When my sluggish radar finally picked up on the “FYI (If You’re a Teenage Girl)” blog post that went viral yesterday, I was, I’ll admit it, titillated. I do love controversy. Even more, I love having an opinion and mixing it up with others. I am, after all, a writing teacher, and I teach rhetoric and argument.
In the afternoon I was having fun. It was a juicy post, full of content and issues and rhetorical choices that failed. Even then, however, I was feeling a bit queasy for the blogger. Like her, I don’t have that many readers, and it would shock me to end up with hundreds (thousands now?) of comments. Especially when a healthy portion are critical.
By the evening, however, I was fed up and depressed because, yet again, the conversation had devolved into name calling. (Check out Jezebel’s post.) For much of the day, a group of bloggers in a private Facebook group had been vigorously unpacking the arguments in the post. We identified ourselves as bloggers, moms of boys, moms of girls, moms of boys and girls, dads of girls, and, for the most part, were respectful of each other, if not overly so of the “FYI” writer.
By 10 p.m. one blogger, in a tight-knit group of bloggers, called people he disagreed with “moronic parents.” On first reading, I assumed he was referring to “us,” the parents who had been engaging for much of the day. But then I felt he was referring to me, personally. That’s how name calling works, I’m afraid. You put out the name (and “moronic” is pretty tame as names go) and everything becomes personal.
Of course he wasn’t referring to me, personally. I’m not sure who he was referring to. But I do know that the conversation was derailed as the shields came up to protect ourselves.
A few weeks ago I posted an entry in this blog about Corey Monteith. One commenter called me a “fucking moron” and another said that I “wrote like a seventh grader.” Neither actually engaged the argument I was making. Instead of taking the chance to make a good, valid counter argument, both chose to call me a name.
As our community managers here at Chicago Now tell us, you have to develop a tough skin when you’re a blogger. Honestly, my name-calling commenters made me feel that I had arrived. Dear god, someone, not related to me or a close friend, actually read my blog.
And this brings me to my last example, my online support group. We’ve had a dustup lately in a group that exists for bladder cancer patients because one member has been posting ribald comments, establishing threads about sex and bathroom humor. Both are relevant to bladder cancer because sexual disfunction and life in the bathroom occupy the lives of many folks with bladder cancer.
However, like me, many people in this group are not in a place where the humor is comforting or enjoyable. For some of us, it’s offensive and painful, even disrespectful. The managers of the online forum asked the comedian to stop posting, and all hell broke loose.
On one hand, I’m delighted that the group is having serious discussions about how to negotiate our interactions online. We need to talk more about how to engage, how to disagree. I’d even like to explore why some of us, like me, seem to have suffered humor impairment when we got a cancer diagnosis.
But, I’m terribly sad that so many people in this discussion have been calling each other names, devolving into personal characterizations, and making assumptions about character. We are in this group to support each other. Most of us are suffering and scared. Gentleness is what we need.
And this leads me back to the “FYI (If You’re a Teenage Girl)” blogger. Read her comment to her critics and note that she revised the post. Listen to the integrity in her words.
Since I usually have the audience of about 19 people – and I average one comment from either my mom or grandma, I’m a bit unnerved.
I didn’t put any thought into those pictures. I should have, huh? Thought is really important for writers.
That said, do I think those family pictures are in any way sexual? No.
Am I surprised that people might think they are? Yes, actually.
Have I ever been totally wrong before, and needed correction? Too many times to count:)
Could this be one of those times? Absolutely.
Believe me when I tell you that I disagree with many of the points she makes in this post. I am not a Christian (She is). I am an atheist and a feminist and mother of a daughter. I’m not a fan of her parenting style. I am not a fan of managing my kid’s relationships or a fan of talking about my kid or her friends online.
But, I salute this woman for civility. Thank you for teaching us by example, Mrs. Hall.
And, I’ll leave you with a blog entry that critiques Mrs. Hall’s blog post and does it with respect and grace: "Dear Mrs. Hall, Regarding Your 'FYI (if you're a teenage girl)'..." This, my friends, is civility, complete with a passionate argument.
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Update: Just wanted to direct your attention to this Storify, which gathers all of the ChicagoNow bloggers posts on this issue.
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