This is Jezebel blogger Lindy West performing at Back Fence PDX, a storytelling series in Portland, Oregon. As you can see, Lindy is fat, and her seven minute-long story is about how the viciousness of Internet trolls used to make her cry every day. The site I originally saw Lindy’s story posted on promised that viewers would be crying by the end of it. I thought they were just exaggerating at first, but they were right.
Like Lindy, I have also cried from things people have written about me on the Internet, ranging from unkind to snotty. The worst was when a stranger wrote me an absolutely scathing email about this piece and called me a “yeast infection,” which, for some reason, really hurt my feelings. The second-worst — but a close second — was when well-known feminist Jaclyn Friedman wrote some snark-filled post in which she called me a rape victim-blamer.
Crying is very rare, though. Usually comments just ruin my day, or at least, the next few hours because the the unkindness fills me with despair. Like many women who write on the Internet, especially those who write confessional-style pieces, a lot of the mean emails and comments are sexist in tone. It’s pretty easy to tell when a piece of mine (or anyone on The Frisky) has been noticed by a men’s rights activist/pickup artist website, because the tone of the comments thread will start to read like the bathroom stall inside a middle school. I have been called everything from fat, ugly, stupid, frigid, slutty, irresponsible, naive, immature, a liar, desperate for a man, a see-you-next-Tuesday, a bitch, a cat lady, lazy, stupid, a gold digger, “not a real journalist,” told I should stick to writing about nail polish, and every other nasty thing you can imagine. (Although I think that list must be all of them!)
Also like Lindy, part of the reason all of these comments upset me so much is because of how ignorant the people saying them were being. It’s possible for mean comments to be based in and backed up with facts, but the stuff that stings me the most is when people are able to be hurtful by talking out of their ass. They don’t even know me! If they just knew me… I would think. In the piece, Lindy says she would wonder how these people couldn’t tell that she’s a good, nice person. I have thought — and said — the exact same thing myself.
Lindy West was able to stop crying at Internet comments when she finally figured out the identities of some of these MRA trolls, particularly one who was bald with horrible facial hair and went on and on about how he hated his life. Instead of letting his words sting her, she just felt sad for the pathetic state of his life. And that’s kind of the crux of it: Just like Lindy, it takes time to realize that when complete strangers go out of their way to call you a slut, or whatever, it’s not about you. Happy people and nice people do not go through life being vicious to other people. I’m somewhat ashamed that it took me 28 years on Earth to realize this, but maybe I am a little naive in that way: I just assume other people are happy and kind and will treat others the way they want to be treated.
You have to grow an extra layer of skin to work in creative professions that make you vulnerable to other people’s unkindness. It doesn’t surprise me whenever I hear a celebrity like Taylor Swift say that they don’t read anything written on the Internet about them. But it still does surprise me, unfortunately, when someone is so blithely unkind to another human being.
Because ultimately, who is the one hurting here?
Contact the author of this post at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter.