists-in-air — but I do mind that expressing it on my own blog got me swarmed with abusive thought-policing.
I’m allowed to have an unpopular opinion. I’m allowed to think, judge, question, complain, dissent, and write a pantsless manifesto without getting a visit from the Shame Stasi and being told I brought it on myself and deserve it. Is that a familiar trope? Have we heard it somewhere before?
I am a small fish. The “bring you into line” phenomenon is writ much larger online this week. It’s a first-world problem, yes, but I find it scary. I find it problematic.