Last week on Twitter, I was doing my usual thing: enthusing about books, retweeting sharp observations and glorious absurdities, and trying (unsuccessfully) to dodge the ads. Then this tweet from Lindy West popped into my timeline:
And I did remember. I remembered this article of hers from the Guardian, in which West confronted her cruellest troll – the one who originally impersonated her dead father. As with so many things I read on the internet, I was infuriated and incredulous. I felt grateful for her courage and her convictions. And I was heartened by West’s conclusion:
This story isn’t prescriptive. It doesn’t mean that anyone is obliged to forgive people who abuse them, or even that I plan on being cordial and compassionate to every teenage boy who tells me I’m too fat to get raped (sorry in advance, boys: I still bite). But, for me, it’s changed the timbre of my online interactions – with, for instance, the guy who responded to my radio story by calling my dad a “faggot”. It’s hard to feel hurt or frightened when you’re flooded with pity. And that, in turn, has made it easier for me to keep talking in the face of a mob roaring for my silence. Keep screaming, trolls. I see you.
And then, as with so many things I read on the internet (again), I turned my attention elsewhere. This was in February 2015.
Yes, I understood that feminist writers, in particular, receive a disproportionate amount of hate mail, rape threats and death threats. I knew that Anita Sarkeesian, who writes and presents a webseries about pop culture from a feminist perspective, was forced last year to cancel a public lecture at Utah State University because of the credible threat of a mass shooting in a venue where audience members would be permitted to carry concealed weapons. And while I remained grateful to hardy, brave, outspoken women who continued to critique pop culture in the face of such ugliness, I knew myself to be a very different kind of feminist. Quiet. Introverted. Conflict-averse, except when I knew the people at stake and had some sense of what motivated them.
Then, last week, Lindy West reminded me that while her original cruellest troll had apologized, more had rushed to fill his place. And she explained further:
I was astonished all over again, and I began to feel a very personal debt to writers like West. They say what I consider to be interesting and provocative and valuable things. As a consequence, their reputations, families, personal lives and mental health are attacked by (usually anonymous) misogynists. I owe these thinkers because they absorb so much strife and rage on my behalf.
I tried to express some of that:
And it was a start. I felt like less of a bystander, the kid who carefully looks elsewhere while a bunch of bullies pick on the girl who disagrees with them.
What tipped me over the edge, however, was a different tweet. This one was from Amanda Nelson, who edits BookRiot. She tweets about BOOKS and EQUALITY, for god’s sake. And still, she was able to say in a matter-of-fact way:
And suddenly, that was it for me. I realized I wasn’t contributing enough to the conversation. Part of this was garden-variety shyness: I used to assume that bold, confident feminists were busy, world-bestriding creatures – far too busy fomenting revolution to read positive comments or need polite feedback.
But no more! As a thin-skinned introvert, here is my new resolution: I’m going to start tweeting/commenting/emailing positive things to feminists I read and follow. If I disagree with them, I’ll say so respectfully. If I agree with them, I make sure they know it’s not just the trolls who care about their work.
What difference will it make? Maybe none. Or maybe some. But at least I’ll no longer be that kid studiously examining a mark on the wall while a free-for-all happens right beside her.