“Taken Over By Fear…” and Quitting the Internet

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.

9 thoughts on ““Taken Over By Fear…” and Quitting the Internet

  1. Thanks for an excellent post MOI.

    The Internet is a great outlet for people to release their demons from the safety of their living room, without regard for anyone else’s feelings.

    We can all suffer from varying degrees of need to be right. Speaking from personal experience of myself, it’s the point where this need becomes more important than just wanting to get your view across where the trouble starts. Free self-expression can easily be confused with a licence to be aggressive. Even that’s fine if everyone understands what the rules are. If two people get in a boxing ring, they both know what’s going to happen. But if someone expresses an opinion, there is absolutely no excuse for those who gleefully try to prove they can “beat them”, as those who take driving a car as more of a competition or badge of machismo than a means of getting from A to B.

    This is a drag for men as well as women, but of course, women have misogyny to deal with, which is a special and virulent form of aggression. There is no need at all to be placatory if we aren’t convinced to the contrary by rational argument. The most annoying thing about this stuff is when it raises aggressive responses in us, bringing us down to that level, which is what they want of course – a brawl, and something which will convince them that everyone’s as out of control as they are.

    Of course, Lilly Allen shouldn’t expect to be treated like a glass figurine when she goes around making fairly abrasive remarks, but the trolls won’t respond proportionately, nor will they limit their responses to the subject matter in hand.

    I guess bloggers have to insist on respect, courtesy and proportion in the comments made, and be robust in enforcing their comments policy. Meanwhile, if we could all learn not to let our heart rates be raised by a single BPM by those who think that venting their spleen will achieve anything, we’d all live longer.

    • Reg,
      Good thoughts as always. I feel that the competitive nature of most humans comes to the fore on the internet more so than in other places perhaps because physical presence is absent and all we have are our words, therefore they must be strong words to be heard above the din. I like your sentence however: “free self-expression can easily be confused with a license to be aggressive.” I wonder if that applies both ways? If so, then as you say, what we put out there will surely pull it back in.. I’m not saying we deserve it, but discretion works both ways I think.

      • I guess we’re all preaching to the converted. The sort of people who treat the Internet like some kind of psycho-therapeutic romper room aren’t likely to take much account of concepts like common courtesy.

        Sometimes we’re more sensitive than we think, and only find that out when someone calls us on something, and we find ourselves more hurt than provoked by the prospect of a bracing debate that tests our assumptions. I think blogging and commenting can teach us quite a lot about ourselves.

        Insofar as any rough rule occurs to me, it would be to comment in a tone equivalent to that of the original post. Obviously subject matter makes a difference. If we post about our favourite music, we should expect a somewhat different reaction to that we might get if we post that Holocaust deniers should be put in concentration camps until they change their minds. As you say MOI, discretion based on how much heat we’re prepared to take.

        But some old fashioned etiquette definitely needs reviving. When in someone else’s place, we should behave ourselves.

  2. You’re right. Freedom of expression is a treasure. Writers should be free to write, and readers to read or not read. No one is forcing another to read this or that blog. If a blog offends you, you can leave your comments, but not hog it or force the author to keep replying to you and stooping down to your level of aggression. Having said that, humans can’t help but to influence one another. It’s the nature of things.

    I avoid all facebook apps except the basic ones.

  3. I feel like I’ve been mostly lucky in regard to trolls. I had a persistent one earlier this fall – I’m pretty sure both you and Reg saw him on my blog. His name is Mark Nuckols (apparently his real name!) and he has a few chips on his shoulder. I banned him for overt racism and after a few weeks of his comments landing in my spam filter, he stopped coming around. Now if I could just get the neighborhood cats to stop peeing on our front porch, all would be well!

    I think I’m more willing to engage with serious criticism than are most self-identified “feminist” bloggers. That’s probably in part because I’m a teacher, and in part because my blog is small enough that the comment section isn’t overwhelming. I’m sure I’d feel differently if I wrote for a major blog. Even so, I may be willing to host opinions that diverge from my own, but I don’t often radically change my mind. Perhaps that’s an area I should work on. Or perhaps that mostly reflects the challenges to my thinking in the classroom before I ever started blogging.

    I definitely have evolved in my understanding, especially when it comes to transgender issues, over the past year or so. I do feel that I learn continually from blogging, much as I do from teaching but at a different level (because most of my students are very young). I just don’t see me making a lot of paradigm shifts. Maybe that’s okay. Or maybe it just reflects Thomas Kuhn’s insight that the way a new paradigm succeeds is by previous generations dying off. 🙂

    Great thought-provoking post. Thanks!

    • Sungold,
      Thanks for stopping by! You are right. Once you have the tom cats coming around, there is no way to keep them peeing on your porch. Trust me, as a cat lover/owner as well, I’ve tried! The same for trolls I think. Once the scent is out there, it’s a repellent for some and an attraction for others. It’s indeed a mixed bag. I’ve loved blogging too because I’ve met so many people I wouldn’t have ordinarily met living here in the Midwest U.S. of A. I think as a teacher, you can toss ideas out there and get an instant response more readily. I miss the classroom in that regard and the internet is a reflection of the that setting except you get more “students” that are honestly there to learn things than you do in the classroom where some students clearly wouldn’t be there except mom and dad are paying for it. Still for some place that is strictly voluntary, bloggers do get a lot of disgruntled people looking for an argument precisely because it’s a free forum to do so. I suppose I have to remember that I don’t own that space either.

  4. Solution for the cats … lemon peel scattered around, citronella plants basically anything that smells of lemon or oranges. Cats don’t like it and stay away from it.

    Now for blogs. I look for different voices by people who write well and can hold their own in a conversation. The subjects don’t matter my favorites are three ladies who write about music from opera to bluegrass, books, Texas, Massachusetts, ghosts, storytelling, history, and raising a teenage artist which pretty well fills my personal motto: Eclectic R Us.

    I just found you and will be back for more.

    • Why thanks for the kind words Jamie! I did not know that about the cats and I’m a cat lover all my life! Thanks for the advice. I too like eclectic music and writing. Reg, a contributor and commenter here is a jazz pianist/vocalist/keyboardist/and any other instrument-ist and you two would no doubt have lots in common as well. We like our eclecticism. Welcome!

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