Yesterday we posted a chart to which some people took offense. One person took the time to write us directly with her anger about the chart. I took exception to her tone and disagreed with her assertions and regrettably fell into one of the more simple traps of poor communication, writing a response mostly aimed at the form of the message and not the substance. I cooled down, attempted to clarify, but the damage had been done.
Due to my lack of foresight, ThisGingerSnapsBack had to deal with a wave of misogyny and ignorance from commenters that is not only uncalled for but base, disgusting and depressing. By responding in public, I brought that on and I am extremely sorry. I don’t condone the behavior of those commenters, even (especially) if they comment in defense of my point.
What’s more, TGSB was right. There is a way to read the chart in which there is no other conclusion than that it is in support of rape culture. I missed that angle when I posted the chart, and still did not see it when responding to TGSB. I had a few things I needed to learn, and I am extremely thankful there were those willing to have civil conversation with me so that I could learn.
Reading the chart as supporting rape culture involves understanding how the terms “Friend Zone” and “Nice Guy” are used in discourse by different groups. This was a conversation of which I was unaware. To me, the Friend Zone is a classification for people feeling that somebody, due to shared history or comfort or habit, does not consider them a romantic possibility in any sense, be it “I’m attracted to this person” or “I’m not interested in this person.” The possibility has not arisen or been contemplated; it is not even a “no” to the person, just a “never thought about it.” There is certainly sadness about being in that position, but also real friendship and possibly a desire for more, hope for sparks, that I do not see as malevolent or detracting from the relationship.
The Friend Zone is not always used this way. From men, there can be a lot of anger involved in using the term. It is seen as a penalty for misdeeds, or worse for not being desirable enough. One gets “put” there as if it is in the woman’s power to be attracted to the man but she refuses to do so just to punish him, or worse again because she only goes for the guys she can’t be friends with: the dangerous, mysterious type. The blame is on the woman either for doling out punishment or for having “incorrect” standards of attraction, and so is born resentment and ultimately the Nice Guy. As in, nice guys finish last. As in, “woe is me, why am I always overlooked when I’m the person who is the real friend, not the attractive jerk?” And resentment turns to entitlement. “I’m the real one for her. How could she not see that? I’ve done so much for her. She owes this to me.” And that entitlement undermines the original friendship (if indeed there even was real friendship involved and not just rejected courtship) and leads to general misogyny and possibly to dangerous behavior toward the woman.
And that’s not even getting to the Nice Guy™, a term used for predatory men who consciously use the Friend Zone as an entry for sexual conquest. The Friend Zone is used in those circles as other Pickup Artist terms are used: a page from the playbook.
These terms (Friend Zone and Nice Guy, as outlined above) are used almost clinically in feminist conversation and in other circles. The signifier to signified is clear. And using language in that way, so too is the chart. It is at best Nice Guy anger and at worst, Nice Guy™ advice.
However, not everybody is involved in that conversation. I consider myself a feminist, have spent a lot of time thinking about the origins of misogyny and pointing out its presence in many facets of life, and I was unaware of those terms. That is where the conversation becomes difficult. While sticking up for people in my definition of the Friend Zone (just because a man wants to be seen as a romantic possibility, why must his goal be sex and why must his desires be vilified, especially all the way to rape?), I was unknowingly endorsing the concept of the Friend Zone as framed by entitled men. I was not speaking the same language as TGSB and so her criticisms were offensive in my construct and my criticisms were offensive in her construct.
It is my job as a curator to do my research and I failed in that regard. I went for tone without investigating content. To my read, I could rebuttal the content and that was enough. Well, my read doesn’t matter. I did not treat TGSB like a person who was hurt, I treated her like a troll. And here is probably the crux of the issue.
It is easy to dehumanize on the Internet. And it is easy to assume that meaningful conversation cannot be had. One sees so much trolling and is subject to so much criticism that an escape through dehumanization is needed to stay sane. It is in that dehumanization where this problem arose. My reaction the TGSB was clearly a product of the cumulative frustration of being treated like the sum total of this blog and not as a person who runs it, frustration with the kind of comments I have been receiving in the last few months, a period in which the tone of conversation has noticeably shifted. I have been feeling dehumanized and made the mistake of paying that forward to TGSB and so the Internet rolls on…
I’m only guessing here, but perhaps this says something about the changing nature of Tumblr as it gets larger. It certainly says something about what it has meant for this blog to have gone from a mostly hardcore Tumblr following to one more broad. In many ways, I miss the smaller, more collaborative feel of this blog in its earlier forms. People talked to us more, submitted more personal work, reblogged with commentary more and “liked” less. I still love Tumblr, but differently. It was a small town then, with all the benefits of that lifestyle, and is now a city. There are big names, institutions and established franchises and incredible original material, but there are also the elements that harden those of us who live in cities. There are feelings of anonymity and loneliness. There is visible self-interest and constant competition. Mostly, there is anomie and subsequent dehumanization, which leads to generalizations, stereotypes and vitriolic exchanges between otherwise empathetic, rational people.
To have any meaningful change on any scale, we need better communication and re-humanization. That goes all the way from relationships to global politics. People need to talk more about their frustration and confusion, and do so especially when it is difficult. The Friend Zone resonates with a good many reasonable, kind people, but also with a good many angry, mal-intentioned people. It exists pretty broadly, but functions differently for different people. It can be very innocent, but can also be very dangerous, can be romanticized, can be exploited. It’s a dumb term and one that I never actually use, but it is trying to describe something that should be talked about.
Better communication and re-humanization could have changed yesterday’s events. TGSB did not approach me as a person and did not consider that I may not be either an idiot or a misogynist. She did not consider that I might not understand the terms in the same way she did or that there was another dialogue possible. She did not set out to write me hoping for conversation. And I don’t blame her. She was pissed! And had every right to be. And had every right to unload and not be attacked for her opinion.
And beyond being pissed, what would compel her to think that, in the Land Of Trolls, anybody would be on the other side of that inbox willing to communicate? I Love Charts is an institution on Tumblr now. It has a book deal. It has about 100,000 followers. Why would it care? And why would it be any different than the army of trolls now populating her inbox with hate-speech I am responsible for? Well, I Love Charts is also still just two people, one of whom posts every day from his laptop and is happy to be a part of something so big but feels a little weird about his relationship with 100,000 people.
It is my job to communicate through action that I am here, I am responsive and I genuinely do not want to offend, bully, hurt or marginalize anybody. If I’m feeling dehumanized and want to change that, I need to start by re-humanizing myself.
The Internet is populated with real people. People who mean well, and hate hurting other people, and play 13 Dead End Drive and Monopoly all night while motoring through a bottle of Scotch to try and sort out their feelings, and wake up on the couch with a migraine and a computer on their chest with Louis CK staring at them from a paused frame of his most recent special. And ultimately, people who can and want to learn about other perspectives and can realize when they have been in the wrong.
Have a Happy New Year Everybody,