For starters, I disagree with Tyler Oakley’s “Why Diversity Sucks” video posted 5 years ago.
No. No. And no. I very much think that diversity is extremely important — and I’ve expressed this on numerous occasions in my videos.
What I don’t give a fuck about is witch hunts and hate campaigns against fellow Tumblr users. (Well…I do actually give a fuck, I just wish I didn’t have to.) Unprecedented amounts of vitriol, bullying, and harassment are not okay, yet it is very much a reality for YouTubers like myself who grew up on camera, for people who blog about substantive, high-stake topics on Tumblr, and people who speak up about social problems.
I’ve found that Tumblr can be more cruel and hateful than any other part of the internet I live on, and that is saying something. The internet isn’t always kind to women. Being immersed in a hateful environment causes psychological turbulence, depression, and self-hate in peoples’ every day lives. For anyone affected. It’s a real problem that many people on Tumblr don’t seem to understand goes two ways. It’s a reality that much of my time on Tumblr is spent feeling like I’m walking on eggshells in an abusive relationship, which is NOT OKAY. Last summer, my partner and I had to move into a new apartment because of stalking, threats of rape, and violence from Tumblr users. Please take a moment to think about what that seriously fucking means. Again: this sort of behavior NOT OKAY. I cannot stress enough how NOT OKAY this is.
My situation is an unfortunately extreme example of an ongoing problem we have here on the Tumblrsphere. It’s unfortunate that it happened and it’s unfortunate that the same stuff continues to happen. I’m going to attempt to characterize this problem because I feel it needs to be discussed. It’s really hard for me to discuss publicly, and I haven’t done it much, because it’s scary for me and past attempts have opened me up to more harassment. But a level-headed conversation about this problem really needs to happen. We need to talk about what’s going on here, and to find better ways to handle these situations.
I’m going to call this behavior a “witch hunt”. A witch hunt is a shared moral outrage over a community member’s fuckup that is followed by hunting and figuratively burning them at the stake.
The context I’m referring to in this article is very particular: when a well-intentioned figure says or does something that is really not okay, often, it seems, in their past. Racism, sexism, transphobia; using the t-word, saying diversity isn’t important, slut shaming women. Bad not okay things.
And then it begins.
Posts pop up all over Tumblr about how so-and-so is a fucking horrible person. Searches for more evidence to support the hypothesis that so-and-so is the most awful being on the planet ensue. Arbitrary lists of “reasons to hate so-and-so” crop up everywhere. Quotes taken out of context and and contempt is spread for anything the “witch” says or does - relevant or not. Moral outrage spreads like an airborn disease throughout the community, and before you know it, people whip themselves into a nice frothy state over something that was once easily addressed and handled. But when a witch hunt starts, things get emotionally complicated really quickly. Witch hunts are a shit storm that often cross into the realm of bullying and harassment - a slew of hateful messages, infighting, spreading blatantly false lies and rumors, and “take downs”.
The witches learn about the situation with accusations that may not make sense to them immediately: that they HATE trans*folk, that they are a SEXIST, a RAPE APOLOGIST, and that they are horrible for it. They may become defensive and hurt by the sudden slew of personal attacks related to statements that they deem out of context, a misunderstanding, or something that they know is wrong and no longer agree with. Being attacked by thousands of people online causes the person to shut down. They may or may not apologize for their fuck up - but that really doesn’t matter. The witch hunt will continue regardless. You will be continually antagonized, hate-tagged, harassed, or perhaps even stalked even if you do apologize. All of this transpires until a sufficient amount of hate infects the community and the group resolves to shun them. Then things quiet down…until the next witch hunt begins, at least. During the down period, we all deal with the emotional aftermath. This could be any range of resentment, depression, shame, and fear. As such, the conversation may never have a healthy open, which adds fuel to the fire later on.
WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN?
People engage in this type of behavior -harassment, ganging up on people, and bullying- for a number of reasons, which often intersect with each other. It’s complicated, and each situation is unique. Here are a few reasons:
1. Because we are pissed about sexism, racism, and transphobia. Really pissed. As we should be. Most witch hunts I’ve observed, large and small, come from a place of hurt and anger about a broader injustice. But what ends up happening is a projection of blame for widespread social problems onto one person who overtly embodies it in a given moment. For instance, I’ve seen people say something problematic about sexual violence, and then be pinned as the entire reason sexual violence exists (instead of a product and perpetuator of a broader cultural problem - which they should be held accountable for accordingly). We focus in on the individual because it is more manageable than tackling the entire culture.
2. Because we believe anybody who represents a certain cause must be perfect at it. We expect women especially to be perfect - it’s an ideal socialized from a very young age. This expectation of perfection fuels hate within ourselves and each other. We also hold ideas of perfection high when a cause is underrepresented - we are very critical of those representing it for us in the public eye. We want them to mirror us, our thoughts, our values. To represent who we are as a group. But it is both impossible and unhelpful to reduce something as huge as group X or cause Y to a single person. There will simply never be a perfect single mascot for any of these problems. That’s why a cohesive group identity — who we are together — is so important.
3. Because of the pursuit for ideological purity. This is something I myself have struggled with a lot in working on Sex+. On topics such as these, it’s easy to move in the realm of theory and not practice. In theory, I know that people should be like X, Y, and Z. But they are not X, Y, and Z, and that makes me frustrated. Can’t they see how many problems would be solved with X, Y, and Z? COME ON PEOPLE. Things would be perfect if people just X, Y, and Z’d!
The ugly reality with this type of thinking is that we will never find happiness in it. We will constantly be disappointed, exhausted, and angry as we learn that the world will never be perfect and there will always be shittiness. At some point, we can’t take it anymore, and we learn to appreciate things that are a step toward X, Y, and Z. Things become more linear, less black and white. We still maintain sight of X, Y, and Z - and do what we can do get there - but acknowledge that there’s a long process that has to happen first. Making space for this process helps us find mental and emotional peace while dealing with fucked up things.
4. Because we believe that it will bring justice.
Destroying someone for messing up feels good and righteous - like we’re able to stop something awful in its tracks. But this is a deceptive form of justice that we pay a high premium for. In justice movements throughout history, infighting has always been a serious hold-up. We make the mistake of being preoccupied with ourselves and thusly fail to effectively respond to outward issues. We give the same or more energy to Tyler Oakley complaining about a birth control brochure as the people who are actively removing the history and voices of PoC from textbooks. Both cause problems. Both need addressed. But these two problems do not have equal outcomes - and that’s why we must be strategic about where we focus our energy.
5. Because we dislike them for other reasons.
In all that we do - both here in this situation and in relationships/life, we bring our own personal shit into the mix. Everyone does. This might mean taking issue with small things that the person does we don’t like - how they talk, their personal style, etc, and then we justify our hatred with something that seems more significant. Things like ego threat and internalized misogyny/girl hate are not exempt from this category.
6. Because it’s a guilt-free way to cyberbully. Most people on Tumblr acknowledge that bullying isn’t OK, but then some people turn around and cyberbully on their blogs. There’s a reason people bully - often to take out their own self hate/struggles/frustrations on others. Cloaked in the language of social justice, it is easy to make cyberbullying look like “fighting the good fight”. This type of cyberbullying lives in an untouched grey area that perpetuates itself because the line between bullying someone and taking a radical stance is confusing and hard to push back against (in my experience, this type of cyberbullying can come with a slew of “higher purpose” justifications). It’s important to understand how to recognize bullying and to curb it within the community. This keeps the space safe for everyone.
HOW TO HANDLE FUCK UPS
What usually goes unacknowledged - truly and deeply, is that it’s OK to fuck up. Really. It is actually legitimately fucking okay to make a mistake. Every one of us will fuck up all throughout life. Some of us on camera, some on a blog, some in 1:1 situations, some quietly in our heads. While the answer is not to start a witch hunt, it’s also not the answer to ignore it. So how do we effectively handle our own and other peoples’ fuck ups?
Tips for when you fuck up
*Set aside your ego for their greater good, acknowledge that you fucked up and apologize. ”It was wrong because ___ and I’m sorry. In the future I will/won’t _____.” And mean it!
*Avoid making the same fuck up again. Be aware of yourself. And in the event that you do fuck up again….forgive yourself. Anti-oppression work takes a lot of time to unravel. This often means making the same mistake multiple times before it really sticks. Check yourself, but be realistic - all at the same time.
*Educate yourself. There’s a reason why people are upset. Now is the time to do some research and learn about the issue at hand. This could mean googling, reading related books, or just talking to people who know something about it. An open heart and mind are a graceful response to these kinds of mistakes.
Ending the witch hunt - alternative ideas to handling other peoples’ fuck ups
*Assess intent, effects, and context. Are they TRYING to be awful? No? Then should we respond as if they are single-handedly responsible for all sexism on the planet? Are they PURPOSEFULLY ANTAGONIZING? Respond accordingly and consider walking away. These types of people don’t want to have a conversation or better themselves, they want to fight. Did this happen SEVERAL YEARS AGO? It’s possible they’re more mature and informed at 23 then when they were 19. Does it seem to CONFLICT with what you know of the person? It’s possible the quote or event is out of context and needs more details for a whole picture. Are pieces of the story based on EXAGGERATIONS, LIES, or UNSUPPORTED RUMORS? Always seek evidence for claims.
A word about good intentions: even when intentions are good, mistakes can still have very negative outcomes. It’s important to examine what those immediate outcomes are. Then, figure out how best to address the core of the issue and minimize the damage caused by the situation.
Consider the Jenna Marbles situation. Is it better to post a scathing video about how she’s a slut shamer? Or to talk about why there’s a problem with slut shame and engage in a dialogue? When I chose the latter, I was asking myself: What will have the most positive effect for the cause in the future? Which will inspire “AHA!” moments and channel positive growth? Which is going to curb slut shaming on Jenna Marbles’ channel in the future? If justice is really the goal, these are important questions to ask.
*Gently call their attention to the mistake. I want to recognize that some people on Tumblr disagree with the idea of “gentle discourse”. There is an idea that we don’t owe gentleness to people who fuck up, and in theory, I absolutely agree. However, I’ve also found that theory is different than practice. If we want to talk about what actually legitimately works in these internet uproars, being vitriolic and hateful usualllyyyy doesn’t. Which is unfortunate, because sometimes….it just feels fucking good to be angry at someone. We all do it all the time in everyday life, but it’s not always helpful or healthy.
It’s a reality that on the inside, I’m really pissed. And it’s totally justified and OK for me to be pissed. But I realize that social change is sometimes an unfair and infuriating art that requires extreme amounts of patience, prolific communication skills, and outside support to push me through.
*Request to correct the situation. Whether this is an apology, addressing the broader issue, educating themselves, reading an informative article etc - let them know what you’d like to happen in clear terms. The end goal is to engage positively with the issue to learn and grow from it. If people feel hurt or attacked, they don’t tend to respond well. A reality of human psychology.
*Consider forgiveness a form of positive reinforcement. This is behavioral conditioning 101. Forgiving mistakes encourages the person (and other people) to continue addressing fuck ups in a productive, healthy way. If we shit on people who apologize or swear to burn them at the stake, people will learn that there’s very little incentive to apologize when this happens. Avoiding criticism becomes a self defense mechanism. Another unfair reality of human psychology and how humans do stuff.
*Find support and inspiration where you need to in order to lift yourself back up. For instance, in dealing with the aftermath of my video from people who are really gung-ho on slut shaming, I read all my favorite essays on slut shaming. I got together with Anita Sarkeesian and vented about slut shame within the internet community. I made some blog posts expressing my thoughts. It helped me feel better. And it helped remind me: that I’m not alone in my frustrations, that people are a product of their environments, and that change is thus a process.
*It’s okay to not like someone. As much as I wish we could “all just get along”, that’s not reality. Personalities clash, ideologies sizzle. And that’s okay. But it is not okay to take that out in hateful or illegal ways.
*Reach out a hand, communicate, and build each other up. This is why I am not opposed to collaborating with people, like Tyler Oakley, who make mistakes. Alienating someone from a learning space will not help them to become better, it will just drive them away from engaging altogether. And so problematic stuff continues on.
My goal in writing this is not to point blame or duke it out with the fuming Tumblr monster of doom. My goal is to open a dialogue about effective tools to foster harmony within the community while also creating space to adequately and legitimately address fuck ups. This is an ongoing source of havoc for me and I just can’t handle it any more. I have now had multiple scary incidents where the internet crosses over into my real life. The source of this phenomenon needs to be recognized and it needs to stop.
Regardless of what is read into the ideas I’ve presented here or what complications you may find, please recognize that the overall goal is NOT to side step accountability and responsibility or to overlook problematic behavior - it’s about finding ways to approach these problems with a level head, to curb cyberbullying/harassment and infighting, and to effectively address social issues within the internet community and beyond. It’s about creating a safe space to explore ideas, share thoughts, grow, and to confront important social issues while becoming better people. Even when we have community problems or disagreements. It’s about creating the strongest force possible as a united front - together.
OK. Thank you for taking the time to read and consider my thoughts, it means a lot to me. Please feel free to share your own.
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