There’s a great post on Bitch blogs this month about songstress Lily Allen quitting the internet. I must admit I’ve never heard of Lily Allen but a quick trip to YouTube fixed that:
But the blog post is about Allen’s decision to delete her Internet presence completely. Particularly telling is this paragraph about the decision, written by Bitch blogger Sady Doyle:
“I’m being taken over by the Fear.” Yeah, of course you are. Because, if you’re a woman, and you operate without fear – fear of people calling you fat or ugly, fear of being deemed unladylike (or “out of control,” or “bratty,” or whatever), fear of making people angry – people will do their very best to drill it into you. People will scold you, scorn you, call you names, tell you that you ought to feel ashamed of yourself. They’ll try to scare you, and keep you scared. And the end goal of fear is silence. It is always silence. Silence doesn’t have to mean not talking, either: only saying what you think people want to hear is also silence, maybe the worst kind of silence, because then people can point at you and go, look! She’s fine! And she’s on our side now! Gee, we really helped her out. No, you didn’t help her. And maybe you didn’t even bring her over to your side. Maybe you just made her too scared to tell you the truth. That’s the end goal of it, all of it: we want each other to get to that point (have you been to this point?) where you are just about to respond, you have something to say that you believe to be true, and then it just dries up in your mouth. And you think, why bother? You think, it doesn’t matter whether I’m right. You think, being right won’t help me in the long run. You think, silence is easier. It’s a permanent fear we’re working toward – every time that person dares to disagree with you, you want your voice ringing in her head, stilling her tongue, making her doubt herself too much to try anything. Or, if she speaks, you want your voice to come out of her mouth. Your voice, or a very good imitation.
Yes. What woman hasn’t wrestled with this and wanted to quit the Internet altogether? When we begin we aren’t aware of the environment. We even feel we can control it, but one thing we learn pretty quickly, as Doyle notes, the Internet “…thrives on people like her, people with an innate rawness, people with enormous personalities and very little inclination to trim them down. But here’s another thing the Internet thrives on: anger.” Ah yes, the Internet thrives on anger. Don’t we know it? An anger that feeds off the lives of others and others’ thoughts. How many of us women love to write but are surprised and mortified by the types of responses we get on our blogs? How many of us want to chuck it and be silent? I know I do. But blogging is sometimes the only way to get our ideas, which we deem inherently worthwhile, out there for others to read and that’s always a good thing. What’s not a good thing are those who feel it’s their duty to bring us “down a notch” when we get too “uppity” and when we “demand too much.” What’s not right is when others criticize everything we put on our blogs as if it’s their duty to keep track of us and our doings. I suspect that’s what Allen is dealing with and being such a public figure, the public thinks they have a right to call her on everything, including her private life. The cult of celebrity is cruel I’m sure.
But we ordinary women are also in danger of losing our unique voices when trying to placate everyone who comes along and happens upon our blogs. In our eagerness to pacify the angry, we compromise our internal integrity. We begin to doubt and to question and wonder, “Am I right in sticking to my guns about this?” The answer is simple; we are right if we’ve considered it and we feel it’s right. We are so conditioned to shut our mouths in the face of criticism that it is indeed easier to just stop putting our ideas out there. Allen is right when she says that an active Internet life impedes her actual life. For some of us though, the Internet is a means of connecting with others and a necessary means for those of us in long distance relationships, but we can so easily get sucked into lost vortices like Facebook, which is one of the best means to stay connected to family and the worst time wasters in terms of apps in the history of the Internet.
I suppose it’s a matter of balance and sanity. Staying grounded about what’s important to us is the main thing. How do we do that? Spend at least as much time off the Internet as on? Maybe. Taking time out to read a good book or see a movie that makes us think? Perhaps. Not letting Internet trolls and other riff-raff who just want to argue goad us into pointless arguments. You bet! Sticking by our hard won convictions even if everyone disagrees with us? Yes, with the caveat that we might be wrong. But also, making our own decision to quit for our own reasons and not because someone is being a thoughtless jackass in the responses. It’s perfectly okay to write what we want, when we want, and for as long as we want. Lily Allen had enough of those who questioned her conviction that music should be paid for. When she had enough, she quit. It may not even be the real reason. We don’t know. She doesn’t have to explain to anybody why she did so. We can wonder, but it’s not up to us. What is up to us is deciding when to speak and when to keep silent…in our own time… and for our own reasons.