I have given this matter a lot of thought these past days, trying to find a way to either share my experience or ignore the issue altogether.
I had to fight a few “demons” on the way. “Outsider Syndrome” came out in full gear, and I was left feeling, once again, like the “odd feminist out”.
Because, you see… Well… there really is no other way to say this, but…
I have never experienced online abuse.
So when I read Ray’s words, saying
“the internet is a society where being (perceived as) female and writing about feminism invariably leads to responses on the theme of *nasty abuse*”
I was left feeling… well… “different”.
For I am on the internet, and have been blogging for 3-4 years now. I am universally perceived as female and I write about feminism. But…
I have never experienced online abuse.
Faced with this reality, my demons (aka “Outsider Syndrome”) began screaming with rage, and expressing irrational, incorrect, and downright silly ideas:
“OMG, how can they say that all feminists experience abuse? I haven’t! What is she trying to say? That I’m not a feminist? Or perhaps it’s because, oh, I don’t know, NOBODY HAS EVER HEARD OF ME! NOBODY READS WHAT I WRITE. And so nobody even bothers sending me abuse.”
And when I say silly, I mean it. For a split second my demon went on:
“You know what? They should be downright grateful they are getting abuse! At least it shows someone is reading what they write. How would they like it if nobody took any notice of them? HUH? ‘Cuz that’s what happens to me! You know what, I wish I was getting…”
Yeah, my demons are silly. They are made up of an emotional response to a painful situation. It’s complicated, but you can read about how they work in Havi’s blog.
So I had to calm them down before I could think clearly about what is going on. And I have a couple of theories.
- Is it possible that I haven’t experienced any abuse online because I’m just not that popular? After all, if nobody reads what you write, then nobody can get angry at you.
- Or is it possible that what I write about is not all that “feminist”? Or controversial? I have been keeping a low profile on the feminist front, mainly because I’ve been bored of it. But then again, I have written a post titled “Feminism: it’s all been co-opted”. And “The meaning of sexualisation”. So yes, I do write feminist-y things.
- This is the most interesting and exciting one of all. Is it possible that the language I’m using to write is somehow not “triggering” to those people who are most likely to spout abuse at women/feminist writers?
The answer is likely to include all of the above, along with things like “sheer luck”. But it’s the last one that provides the gate to “the alternative”.
I believe that the people sending abuse to women are in a lot of pain. It has been said before, I’m not breaking any new ground here. But it’s important to remember.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve been in a lot of pain myself. Perhaps it’s because the Universe decided I should be extra sensitive to it. But the fact is that I can see the suffering that many men are under. For it appears to be mostly men who are “triggered” by feminist words.
Sometimes this knowledge scares me, for I have no idea where on Earth it comes from. Compassion, I suppose. It is a difficult thing to have compassion for the oppressed and for the oppressor. But fortunately, compassion is unlimited.
So if this is true, and a different “language” helps to not trigger abuse, then my suggestion to women/feminist writers would be… compassion.
Yes, I know it’s difficult. It’s only taken me 4 years to get here, and I’ve only just started. But it seems to be the only thing that works, judging by the success of other writers.
Not to mention that Buddhists would not have it as one of their core practices if it didn’t work in some way.
Notice that I use the word “trigger” to mean “what makes abusers angry”. I do this for a reason. When we are in pain, a few words can trigger an emotional response much like the one I had when I read Ray’s post.
In my case, her reference to “all feminists getting abuse” triggered by Outsider Syndrome, along with my “Popularity Deficiency Affliction”. My emotional response (or demon) said “Omg I’m different to all of them! And I’m unpopular as Hell!”.
And it drove me so angry and sad that I was within meters of saying not-so-nice things at Ray (in my head). Things like “Oh, you should be grateful you get abuse, you popular feminist; I bet you sleep in a bed of roses and bath in Champagne”.
Because the demons responsible for this kind of response are very silly. (And in my case, also funny).
These demons only come out when we are in pain. So when you see abuse, this is in all likelihood the words of someone’s demon raging in their heads and driving them to type horrible things.
I hope this makes some sense. What I’m trying to say is this: “people say horrible things when they are in pain”. And it helps if we remind ourselves that the horrible things are an expression of someone’s pain, and have nothing to do with us.
Just like in my case, the reactions from my demons had absolutely nothing to do with Ray, who is an amazing feminist doing a fantastic job. My rational, not-in-pain self has nothing but positive things to say about her.
I give my own experience as example because I think it will help. Because it shows how the “hurling abuse at someone on the internet” gene is present in all of us. Because we are all human, we all have pain, and we can all be triggered at any point by anyone.
And that’s why the answer to abuse is likely to be compassion.
Note 1: I want to make it extra clear that I do not have a single negative feeling towards Ray. I really think she's great. And I don't hold her responsible in any way for how I felt, because that would be stoopid. I believe she said the right thing, and my own personal demons have nothing to do her.
Note 2: For more about compassion and Buddhism, Pema Chodron's cds are a good place to start.
Note 3: I want to make it absolutely clear that having compassion for online abusers does not, in any way, condone their violent behaviour. Nor does it mean we should stop talking about what we need to talk about, ie: feminism. It just means that we can both a) put a stop to escalating abuse and b) we can use less triggering language. Though as my example shows, it will be pretty impossible to eliminate all triggering language, for anything at all can provide a trigger. Just think of it as sanding off some rough edges so that our words are not unncessesarily spiky.