When Words Attack Bloggers

This post is by Birdie of Bonne Vie

It seems, recently, the fashion-internet-atmosphere is electro-charged with debates about race, cultural theft and appropriation; vilifying both fat and skinny girls; whether or not the idea of “nude” colors in photo spreads feeds covert racism … the list goes on. Squeezed in between outrage inducing posts we find our fair share of trolls tearing apart both authors and commenters for liking or disliking an author's content. I'll admit, I've felt the need to talk about certain topics for my edification – and my readers have responded. Some have had nothing but positive input and others have called me “delusional”. I get to spend my day wondering just how helpful these posts are towards changing anything. I worry that my thoughts on any matter are going to elicit the screams of trolls who have, at hand, a multitude of insults ranging from name calling to visions of self grandeur. And one question begs answer – why are you coming here if you're only coming to hate? Why even bother?

wordle-outrage

When it comes down to expressing your view on the internet, you're preaching to a choir who already has an opinion, doesn't care about much else, and has a list of mean-spirited reasons at-ready to tear you down with – including that set of outfit pictures you meticulously posed for. I know you're shaking your head in disbelief, but this Slate article hit the nail right on top of its pretty little head:

It's a prime example of the feminist blogosphere's tendency to tap into the market force of what I've come to think of as “outrage world”—the regularly occurring firestorms stirred up on mainstream, for-profit, woman-targeted blogs … They're ignited by writers who are pushing readers to feel what the writers claim is righteously indignant rage but which is actually just petty jealousy, cleverly marketed as feminism. These firestorms are great for page-view-pimping bloggy business. But they promote the exact opposite of progressive thought and rational discourse, and the comment wars they elicit almost inevitably devolve into didactic one-upsmanship and faux-feminist cliché. The vibe is less sisterhood-is-powerful than middle-school clique in-fight, with anyone who dares to step outside of chalk-drawn lines delimiting what's “empowering” and “anti-feminist” inevitably getting flamed and shamed to bits. Paradoxically, in the midst of all the deeply felt concern about women's sexual and professional freedom to look and be however they want, it's considered de rigueur to criticize anyone… who dares to seem to want to sexually attract men.

I sit, reading that and recall several posts where, for example, fashion bloggers are torn down for choices, for outfits, and for the ever-increasing hot topics cropping up in the fashion world. (A good post on that? Check out Fashion Blogger Bashing on Grechen Blogs). Example: I've seen multiple comments about one certain blog – a prime example of jealous rage (for a great read on that – click here), stemming from insecurity and a sense of self righteousness. And no offense to Sister Wolf, here – who is often poignant or funny, this post just exemplifies my point about that one blog that often comes under fire.

… Instead of mimicking the old directly anxiety-making model—for example, by posting weight-loss tips and photos of impossibly thin models like a traditional women's magazine—Jezebel and the Slate and Salon “lady-blogs” [among others – Birdie's emphasis…] post a critique of a rail-thin model's physique, explaining how her attractiveness hurts women. The end result is the same as the old formula—women's insecurities sell ads. The only difference is the level of doublespeak and manipulation that it takes to produce that result…

Oh yeah – being a small person, I get to read all those articles on how even naturally well-proportioned, beautiful models' “attractiveness hurts other women” or that “Curves are In” and my body type isn't. I happen to have been built small. I realize that real-life women are not necessarily angry at me because of my size, and that many women in reality could care less about the contents of my closet – but many “feminist” blogs play on this faux-outrage and women (including yours truly) sometimes fall for it. What's worse are the bands of trolls who hop into the fray, with slurs of eating disorders, anorexia, illness, pretentiousness, selfishness, show-off; all vile words of hatred.

Evil words pontificate outrage on how an author is the bad guy for everything from being small, to wearing interesting looks others can't afford, or liking ultra-high robo-geisha shoes. I'm supposed to be outraged at how people hate me. Readers are supposed to be outraged at how I don't want to be hated – how I want to be me. The cycle begins, and pageviews soar.

It's certainly important to have honest, open conversations about the issues that reliably rake in comments and page views—rape, underage sexuality, and the cruel tyranny of the impossible beauty standards promoted by most advertisers and magazines (except the ones canny enough to use gently lit, slightly rounder, older, or more ethnic examples of “true beauty”). But it may just be that it's not possible to have these conversations online. On the Web, writers tend to play up the most jealousy- and insecurity-evoking aspects of controversy, and then anonymous commenters—who bear no responsibility for the effects of their statements—take the writers' hints to any possible extreme. It's just how the Internet works.

At the same time, many posts on these sites aren't consciously written with the twisted mess of intentions I just described. Probably many of the writers feel that their work is helping women by exposing sexism and getting important women's issues onto their radar. But especially for Jezebel writers, whose page-view-generating skills are a matter of public record, and whose careers are dependent on maintaining their stats, the pressure to continuously hit “outrage world” topics must be intense…

It makes me think about every time I've scrolled through comments on Slate, Jezebel, or any other “outrage inducing” blog post, reading the legions of comments ripping both the writer and each other to shreds. It's like any decency one may have goes to hell as soon as they hit the next hot-button topic on the net. Of course, nameless and faceless makes all the more reason to speak out, right? And each outrage-inducing post plays into our dire need for self validation.

“It's easier to fight online, because you feel more brave and in control”.

And while we're crying outrage at a system that lets these hot-button topics and transgressions happen, while we're out tearing each other apart instead of fostering intelligent discussion, we've become victims of a system that is subversively wielding our clicks and cash-flow, making money off our outrage. We've become part of a system that – instead of unifying – is slowly tearing itself apart, limb-from-limb in an attempt at feeble self-validation and monetary gain. (I have the feeling there's going to be one person who says “This post is exactly what you're complaining about.” The difference? I think pageviews are an unreliable measure of my success.)

How do we break this cycle of unintelligent criticism? Is it as simple as not judging and just accepting, and how do you teach an entire internet movement to be so civil? Is it worth putting our positive vibes and discussions out there? Do we refrain from participating in “outrage-world” and it's inherent discontent – disengage from the wash of negative media offered by authors and trolls alike? Or is that simply “the way the Internet is” – a conscious problem to be considered, but ultimately ignored?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

46 Responses

  1. Liz de Mer

    You’ve touched a nerve there sister!

    Unfortunately, much like in the world of politics, the fat vs. skinny debate will never meet in the middle. Why? I’m sure neuro researchers around the country are still trying to figure this one out. We just have different axioms to base our logic reasoning on.

    I can share with you this story I read few months ago that made so much sense to me:

    http://blogs.abcnews.com/campuschatter/2010/04/real-women-dont-like-curves-in-ads-study-says.html

    And to sum up with some comic relief, Can we just go back to 80s where the women on tv were beautiful and John McLane was smoking?

    Reply
  2. @chicspace

    Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a mean spirited blog as one that is linked to in this post. It’s interesting that the bashing blog is just mean spirited, where what I might call a male version of that concept, Fake Sartorialist, was just amusing while he was skewering Scott (now not so much).

    And why do people like to find things they hate…and keep sticking with those things? One of the best thoughts on the subject came from a tweet from Sh**mydadsays (paraphrased): When you go on a picnic, do you sit next to a pile of dog****? So why hang out with people who are like that?

    I wish I understood why women are so brutally competitive while men are just strictly competitive in most cases (without so much bashing)…and why the internet and most comments sections (see CNN’s for the pure horror of what comments can become) have turned into vitriolic spewfests (for both sexes). What allowed people to think this was okay?

    I get that people are angry about a million things. They just don’t have to be mean.

    Reply
  3. anya

    this is a great article/post/piece. it really engendered some pondering, in my own mind, about women + the web. anger, jealousy, cattiness–all amplified in a semi-anonymous forum known as the internet. i relate to it a lot–both sides–as a blogger but also a (sometimes angry) reader/viewer.

    as for fashion blogging/bloggers, i think anything involving non-celebrities’ possession of material objects, photos of female bodies, and the ability to comment about it–well, enough said, right? and not to mention jealousy induced by “famous” blogger privileges (bag deals, swag, VIP treatment, free products…and now semi-mainstream fame)

    Reply
  4. Alicia

    I think we should all stop caring so much…it’s just the internet. No one is really who you think they are and people can project whatever they really are behind a handle and avatar.

    Nothing should be taken this seriously.

    Great post, Birdie. =D

    Reply
  5. birdie

    HAHA @Liz de Mer: “And to sum up with some comic relief, Can we just go back to 80s where the women on tv were beautiful and John McLane was smoking?”

    Yes. Please?

    Reply
    • Amy COAFE

      Someone just posted me on “Fashion Blogges, Why?” – I plead guilty to all they accuse me of, which seems kind of hilarious 🙂

      Reply
  6. Julia M

    I think the main thing that strikes me about when people bash fashion bloggers is the fact that most of these bloggers are motivated to blog simply because they want to, so why shouldn’t they wear what they want and pose however they want?
    There’s always going to be stuff you don’t like and stuff you find stupid beyond belief, and the internet has made it a lot easier for us to talk about all that-whatever happened to keeping your opinions to yourself or thinking before speaking/typing?

    Reply
  7. lisa

    Oh wow, this post definitely provides food for thought in more ways than one. I agree that there is a lot of negativity on the Internet and I have no clue how to go about resolving it, but seeing the vitriol spewed out against other bloggers and writers makes me thankful for the positivity I’ve encountered through blogging and Twitter.

    As for trolls and haters, I really don’t understand why/how people would be motivated to leave anonymous hateful comments on anyone’s blog. You don’t vandalize people’s houses, so why would you go on someone’s website and leave the cyberspace equivalent of a graffiti tag? With more people putting themselves out there through blogs, Twitter, etc. there will inevitably be some friction and conflict. After all, people don’t get along with 100% of the people they meet in real life, so why would they get along and empathize with and befriend every single individual in the online world? That being said, I like the quote by sh*tmydadsays that one of the other commenters mentioned. If something is that offensive and annoying to you, just don’t expose yourself to it and walk away.

    Reply
  8. Ashe Mischief

    Lisa: but seeing the vitriol spewed out against other bloggers and writers makes me thankful for the positivity I’ve encountered through blogging and Twitter.

    God, I couldn’t say it better. Whether it’s attacking another blogger, models, celebrities, there’s really some hating going on lately. It seems like it goes through spurts– it gets really heavy, it backs off.. it gets heavy again… backs off again. I was picked on a lot as a kid, and I think… it sucks. It sucks that people can’t grow the fuck up and be responsible and respectful towards others.

    Reply
  9. Mhari

    I sympathize with Birdie, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been accused, even in real life, or being anorexic. I’m not, I’m an athlete (cross country runner), and I lucked out when it came to genetics. Why should I be told that my body type isn’t “in” anymore?

    Reply
  10. WendyB

    I’ve stopped reading Jezebel because of the thought police there. One thing I especially hate — that “real woman have curves” bullshit. So people without aren’t real women? They’re…imaginary?!?!

    Over it!

    Reply
  11. Julia

    Thanks for mentioning my SoS post. You hit on a topic with this essay that really fascinates me and I’d imagine many of the other intelligent women who blog about such “frivolous” subjects as fashion and beauty. I’m constantly amazed by the shit-storm of vitriol that spews forth in many comment forums, and I don’t even mean that in a particularly judgmental way. It’s more about the particular social construct of the internet which allows and even encourages this sort of behavior, as you point out. It allows for a sort of woman-on-woman hate– about every conceivable aspect of womanhood — that is almost startling in its intensity.

    Reply
    • birdie

      I read that last line as “almost startling in its insanity”, which seems also applicable. =/

      Reply
  12. StyleitYou

    Wow…this is quite an article. I think its a sad but true fact in this industry. You have countless individuals vying for a coveted spot, but in my estimation there is room for different voices to be heard. Yes, some people tend to hit below the belt, but as you pointed out already “It’s easier to fight online, because you feel more brave and in control”. It’s a well known fact that the etiquette you find in RL doesn’t always exist online. Great post!

    Reply
  13. Lindsay

    You will never stop the people who thrive on emotional reactions because all humans are emotional consumers. Whether you are drawn to your favorite outfit in the clothes because of how confident you feel in it, or to that blog you read regularly because of how pumped up in makes you feel.. its all about emotion and as long as people are capitalizing on others’ emotions, we will have this type of internet.

    In my opinion, fashion bloggers (or bloggers in general) should consider taking some criticism to heart. Not all criticism is good, but it’s not all bad. Even the snarkiest, or meanest comment can have a little gem of reality in there that the recipient could benefit from.

    So if someone comes to your blog telling you how absolutely materialistic you are and how your life seems to be filled with $1000.00 shoes and nothing else and all you are is a spoiled brat.. Read that..

    Maybe you know you are lucky to have money that most people don’t.. Maybe you should actually MENTION that.. People hate people who show off their expensive luxuries but act like its normal.

    I listened to Alexa Ray Joel on the Howard Stern show the other day. She is daughter of Billy Joel and clearly has come from money. She was able to bring up that fact that she was born lucky in life when it comes to money and her adult life. She approached the topic realistically.. and although my fake comment sounded mean, there IS something there that just about anyone could actually use as constructive.

    So basically, i just feel like bloggers need to realize that all criticism has the ability to be constructive IF you are intelligent enough to decipher out the emotion and find the real reason for people disliking what you are doing..

    Because let’s face it.. people don’t hate just for the sake of hating.. and if multiple strangers are feeling the same way, the chances are you are making them feel that way one way or another.. If you care to not have them feel that way about you, find out really why they feel that way.. then answer them.

    Reply
  14. Juliette

    Well, well, well… and here was me thinking that visiting others blogs was just purely for visual aesthetics. I mean, we all are different, but at the end of the day, no amount of comments is going to change that. I follow a few blogs, but purely because I enjoy the style of those girls, and I don’t EVER think about their money. Because why should I care how much anyone spends on themselves? Why should I even care whether they earn that much money or not? After all, it is none of my business and I am here to look at the pictures and get a bit inspired if anything else. And I expect the same treatment in return, because the first follower who starts expressing their concerns about my financial situation would probably be shown the door.

    Reply
  15. genevièveink

    It reminds me of being young and having a bully that picked on you in school, and then becoming great friends with that same person as an adult – once all the petty sh** is out of the way, the ability to see and understand each other’s point of view with more clarity emerges.

    There will always be people who just like to ‘stir the pot’ for the fun of it. And people who get up on their ‘cultural appropriation’ or ‘real women have curves’ high horse and try to kick the sh** out of others metaphorically.

    Take it with a grain of salt, I say – there is a real person behind every avatar, and while some of them may not be considerate of others’ feelings when they post, *constructive* criticism is like gold, and being able to respond in an unpretentious and considerate way, shows maturity and integrity.

    Reply
  16. Fajr | Stylish Thought

    I don’t tolerate any nonsense or trolls on my blog nor would I spew negative junk on other people’s blog… I think that people should be free to speak their opinions and have open discussion around things, but when it crosses the line into harassing and nitpicking I will pull of my imaginary blog knife and cut a commenter off! Thankfully I’ve never had to pull that card.

    Very poignant post! In the end, I think bloggers need to understand we put ourselves out there for criticism and if you don’t like it, shut down comments or enact a strict nonsense policy. Plus don’t take small-minded people so seriously.

    Reply
  17. birdie

    I think Fajr has a great point there – don’t take the small minded so seriously. And while there can be gems in a lot of the mean comments, it seems like once you strip down the emotion there’s often nothing backing it up.

    Reply
  18. body wrap

    I sort of consider the Internet the wild west of the 21st century. That is, it’s a place where anything goes and not too much is real. I don’t let negative comments that I read bother me too much and even though I’ve been on a large number of blogs I haven’t really found any blogs where there has been a nasty battle of words going on. Maybe I just haven’t happened onto one of those blogs though (yet).

    Reply
  19. Aja

    I think Lindsay has a great point. A little constructive criticism never hurt anyone and if a bunch of people really dislike you, it can’t be for no reason at all. Find out what it is, and disarm them.

    Reply
  20. ...love Maegan

    As a blogger, and fashion blogger at that, I can get 50 positive comments but the one that stands out and makes my heart race and lip quiver is the one negative one attacking me personally. It doesn’t always happen but when it does it’s ALWAYS anonymous. I don’t get many comments …I assume those women follow the rule of if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” …and that I guess, I’d prefer. It’s all too negative. We are all just human.

    I myself have left a negative comment on a blog of a girl who I thought was repetitively “borrowing” my content …but where do you draw the line between wanting to inspired and getting mad when someone is copying you? I guess that’s neither here nor there but it’s big topic among bloggers I think who are {hopefully} all trying to come up with original content.

    This is beautifully written, btw 🙂

    Reply
  21. Alya

    You mentioned trolling and I just wanted to add this: Trolls are not to be fed. If you know anything about internet culture, you should know that trolls do not mean a word they say. They purposely insult and generally demean simply to see your reaction. It is a game, really, and they win when you respond at all. Along with this, the term troll is generally used to refer to someone who had made a ridiculous claim such as, “The Holocaust never happened” and not people who are simply mean spirited.

    Reply
  22. Ella Mode

    If I am jealous of a skinny body or apparent wealth, I just don’t read the blog, or perhaps only bookmark the “home design” category. It just makes me sad, so I protect myself. I don’t show hatred.

    People can be terrible! (The haters who publicly show it.)

    Reply
  23. BethUK

    I have been thinking about this a lot recently. I worry about some of the comments I’ve made on certain blogs about certain blogs. Sometimes I’ve looked back and thought – damn I’m mean and i didn’t know it. Usually that means I haven’t put enough effort in to thinking about what I’m saying. It’s all visceral reaction – the same as an argument in which the words are out of your mouth before you could stop them. The difference is that spoken words don’t hang there defying you to justify them later on. On the internet anyone can be mean and it’s much harder to take it back once the heat of the moment is over.

    The problem with blogs is that they don’t fit into an easily definable catagory – are they journalism, social commentary, public diary or aesthetic inspiration? You wouldn’t read someone’s diary and add some personal critcism in the margin. BUT blogs are public by choice.

    If a journalist wrote an article that I disagreed with I would be perfectly entitled to make my views known. BUT how many bloggers have journalism training, or are mentally prepared for criticism of their views? Often, bloggers say more about themselves and their views than they realise, even when all they are doing is posting a picture of a coat.

    I guess what I’m saying is that I can’t promise to avoid things I find distasteful. Or ignore a post that sit badly with me. Some times these things should just be called out. I can promise to think harder about my reply though.

    Reply
  24. Rolf

    I am tired of people who think they know what they are doing and have massive egos and then hinder the creative process. This so called stylist Justin_Min is the worst I have ever worked with. Please ban him from NY fashion week. Totally unprofessional and verbally abusive.

    Reply
  25. Vinda Sonata

    amazing article. i find this really inspiring.
    i love how you highlighted how insecure women attacked women who look extremely attractive, sometimes sexually inviting under the false justification of feminism.
    you’re a very smart writer, and i love you!

    Reply