“Our society teaches young girls, […] that likability is an essential part of you, of the space you occupy in the world. You’re supposed to twist yourself into shapes to make yourself likable; you’re supposed to hold back sometimes– pull back, don’t quite say, don’t be too pushy, because you have to be likable. I think it’s also something that’s quite difficult for even older women and self-professed feminists to shrug off.”
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, author of Half of a Yellow Sun and Americanah, stated this in a part of her acceptance speech for a Girls Write Now award in 2015. And she’s right. It’s hardly a secret that women with a voice on the internet overwhelmingly receive the bulk of online harassment and trolling. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg explains how success and likability are positively correlated for men and negatively for women in her book, Lean In, “When a man is successful, he is liked by both men and women. When a woman is successful, people of both genders like her less.”
Taylor Swift put it plain and simply– “Haters gonna hate”, and she’s right– you simply cannot please everyone. But let’s face it: everyone wants to be liked. Society is so much nicer to you if you’re liked. And I, as a blogger, a woman, a teacher, a friend, a person, want to be liked, too. So that is why, each time I create new content, I choose my words very, very carefully. I am aware that I write and tailor and fix many of my blog posts in the hopes that I will offend less people, be less controversial, and therefore be more well-liked. I don’t hit publish in the hopes that people will comment and troll and criticize– nobody does.
That’s why when I published one of my most personal and recent posts entitled, “When the Grass isn’t Greener: Falling Out of Love With France,” and The Local France picked it up and ran an edited version on their site, I was (perhaps naively) expecting a bit of [constructive] criticism, some fair questioning, and thoughtful conversation. What I got instead were hundreds of comments on the pubic Facebook page as well as The Local’s website, my Twitter handle, and my personal blog about how awful of a person I am. Eventually The Local France suspended the comments section on their website and posted a rebuttal post entitled, Just How Far Can Foreigners Go in Criticizing France? This article got further commentaries including many who justified their bashing and trolling.
And let me just say, as awkward as it is to walk in on conversations where negative things are being said about you behind your back, it is SO surreal to stumble upon internet spaces in real time where people openly talk about how terrible you are, and not really know how to defend yourself or respond in a constructive and poised way without further “feeding the trolls.” I must say, adults, and especially adults who are safely behind their anonymous screens of their own electronic devices, are some of the most crude and vicious bullies around.
The advice given to people victims of trolling and internet abuse is to simply to grow some thick skin, let it go, shake it off, and stay away from the comment sections. I know that most of the people who troll public Facebook pages and comment sections lead sad, lonely lives. And unfortunately, there’s not much else you can do, especially because there are still not many laws regarding prosecution for online harassment in existence. But sometimes you can’t help it- sometimes you do read the comments, and sometimes the hurtful words of others have a subtle way of crawling back under your skin. The childhood quote, “Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me,” is one of the most backward pieces of advice in existence.
Being a woman with an opinion on the internet means that you are subject to entitled men advocating for violence against you if they disagree with you- and by pulling cheap shots by critiquing your body instead of your work (because as a woman you can’t have a “gross” body and a merited opinion.)
Because let’s take someone who uses gendered slurs and whose photo is a woman’s hand on a computer mouse meant to be an optical allusion for genitalia seriously.
“Ray C.” is one of those perpetual trolls who has several different names all over the same comments section but has the same IP Address.
Is it just me or did he also insult the French?
Brenna from Brenna in France had a lot of intelligent, constructive things to add in several threads.
Because when you don’t agree with a woman online, call her a whore instead.
I guess there are worse things to be called than a “Leftist American Social Justice Warrior.”
“Elodi” was all over the Local France page as well as my personal blog’s comments, where she called me “a self-important, liberal nit-wit from generation special snowflake who needs to clear off”. Unfortunately I do not have the screen shot!
Er… Yes. I just “get to live here.”
Yes, Kristina, I probably do need to get out more. Anyone who knows me or actually reads my blog would agree with that statement.
I must say… cool name.
Such good puns here!
Clearly, since you’ve never personally experienced it, Morgane, it must not be true.
… I’m 26, and I’ve lived in France for three years, not six months. Anyone who would have taken a mere 30 seconds to actually read this would have known that. Cheers, Su La and Isabelle.
Lise, like Elodi, took the time to troll both the public Facebook pages and my personal blog. I’m honored, especially since she almost fell asleep reading my boring writing.
It’s justified trolling or bashing you guys, because well, I’m wrong, and a cry baby!
I actually had to look up “Dubya” on Urban Dictionary.
This was a response from a different post, but I thought it merited criticism all the same. I censored the name because I know this person personally.
Most of these comments were not in fact, criticisms about my opinions or my work, but directed at my intelligence, maturity, body, and autonomy. Most were not the least bit constructive. Thankfully, despite all the garbage I had to sort through, I did have the pleasure of reading some thoughtful, constructive criticism. Thank you to those who had kind, interesting, and constructive things to say. Thank you to the staff at The Local France who did their best to keep the comments under control. Thank you to those who sent me private messages offering your support. Thank you to Diane from Oui in France for your post on Civility. Thank you to French Girl in Seattle and her community for maintaining a civil, welcoming environment. Thank you to the kind words spoken by my friends Emily and Kaitlyn, as well as fellow bloggers Diane, CRose, and Jill. To those who have a personal problem with me or my opinions or my blog: there’s the door. I am personally giving you the opportunity to close this browser and not open it again. Please do not come back here; instead, go do something more productive and positive with your time.
The goal of trolls is to put people inside a box and make them feel small. And although I won’t always be able let things like trolls roll off my back so easily, I’m not afraid to keep writing.