Everyone and their dog log some aspect of their life on the World Wide Web for pleasure or even business. Our days are punctuated by iPhone buzzes and computer tones alerting us that people are looking at, liking, commenting on, or sharing the things that we say and do.
This trend has done wonders for feminist and activist voices.
With the Internet, movements have a wider reach than just the people who pass by the picket line. Not to mention, online content creators can track the response to their work and even engage directly with their audience, all in a matter of seconds.
Feminism can be a catalyst for some important conversations, online or in real life. I know that my foray into feminist writing has forced me to discuss and consider ideas that can be both enlightening and extremely uncomfortable.
Sometimes, these enlightening and/or uncomfortable conversations take place among people all over the world responding to an article or video. Anyone can join the dialogue with keystrokes and a click.
This is all a relatively new phenomenon, and along with its pros certainly come some cons.
Feminist works garner a spectrum of responses from life-affirming to life-threatening. Maybe it’s the emotional weight of the material. Maybe it’s the unflattering light we shine on the ugly truths of patriarchy.
Either way, feminist pieces get a wide range of comments online. We can use them to improve, if we listen closely. But they can also be scary.
If you run a feminist blog, upload original images inspired by your activism, make online videos, or do any other online organizing, this is for you. Here are just a few of the commenters you’ll meet as an online feminist and how to deal with them:
1. The Awwww!-Inducers
EXAMPLE: “I love to see the next generation of feminists! They give me hope for the future. Thank you so much!”
It’s nice to be acknowledged. Is that the sole reason to create content or be an activist? Absolutely not. But sometimes these comments can help you on days when you feel like your voice is lost.
Occasionally an Awwww!-Inducing commenter will give perspective on their lived experiences. And if you know who is listening, you can better understand what to say in the future.
The next time you read an Awwww!-Inducer’s comment on your work, give yourself a pat on the back. Be thankful. But don’t rest on your laurels.
2. The Devil’s Advocates
EXAMPLE: “But what if two people are both drunk and both can’t consent, but have sex with each other anyway? Could they both charge each other for rape, or does their mutual drunkenness just cancel it out? BOOM! BET YOU DIDN’T THINK OF THAT!”
If your work refers to or creates controversy, the Devil’s Advocates will come.
They try to confuse you, make you look like a hypocrite, or trivialize what you have to say. Their tone tends to say “A-ha! I got you now!”
Generally, I find that Devil’s Advocates want to be told that they are right, usually at your expense.
Personally, I don’t respond to them. If you have a thicker skin than I do, choose your words wisely. Devil’s Advocates have a reputation for debate, so they may come back with a rebuttal to whatever response you give them.
I’d rather be creating than defending my work from someone who is going to fault it regardless of what I say or do.
There isn’t a method to Devil’s Advocate-proof a piece, but you can curb some of the smart-asses by making sure your theme and messages are as clear as possible. That way, there is less for them to question.
Remember: If they continue to badger you, they are the ones who are lacking, not you.
3. The Thoughtful Critics
EXAMPLE: “I think it’s important to point out that not all body-shaming is oppression. Of course, you shouldn’t tear down anybody based on their body type, but thin people still have privilege even when they are shamed. I hope that this point can be made more clearly in the future.”
What separates a Thoughtful Critic from a Devil’s Advocate is an informative tone and a call to action.
The Thoughtful Critic has chosen their words so that you will listen to them and make positive change to your work. You can learn something from this person.
If you reply to comments, you may want to thank your Thoughtful Critics, especially if they educate and enlighten you on something you would have never known otherwise.
If you find that what a Thoughtful Critic has to say holds water, apply the corrections they suggest. If you don’t understand why the Thoughtful Critic cares so much, it’s a cue for you to listen more.
This goes double if the Thoughtful Critic is a member of a group of people that you are not. You can only begin to understand others’ experiences if you listen to them and take them seriously.
4. The Headline-Judgers
EXAMPLE: “Ugh, don’t tell me I can’t say douchebag anymore! Feminists take away everything that’s fun!”
Basically, these are the people who clicked “Comment” before they read or watched the piece receiving comments. You can tell they only read the title, because their responses indicate zero comprehension of the piece.
Maybe this is cutthroat, but if someone doesn’t want to put in the effort to understand your entire piece before commenting, you shouldn’t put in the effort to respond to them.
Headline-Judgers are annoying, but we have to remain humble even in dealing with them. Regardless of comment sections, some people just don’t want to buy whatever you’re selling, and that’s just fine.
5. The One-Uppers
EXAMPLE: “Is this REALLY important enough to warrant an article when there are poor people going through atrocities in other countries? I’m too worldly for this shit.”
Sometimes, One-Uppers want to make you feel ridiculous. Sometimes, they are Thoughtful Critics in disguise. They can even be a little bit of both. Also, they can occasionally come across as super White-Savior-y, but that’s a story for another day.
I get it. Online activism can accomplish so much, so it can seem like a waste of potential when e-activists predominantly focus on “First-World” concepts, this article included.
Would it benefit you and your audience to know more about the so-called “Real” issues? Of course.
But that doesn’t mean that you can’t also care about things that affect you personally.
What both content creators and One-Uppers need to realize is that heavier issues and everyday observations are not mutually exclusive, and one is not “Better” than the other.
6. The Trolls
EXAMPLE: “You bitches just need a good dick and a sandwich-making tutorial. Hahaha, cat ladies. Blah blah blah something homophobic or racist.”
Trolls just want to be fed with your outrage. Don’t give it to them.
They’re not even creative enough to deserve it. Trolls are often unoriginal and/or bigoted and show it like it’s their job.
Sometimes, it actually is their job. There are people literally earning paychecks by pestering you online.
Not all trolls are profiting from their ignorance; some people do it as an unpaid hobby, which I think is even sadder for them. Either way, don’t feed the trolls.
I can’t wait to see the efforts from this article’s trolls. I’m sure they will be saucy as ever!
7. The Legitimately Terrifying Person
EXAMPLE: Death threats, rape threats, and/or any other threats to you or your loved ones. Sometimes they’ll even know where you live, where you work, or where you go to school.
These commenters can you scare you so much, you won’t want to go on with e-activism. From Laci Green to Lindy West and beyond, online threats are not a new phenomenon.
What makes Legitimately Terrifying People even scarier is that law enforcement doesn’t exactly have a protocol for dealing with their threats.
Some content creators choose to expose these commenters, adding to the aggregate of evidence that says this is absolutely a problem. Others take a break from the Internet altogether. Both are completely valid.
I can’t tell you one definitive way to cope with Legitimately Terrifying People on the Internet.
I can say, though, that Everyday Feminism strives to be a space for you to discuss social issues without fear. These discussions are important, and I wouldn’t want you to be silenced or afraid.
Although I rarely respond, I do read comments on my work from time to time. Some people really push me to be a better writer. But when it starts to feel like high school, that means it’s time to log off.
Other e-activists that I know completely disable their comment sections, and I can’t really blame them. Especially when you’re anything other than a cis-hetero-white-man, anonymous people on the Internet can and will use you as a scapegoat for their prejudices. And that gets old real quick.
There are some bloggers who painstakingly answer so many questions and comments for the sake of educating their audience. If you are one of these people, I salute you, because I could never be that patient or focused.
If you are a blogger, vlogger, artist, or e-activist, tell me about your projects! Post the link in the comments section. Which commenters do you get the most? Which ones did I miss?
Happy commenting (and, hopefully, thinking before commenting)!
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Maddie McClouskey is a Contributing Writer for Everyday Feminism. She’s a twenty-something lesbian in New York City and currently writes weekly dating advice pieces for the LGBTQ event app and website SheSeekOnline and was a regular contributor to the sexuality and feminism site ToughxCookies. When she’s not writing articles about gayness, she’s performing stand-up comedy, singing show tunes to her girlfriend and dog against their will, or making up jokes for Twitter @SoundofMaddie. Read her articles here.
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