How to Treat a Lady On the Internet – Since Some of You Need Instructions

Originally published on Medium and republished here with the author’s permission.

(Content Note: harassment, mentions of sexual and physical violence)

A person sitting at a table with their fingers at their temples, eyes closed, appearing stressed.

A person sitting at a table with their fingers at their temples, eyes closed, appearing stressed.

Hi folks.

The following is a good guide for how to treat women online, whether you are a dude, a lady, a genderqueer person, or anyone who uses the Internet.

I’ve seen men engage in some of the practices I describe unfavorably, but guess what. I’ve seen others do it, too.

This is not about one instance in my own life, but a series of many instances in my own life and in the lives of other folks online. Some of you don’t like what you perceive as “PC bullshit.” This ain’t about your notion of political correctness (which is usually code for “being a decent human being,” but whatever, I’m not here to quibble with you on that, and I’m a blasphemous broad myself, so I get your frustration when you feel you’re being cramped). But this is about acting like a good person.

I’m laid up sick with an upper respiratory infection, and yet I’m still doing this kind service because ridiculous behavior on the Internet exhausts me. And I want to be able to just link folks to this where necessary. Feel free to do so as well.

Let’s go.

1. If You Get Blocked or Unfriended, Don’t Ask Why

Do not approach. We did it for a reason (probably not drunkenness, although that is possible)!

If we want to tell you why, we will.

Go be a good person and imagine it’s just because we were having a bad day. Or ask yourself why and really look at why we might’ve decided not to engage with you further.

If you want to say to yourself “What a bitch,” I guess do that? Whatever. Just don’t say it to us. Stay away.

2. If You DM Us on Twitter and We Don’t Respond, Don’t DM Us Again

This is simple.

3. If We Tell You to Take Us Out of a Thread on Twitter or Elsewhere, Do It

Don’t ask why. Ever.

There may be someone in that thread of whom we have grown weary or with whom we stopped engaging a long time ago. It’s quite likely they’ve harassed us and we’ve blocked them, but when you respond to all of us, we still get the tweets clogging our feed. Alternately, we may simply be busy and not have time to keep up.

Just do it.

Imagine we asked if you could move your car so we could back out of the driveway. You’d just do that, right? It’s easy. Okay, just do this.

Untag us.

You know when Eliza in Hamilton (c’mon bro, you’ve listened! your bro has!) says “I remove myself” from the whole story? She’s in a situation that is too painful and sad so Lin-Manuel Miranda, who is a certified genius for real, gives her the out. Later, she jumps back in of her own volition.

That’s us. Except we don’t have a wonderful dude doing it for us, because we’re writing our own narrative here.

Be an ally or just a decent person and respect that choice.

4. Don’t Respond to Every Post We Create Anywhere on the Web

Being a fan is a fantastic thing. I’m a fangirl myself. Love the fangirls and the fanboys and the fanfolks of this world. But this goes beyond fandom.

When you give the impression that you seem to think you’re in a constant conversation with us, it feels creepy to us.

Often, this is an issue of your having trouble recognizing boundaries, and that’s not always your fault! We are all wired differently and we have gifts and difficulties, sometimes around perception. So if you’re a person with a good heart who may perceive things differently than most, you’re still probably going to respect a boundary once it’s explained to you.

But there are others who are not that way.

There are others to whom I say: Why do you have all the time in the world to do that? Go look at other cool stuff, too – art, music, politics, your kids’ homework. Buy a Solange album. Yes, the latest is fantastic, but she’s always been great. Never afraid to experiment. Revels in evolution and progression. Did you know? Go listen.

(And don’t bother Solange. She deals with enough.)

5. If We Never Respond to You, We Probably Muted You or Unfollowed You

…but stayed friends with you so as not to enrage you or upset our mothers because you still live in the small town where we grew up and our moms have to deal with you at the grocery store.

The muting or unfollowing may be because you’re annoying or you have terrible opinions or horrific taste in furniture and yet you won’t stop posting photographs of your awful furniture.

Don’t ask us if we muted you.

It may be because you seem threatening, and we don’t want to further inflame you by blocking you. (Did you know that this is how we have to deal with folks online for our own safety? It’s true. Usually the folks with whom we have to contend in this manner are men. Not always.)

6. Don’t Make Sexual Comments on the Social Media of Women You Don’t Know

If you do know her personally in a sexy way, and you make such a comment and she checks you on it, back off. You’ll know if she wants to fuck you because she’ll fucking fuck you. Until then, exercise some restraint. It’s better for your soul and your dong in the long run.

I’m giving you strategy here, dude: if you want to shtup us, shut up and be a good person. We find mystery exciting! (That’s not always true – it just sounded like something that would be in a Maxim article from 1997.)

7. If We Block a Person or Unfriend Someone, Don’t Ask Why

Do not say he’s a really great guy and look, he’s really sorry.

HE IS NOT A REALLY GREAT GUY. WE DO NOT BLOCK OR UNFRIEND GUYS WHO’VE BEEN REALLY GREAT TO US.

GO.

A.

WAY.

There are people to whom I will never speak unless absolutely necessary and with whom I will never work unless I have to, and it’s specifically because they thought it was time to play Cupid for creeps.

You have no idea what we deal with and what we hear privately. It’s not your business.

Your nice guy friend who is nice to you and is so nice to your daughter and has never raped a woman in front of your face and who maybe says he’s super sorry? Yeah, he may be a serial harasser, a rapist, or a dude who punched us in the face one night in a drunk blackout.

You don’t get to know that information unless we want to tell you. You don’t know the shit we know about him, and we’re not telling, and you and he should be so fucking thankful for that.

Is he married? Oh, be a thousand times more thankful. You know a tiny bit of the story, and it’s all filtered through him.

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but your boy is an unreliable fucking narrator.

Back off.

And if he’s pleaded with you to be the intermediary and you actually did it: congrats. You fell for it. He’s an abuser trying desperately to draw his prey back in. He’s using you for that purpose. Start noticing.

And get better friends.

8. If Someone Says Mean Things About Us, Don’t Tell Us Unless You Fear For Our Safety

Then tell us. We can choose whether we wish to alert the authorities.

You win zero points with folks you want to love you when you say, “Look at this stranger talking shit! Look at me defending you! I’m such a great person!”

Oh really? We see right through that.

Mean Girls came out a long time ago. This ain’t high school. Go away.

9. Don’t Give Out Our Contact Information Without Asking Our Permission

Some of us have websites and places where that information is readily available, because we’re happy to engage with requests we can honor. Direct them to these places if necessary.

And if we don’t respond? Sometimes it’s a safety issue. Sometimes it’s simply an “I’m busy” issue.

Women get endless requests for help and assistance in various ways at various times. Everybody in the world thinks they have the right to our time, our money, our emotional labor, our business contacts, the works.

This is true whether you are A Gal of Note on the TeeVee or A Gal Who Is Awesome and Definitely of Note with Zero Interest in Having Her Name in the Newspapah.

We can field those requests with grace if we wish. Or we can ignore them. That does not make us rude. That does not make us ungenerous. That does not make us bad people.

I gave up nice a long time ago. Nice did me no good as a woman. Niceness is a lie they teach you to keep you sweet and compliant while you’re screaming inside.

You know what picked instead? Kindness. I chose to be kind. Kind means I respect your boundaries and you respect mine.

10. When We Speak About Abuse and We Don’t Use Names or Clues, There’s a Reason

Do not dare question our choices to tell our stories and to use anonymity and discretion to protect ourselves and the people we love.

We do not owe it to you to name names. We do not owe it to you to be the heroine.

We are not cartoon characters. We are not fairy tale princesses. We are not imagined fearless, flawless brave warrior women sent from on high to do battle with dragons while you sit from afar and say, “Yeah girl, get it!”

Look, you wanna know why we don’t name names, beyond “discretion” and “etiquette” and “not wanting to get sued for saying something that’s true, but that we can’t prove because nobody was in the room when it happened?” Because we don’t want to get hit, slapped, raped, beaten, or killed.

If you don’t know how present that is in our lives, even in my own privileged life, this is my invitation to you to listen the next time a lady says, “He… he wasn’t… I mean, he tried to be a good person, I really think he’s a good person, but… you know… there were issues” and then looks away uncomfortably.

What’s her body language saying? You might consider saying, “I’m here if you need to talk. I don’t expect you to, and I’m not pressuring you to. But know that I won’t tell anybody and I won’t judge you.”

And then, for God’s sake, honor that commitment to your friend, your colleague, your sister, your mom, whoever. And if they don’t wanna chat, leave it. Leave. It. Alone.

***

And by the way? This is how you should treat everybody.

I drew you in with that “ladies” headline, but this is actually about treating human beings with dignity in physical space or online space.

You are part of a collective whole, and I am addressing the whole. If you and I have had a personal interaction in which I have expressed displeasure, do not approach me about this. Just do better in future.

If you have had a personal interaction with a woman who is not me and she has told you to go away, stay away. Don’t go back and say “I’ve changed!” unless you’re working a program that asks you do so, within reason.

Your amends should not be her burden. She may not wish to forgive you now or ever, and that is her right.

Good people make mistakes. I know I do, all the time. But we apologize unless it would be stressful or dangerous or offensive to the injured party. We move forward and we do better.

Just because you’ve violated certain boundaries of politeness and ideal human behavior does not automatically make you a monster person, okay?

So don’t go into some shame spiral. Shame is useless unless it prompts better action. Take this information. Think on it. Do good things in the world.

I’m going back to being physically ill now. Share this with friends and neighbors and the aforementioned magical unicorns who can read everything. Not that unicorns need this information. They’re born compassionate and polite. The rest of us can often use a little help with that.

Sara Benincasa is a comedian and the author of five books, including Real Artists Have Day Jobs. She lives and works in Los Angeles, but she is forever a Jersey girl.