So, last week, I posted a link to an issue I was interested in, with a one-line header that expressed my feeling: I was disappointed with the thing that was happening. Big whoop.
His contribution was this: The situation was inevitable and simple, he said. My disappointment was naïve, he implied. Sigh.
So what bothered me? His assumptions. Firstly, he assumed, seemingly-instinctively, that his opinion was better and more intelligent than mine. Secondly, he assumed that I had not done even the most basic level of research on the subject. And finally, he assumed that his voice was both welcome and invited. I think he did all this without even knowing he was doing it. Like I said, he's not a bad guy. Nonetheless, I'm not the only person who noticed the implications of what he said.
I responded. I usually ignore this sort of thing, but I guess I'd had enough. I explained why his initial comment was overly simplistic, shared some more complex factors that I felt his comment had ignored, and then told him his perspective sounded like mansplaining.
That was my mistake ... using the word "mansplaining." It was as though the word emitted a high-pitched whistle that only a certain kind of man could hear. It alerted them to danger, a siren wailing "Feminazi with opinions has ATTACKED our bro! We must ORGANIZE!" And so they did.
To Brett, I said nothing. Like I said, he had disappeared.
The man who was concerned is a close friend -- the only real friend who got involved -- and so to him, I talked. Ultimately, I felt good about our interaction. While he's not used to me being assertive, he understood where I was coming from. Plus, he had the decency to contact me privately, instead of posting a little attack on the actual thread. As it turns out, he's a friend, rather than a bro. Good on him.
As for the man who sent the simple link, I deleted his comment. He responded that it would be okay for us to discuss the issue in private, via DM. I admit, even this felt presumptuous and entitled. Why is it assumed that he's owed a conversation? He's little more than an acquaintance and I didn't think I needed his approval to have a valid opinion. Nonetheless, his messages were respectful and politely worded, so I engaged with him a bit, even though I didn't think it was his place to get involved. And it was fine. Unnecessary, but fine.
[Edited to add: the man who sent the simple link, who pretended to have a civil conversation on this subject, has since blocked me. I assume, in solidarity with his blocked bro. But I'm the angry, unreasonable one in this scenario. Okay. Lol.]
As for the charming individual who implied that I was a crazy bitch, well. I'd already told him to fuck off, so I simply blocked him and told him he wouldn't be missed. It wan't a hard decision. The man's always been an idiot. (More on that later.)
So, it would seem that this little gang was dealt with tidily. Or ... was it?
I wish. Alas, the last man chose not to give up. Let's call him Gob, shall we? Gob, the man who told me I was a crazy bitch, continued to behave shamefully. Having been blocked from Facebook, he chose to send me (and others) a series of emails that a kind person could only categorize as stupid and obnoxious. Here's one of his earlier gems, from a time when he was still weakly-feigning politeness. I think he's trying to say ... Label bad! Libertarian good! Except when Gob make good label is smart! Rar! Something like that. It's a screen shot. Click to enlarge.
In response to his email, above, I sent back a caustic little note of my own, in which I both pointed out the complete strangeness of his message, spawned as it was from a conversation he seemed to have imagined. I told him he was either confused or lying, and made fun of his atrocious spelling. We all make typos, I said, which is true. I've made some in this very post, but really ... considering the fact that he was being so condescending, I think so many errors are little much.
I didn't take the high road, but I did keep responding, and I'm pretty proud of that choice. To every one of his comments, to me or about me, I replied. And as long as he keeps writing, I will keep doing so. That is, until I can't be bothered anymore. That's my choice, not his. I read a piece by the awesome Lindy West once called Don't Ignore the Trolls. Feed Them Until They Explode. and I consider myself to be taking her advice.
I post a fair bit of political stuff on my Facebook page. That space, reserved for people I've approved as "friends" is my only online forum that is particularly controversial. (And honestly, not even very controversial -- I post plenty of silly jokes and amusing animal pictures, just like everyone else.) Nonetheless, I have a few particular areas of interest:
1) Race and Racism (specifically in regards to mixed-race issues)
2) Body Politics (specifically Size-Acceptance and Fat-Activism)
3) Gender Politics (specifically Feminism)
These are, not surprisingly, the political areas that have affected me most directly. I'm a woman (duh), I'm mixed-race (double-duh), and I am in recovery from an Eating Disorder (ED) and have been both fat and thin (if you read this blog, another duh). I have other, related interests, which include anti-capitalism, class issues, and poverty, but they are more peripheral than my main stuff. Anyway, all of this is simply to give you an idea of the sorts of things I post. None of them are all that radical, really, but most of them have a tendency to trigger certain insecurities in people, especially privileged people, and all of them tend to bring on argumentative comments from men. It's a sad fact that you can't really talk about sexism or racism or any major bigotry without offending people who think you're blaming them. Mention racism and some (SOME not all!) white people think you're criticizing them, for example. Talk about feminism and some (SOME!) men think "Hey! I'm a nice guy! You're attacking me!" These people feel angry, as if you're saying that systemic, institutionalized issues are their personal responsibility, when they're not. No one I know right now is a racist, but many people I know accidentally and unthinkingly have racist and biased ideas subtly influencing their ideas. Consider the fact that many people think names like Shaniqua are "ghetto." That's an inherently racist ideas, and it's just one of many that lots of people subscribe to without thinking. My point is that most of us are complicit to some extent, in every arena of inequality. Including me! That's okay! It's not our fault per se, but it's something that needs to be talked about, something that needs to be faced if it's ever going to change. That's why I talk about this stuff online when I can, to my friends, in the relatively safe space known as my private Facebook page, though as I said, I'm finding that bringing up these subjects can be dangerous. My story above was not about physical, major danger, but about the small things, the everyday things that are at very bottom of the same scale. Real danger is reserved, for the most part, for people who are much more important than me.
Consider Lindy West, the Jezebel writer -- my absolute current favourite online scribe. She wrote a couple of pieces awhile back that contained what amounted to a very mild critique of rape jokes in the sphere of stand-up comedy (for example, categorizing a joke about how a woman in an audience should be gang raped because she didn't find a particular comic's jokes to be as amusing as he did as not cool) and all hell broke loose. She received a deluge of rape threats, comments about how she was too fat and ugly to be raped, comments about wanting to rape her with a traffic cone, comments about how she should kill herself, etc. It was, for any reasonable person watching, both shocking and disgusting in a very visceral way. The word "cunt" was practically impossible to avoid, a clear favourite insult (next to fat and ugly, of course). It was metaphorically unbelievable and soberingly true -- a woman with an opinion had better beware. The internet and it's trolls were coming.
And then there's local Anita Sarkeesian. If you've never heard of her, let me sum up her story: In 2012, Sarkeesian launched a Kickstarter project to fund the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series -- a project born of her academic background. She raised plenty of money, but she also drew the ire of a legion of misogynist trolls. According to her Wikipedia entry, she was e-mailed images of herself being raped by video game characters, her personal social media accounts were attacked (hacking attempts and the like), and even her Wikipedia entry was doctored, "vandalized with images of sex acts" according to the page as it currently exists. But, as they say in the world of late-night infomercials, that's not all! My favourite fun-fact in Sarkeesian's story is that one hater hated her enough to create a video game allowing angry male users (or anyone who felt like it) to "beat up Anita Sarkeesian." The premise was simple. Misogynists the world over could click on a stolen photo of Sarkeesian's face and watch while it transformed into a battered, bloody, bruised mess. These men wanted to put Sarkeesian in the hospital because they didn't like her ideas, but being weak and impotent, they decided to pretend to do so from the safety of their own manky basements instead -- a brave and not-at-all pathetic choice.
I do not think that I am at all like Lindy West or Anita Sarkeesian. Both of those women are major figures, important voices, both online and in the wider world, and not just because they're feminists. I'm a nobody -- a regular woman making no real political impact, just puttering along and trying to live my life. And that's fine. In fact, it's important, because big stories like the ones I just mentioned aren't all that common unless you're a major feminist figure. Much more common are stories of the sort of bullying and silencing that go on every day on the Facebook pages, the Twitter accounts and the web pages (etc.) of regular women like me. It's almost imperceptible, we're all so used to it, but if you're at all political, I'm sure you know what I'm speaking about -- the attempts to educate, to correct, to shame, to categorize us as crazy and imply that we are "bitches" to be dismissed -- in the form of comments from men who think their voices are always welcome, always wanted, always right. These are the sort of men who commonly take up the most space they can in the world, opening their legs wide on public transit, for example, interrupting with their booming voices when women are speaking, making little puppet mouths with their respective hands and saying "shhhhhht!" when they don't like what you're saying. And not as a joke.
At least, that has been my experience. It's only recently that I've noticed the many ways in which everyday sexism affects my online life, and though I'm not sure this is something that happens to every woman who behaves like me on the internet, I have a sneaking suspicion that my experience is not so much an exception as it is the norm.