by Tess Adair
You guys, the best thing happened to me this week: I got a crazy negative comment on my blog.
Internet comments, man. Internet comments.
Let me be clear: the comment is both negative and crazy. Or, if not crazy, then at least bizarre. But also...kinda crazy.
Someone calling themselves Hosephina wrote:
“Stop giving white women such a bad rap. This is why more guys are going for other races because they don't have to deal with layers and layers of post feminism Existentialist garbage that you don't even know that you spout with every paragraph.”
^exact quote, copied and pasted
This is a troll, right? This has got to be a troll. But what if it’s not a troll?
[For full context, the comment was posted on my blog entry from October 1st, “The Big Time-Sucking Black Hole of Internet Dating.” That’s the one where I go through my admittedly neurotic process for eliminating a certain breed of guys who hit on me on OkCupid.]
So, my first question is--wait, have all white dudes suddenly stopped dating white women? Where was I when that happened? And can someone please let all the white dudes who hit on me KNOW about this? Because honestly so many of them are so terrible that I sometimes have the feeling I should eliminate them as a possibility entirely.
My second question is--did I just experience a teeny tiny microcosm of what it’s like to be a woman of color writing on the internet? I wrote a personal blog piece about my own dating experience, and I even tried as best I could to make it clear that this was about me and my neuroses, and not meant to represent an average person’s perspective, or an average white person’s perspective, or an average woman’s perspective. Even so, this commenter decided that somehow my writing had to stand for everyone of my race and gender. Kinda like we always do to women of color: we expect that their writing must be representative, never just personal. It’s a deeply unfair burden that we, as a culture, often place on women, especially women of color. Of course, I am both a privileged and lucky person, so when it happened to me this time, it was less oppressive than comical.
The blog entry in question was meant to make a few key points, though I admit they may not have been completely clear to everyone who read it. First point: women on Okc have to deal with some bullshit. Second point: I over-think almost everything, dating included. Third point: sometimes the internet dating experience is disheartening and full of subtle forms of sexism I wasn’t necessarily expecting, and it can take some energy and gumption to keep going with it.
Getting back to my commenter, I’m not sure they totally got what I was going for with the post, but that’s fine. To quote one of my favorites, “Really Hagrid, if you are holding out for universal popularity, I’m afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time.” Truer words, man.
As for my commenter’s critique: in fact, I do know that I write a lot of existentialist crap, and I do know that I’ve been heavily influenced by multiple feminist movements (not just fourth-wave feminism, also known as “post-feminism” [a term I deeply dislike.]) That’s...kinda the point. I am a hardcore existentialist, and a hardcore feminist. Duh.
Also [not that it needs pointing out, but] there are a lot of women of color out there who identify the same. Those identities aside, there are also a lot of women of color out there who are neurotic and obsessive like me. The main difference is that they may not feel they have the same freedom to express it that I do, because society might judge them more harshly for it.
But hey, that’s just my take. Which is apparently just ruining it for white women, somehow. (Because white men read my blog and then decide they’ve had it with all of us? I don’t know.)
I have to say, my commenter’s chosen name stuck out at me, too. Hosephina. When I read the name, my thought process was--are you trying to get back at women of color for stealing white dudes by stealing a traditionally non-white name and forcing white (English) spelling on it? Or am I reading way too much into this? I am reading way too much into this.
Story of my life.
A lot of my friends immediately assumed that my commenter/troll was male, but I’m not so sure. Perhaps I’m inclined to think my commenter may be female because they chose a feminine name, or perhaps it’s because of the second strange negative comment I got.
Oh yeah, there was a second one. And it was just as great as the first.
[Full disclosure: in a preceding paragraph, I initially used the wrong form of “there/their/they’re” before catching myself. I’m mentioning that here because I’m about to make fun of someone’s grammar and spelling, so in the interest of fairness, I wanted to point out that everyone’s human.]
Here you go:
“I read the whole article. I’m a mother of four who took her husband’s last name. This woman is a elitist snob who spouts feminist dribble. She’ll end up butter and alone”
^also an exact quote, copied and pasted
Apparently I’m going to end up a dairy product. Good to know.
This one was on Facebook, so I know for sure that it was written by a woman. Even without Facebook, I would have been sure.
There’s a sense of resentment to both of these comments that I don’t quite understand. The first commenter apparently resents me for making white women look bad, which mystifies me. I spent much of my early life feeling like I didn’t fit in with my gender, and much of my adult life trying to combat the idea that gender is a monolithic category. Women are not the Borg, and white women aren’t either. We aren’t drones that act on a specific pre-defined programming, and we cannot all fit into the same singular box.
The second commenter, interestingly, seems to resent me for our differences. I get the impression that she feels my choices are somehow an indictment of hers, and she’s chosen to respond to that by indicting me right back. I understand the impulse, if not the conclusion fueling it.
She says I’m “a elitist snob.” I can understand someone reading that post and thinking that I am strangely picky about very specific things. I can even understand someone reading that post and thinking that I might overthink myself to death and never end up in a relationship because of that. But where is she getting the elitist thing from? Is it elitist for a woman to try to have an idea of what she wants and doesn’t want in a romantic partner and to make choices accordingly? I never said I was looking for a certain income bracket or a number of degrees. I said I want someone who is likely to treat me the way I want to be treated, to believe similar things about the world that I do. Honestly, I’m just trying to be pragmatic.
Of course, I think the telling part of the comment is the beginning: “I’m a mother of four who took her husband’s last name.” My commenter changed her name, and she gave birth four times (I’m assuming, based on the fact that she’s reacting to my preference for adoption.) Both are things I vehemently do not want to do. And wanting different things than what she wanted makes me an elitist.
Perhaps this commenter is under the impression that I’m judging her for her decisions, that I think she’s wrong to have lived her life the way she has. I’m not and I don’t. I do not have a problem with women who want to change their names. I do not have a problem with women who want to give birth. I have a problem with someone who expects me to change my name and doesn’t even examine that assumption. I have a problem with someone who thinks they have a say in whether or not I ever give birth. Nobody has a right to my body but me, period. I think we should teach all girls, all people, that nobody has a right to their body but them. It can be a hard lesson to learn.
I could totally still be an elitist, but I wanted to make those points clear.
The internet is a strange place, and I think it’s stranger now than it’s ever been. The comments section, as it exists today, still feels a little alien to me. See, when I first started using the internet in earnest, I was 12, and it wasn’t yet such a cesspool. Yes, there was porn, and yes, I looked for it. But I kept almost exclusively to the world of fanfiction, and the comments section was a different beast. Things could get a little dicey on forums, but honestly, I didn’t go there much, and when I went, no one was calling each other faggots or threatening to rape anyone to death.
I did post my own fanfiction, though (as I’ve mentioned previously.) And I did get reviews. For the most part, they were wonderful and positive. They made me feel good about myself. In fact, the worst comment I ever got was something along the lines of, “This just isn’t my kind of thing. Sorry!”
Can you imagine someone saying “Sorry!” on twitter in a context that was genuine and not sarcastic?
Of course, I was 14 when I got that comment, so it crushed me. That politest of rejections devastated me in my little fanfiction fairy world.
But the internet has changed since then. Now it’s a place where, at a reach of maybe 60 pageviews a day if I’m lucky, I already have to examine my comments policy. I already have to have a comments policy.
To be honest, I’m still not totally sure what to do about it. I found these particular comments harmless overall. In fact, I found them nicely entertaining, almost re-affirming in a way. But will they always be that way? One or two times can be funny, but what if it happened every day? Many times a day? What if it escalates? When will it start to wear me down?
I don’t know. For now, I’m sticking with the original policy--leave it up unless it’s offensive. Racist or sexist and it goes down. Sorry, Hosephina.
Of course, I don’t have the power to take down the second commenter, though I’m not sure I would. I mean, yeah, I do think it’s sexist to say that a woman will end up alone because she doesn’t conform to your ideas about what women should want or do. But at least she kept it confined to me. And I’m just not bothered enough to find it offensive.
And please, I’m not going to end up butter. If anything, I will end up cheese. Obviously.
(Author’s note: apologies for the repeated use of Sex and the City images on the blog. White women, what can you do?)