So this is going to be a somewhat rambly post but these things are connected in my head and so I'm going to do my best to keep them connected her.
The Internet. How I love thee. Truly.
Most of my life is spent on The Internet these days. My income is through writing web content and social media. I sell my photography online. I'm able to sell handmade jewelry to people all over and raise money for my cat, all because of the Internet. I make new friends every day because of the Internet. I keep up with old friends, see their photos, witness their trips across the sea and watch their children grow up. And then blog. I am able to be a writer, though sans remuneration thus far, sans publisher or editor. I can bring my words straight to you, my reader, without any censorship whatsoever. All because of the Internet.
Because of the Internet, I have an established and growing readership. People who keep coming back for some reason and who help me out when I'm in a bind and give me their words of encouragement when I'm down. People who I suspect would read a book of mine were I to some day be published.
The Internet has been good to me for the most part.
So of course I've been thinking a lot lately about how we behave on The Internet. I used to work at a university and, being the communications maven that I am (snort), I used to teach a seminar to graduating seniors about how to navigate the internet as they job hunt and how to behave on the social sites without acting like a jackass and getting fired. You'd think these things would be obvious, but well, no. They're not.
Anyway, so I think a lot about how people behave on the Internet. How some people see it as a fake world, a bubble in which they can act however they please without any consequences whatsoever. And I think I've slipped into that from time to time. But I try to stay conscious of the humanity behind every screen name, every avatar. And how some people see the Internet as TOO real, as their whole worlds. Getting so wrapped up, they can't differentiate what's real and what's not. It's a fine line to be sure.
Now, leaving the stalker incident aside (though my twitter is now private and I'm okay with that for now), I think I've been relatively unscathed on the onlines.
I meet most of the jackholes of the Internet on the Twitter. But my blog has been so far pretty safe. Every comment lovely and witty and supportive. Whenever a guest poster is worried about what people will say about a racy Sexy Saturdays piece, I can only respond honestly and say don't worry. My readers are lovely.
And you guys are. Completely lovely.
I've gotten some judgment for my cat lady lifestyle on the Twitter, but not on my blog. I think I know why too. I'm not a mom. People pity cat ladies, but they unsheathe their claws for the moms. And dads too. I've seen it over and over again. Everyone has something to say about parenting, has an opinion that is clearly the only right one, and they let these mom and dad bloggers have it.
But look, I'll get to the temptation of behaving like an ass once you can hide behind an avatar, but I think this is deeper than that. If it were only that, I'd be called a harlot man-hater much more often. Trolls don't discriminate.
There is something about the audacity to write about your life when you're a parent that really pisses people off. Really makes them think it's okay to behave like complete twats. These are the same people living their lives judgmentally of course, judging all the other parents at their kids' daycares and schools. But blogs must be their outlet to let loose the cruel.
And you know what? It's not okay. I'm an outsider (technically) in the mommy blogger world, though many of my favorite bloggy friends are moms, so this isn't even happening to me. I see it though. I watch it and it hurts my heart. Not to mention that I don't want to just be a cat lady forever (NOT that that wouldn't be ok. and that might be how my life works out.). I do want to have children one day. Will I be one of those mommy bloggers? How will I handle the bullies?
Words. Words are powerful.
I believe that. Know that in my bones. My whole life is about words. I studied journalism and marketing and literature in college. I am a voracious reader and writer and poet. Words can be potent in very positive and transformative ways. But words can wound and scar and maim.
Why we wield words so recklessly is really beyond me. It seems terrifyingly fool hardy.
I'm not innocent. I used the word retarded the other day without even thinking about it. Being the child of the eighties that I am, I often have to remind myself to not use that word as an adjective to hurt or joke. A nice friend politely pointed it out and, you know what? I apologized. Because that word could have hurt someone and I genuinely didn't want to hurt. Don't want to hurt anyone with my words.
There are words that hurt me. In this PC world, we've gone beyond the sensitivity we should have learned and gotten to rebel against the safe words. This is alarming to me. Because it's one thing to reclaim a word and make it lose its power to hurt. It's quite another to simply refuse sensitivity and continue to spread bigoted and cruel words.
Like queer. Queer used to be a bad word. Mean. But I love the word queer. I am a proud, queer feminist. No matter where I stand on the queer rainbow, I call myself queer and it's MY word. It has no power over me because I give it my own power.
But every time someone uses a word to disparage queer people, it hurts me into my soul. Even if it's unintended. Using gay as a synonym for stupid is one of the most irksome things I see on the Internet and hear thrown around. When I was a teacher, my kids would be sent out for saying it. It's as bad as any racial slur if you ask me. And include on that list: fudge packer, fag, faggot, dyke, and homo. There are more, but those bother me most, when used in mean or disparaging ways.
Would that we could reclaim all the cruel words.
Words are powerful. They have the power to reduce something personal into a mere object. So, the other night, when a guy began railing to me about pubic hair on women, calling vaginas dirty and hair ugly, comparing hairy vaginas to every manner of mundane object from an old car to a dirty street to a meat sandwich to brass knuckles (the implication being that cunnilingus is equal to a punch in the face), I became somewhat incensed.
That may be putting it mildly. I blocked him. But, you know what? Those words hurt me. Not ME, but hurt women every where and therefore me as a woman. Vaginas are not objects for men's amusement and/or disgust. They are apart of every woman, powerful and breathing organs that connect us to our womanhood.
Also: add to my list of hurtful words anytime vagina is used as an insult.
I don't want to deconstruct this guy's psychology because I suspect he's either a pedophile or hates his mother. Or maybe no women will sleep with him. Who knows why he hates vaginas so much. But I bet he doesn't say these kinds of things to women in the "real world." So why does the Internet give license to be a misogynist douchnozzle?
PSA: don't fuck with a proud, queer feminist when she's on her period.
I've been called a lot of hurtful things lately, through the Internet, from several sources. I've been called selfish and both insensitive and too sensitive (explain that). And, on the one hand, it stings. Cuts me deeply.
On the other? Well, maybe I am sometimes.
That's just too damn bad. I lived the first 28 years of my life letting the words of my mother cut me down. Letting her words seep into my bones and tell me I wasn't good enough and no decision I made was okay. That I couldn't live my own life because I was incapable of managing it myself. I was never smart enough. Never talented enough. Never pretty enough. Never thin enough. I spent 28 years deferring to her and to those I loved because I thought it was how to keep them loving me.
However, I am a natural leader. I can be in charge if someone asks me to. It's an innate personality trait. But I spent all that time second guessing myself in private because one woman had invaded by psyche so deeply.
But then the most incredible thing happened! I put a stop to it. I cut that woman out of my life. I learned that not everyone is going to love me and more than likely, most people don't deserve my love either. I mourned the mother I would never have. And I learned to parent myself, learned to figure out what I loved about myself and what I loved to do separate from her input and criticism. The last years have been the happiest of my life.
So maybe I can be a little too sensitive. I'm learning how to channel that. Thick skin? What's that? I didn't develop a thick skin as a child; I simply dug a hole in my soul and buried all those words there, where I didn't have to think about them but could access them if I needed to. So I'm learning how to not bury but also not get hurt when I get called mean words.
So do I behave a little selfishly sometimes? Perhaps. But it's about damn time, dontcha think? I take back the word selfish and claim it for people who have never lived for themselves. Selfish is no longer a bad word.
I never want to hurt others in that effort. But I can't apologize for finally loving myself or giving myself room to discover me.
More than that, I want my future children to learn that they are their own people. That it's okay to be a little selfish. To think about who they want to be first. To walk away from something or someone that's not right for them with no regrets, as long as they're polite and respectful (though sometimes a hearty flipoff is appropriate too). I want them to, "find out who you are outside of who you wish you were or what someone else wants you to be." (from the film Breaking Upwards).
I want them to learn the power of words.
That everything they say has meaning. To wield their words deliberately and proudly with thought and care. To know that how you say something is just as powerful as the words themselves. To learn that love is also a word not to be thrown around lightly. That they can love themselves deeply and truly but to be careful when using that word with others.
The word love can hurt just as badly as words designed to wound.
2 years ago