Recently I learned how easily a person can be bullied on the internet. I spoke my mind about a subject in a private message to someone and that person turned around and publicly shamed on her Facebook newsfeed me for standing up for myself.
She argued that it wasn’t a public shaming because she didn’t name me.
However, I knew she was speaking about me. She knew she was speaking about me. I felt guilty because I knew she was speaking about me. I briefly wished I hadn’t mentioned anything at all. Better to just not have said anything at all. Then this wouldn’t have happened.
How is that not a public shaming?
The anonymity of the internet allows us to perform these passive-aggressive exchanges without a moment’s hesitation; without one thought as to how it would feel to call a person out on a public newsfeed and twist their words into a message that makes them sound mean.
I wasn’t trying to sound mean. I was offering her advice. It was her choice to take that advice as a personal insult, but it was my choice to respond to her public condemnation of me.
This leads me into what I know a lot of people experience online—bullying. It’s real, yo. You gotta face it. A lot of people aren’t strong enough to respond to it calmly and rationally. Amanda Todd and countless other teenagers, who I argue are the most vulnerable human beings, commit suicide because they haven’t the strength to overcome the power of words. Words that are ugly.
“You should kill yourself.”
“No one will love you.”
You can argue that you’re only speaking your mind but if you’re not paying attention to what the other side feels, you’re missing a big part of the point. There is a living, breathing person on the other side of that computer screen. They have feelings, just like you. And it doesn’t matter if you couch your words in soft phrases and smiley faces. The meaning behind them still shines through. If it causes another person to feel shame, they have done their job. They have caused damage.
The world needs to learn empathy. Women especially need to learn empathy because they can be so vicious with their words. There is nothing faster at eviscerating a person than a human tongue—and women know how to unleash it. Men don’t like to talk. This isn’t a cliché. A study from the University of Missouri in 2011 suggests that this is biological. There are exceptions to the rule, of course, but a good portion of online bullying happens between women.
I’ve spoken about women hating on other women in the past. It bares repeating. It won’t change unless we make a point of addressing it. If we can use our words to eviscerate, can’t we also use them to mend?
I’ve struggled in the past with identifying myself as a feminist. I’m certainly not a man-hater. I love men. I love women, too. I love children. I love adults. I love cats and dogs. Bunnies, too, although they shit everywhere and scare too easily.
What I despise is the manner in which women handle other women when they are angry. Because we are so emotionally motivated our words become daggers. We start to judge each other; chip away at each other’s confidence until no one is left standing, not even ourselves. I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it, but no one wants to talk about it. We’d rather talk about blaming rapists and asking each other how thin is too thin.
I’d like the conversation to change because I have a vested interest in it. My niece is 13 years old and she is very smart. But she is also a vulnerable young girl and I want her to grow up in a world that doesn’t bring you down because of its own insecurities.
I want her to shine like the bright diamond that she is. I want you to shine like the bright diamond you are. I’m sparkly. Why don’t you shine alongside me?