Saying “ouch” to Shakesville
This seven-months-old post is still drawing in new comments, some of which I am leaving in mod. If you want to comment, especially if you are disagreeing with me, and you want your comment to be put through, you need to follow these guidelines:
1. If you’re commenting to “defend” Melissa (who I don’t, frankly, think needs defending, as I haven’t attacked her but have simply told the truth about my experience there) then you need to demonstrate that you have the most very basic empathy and compassion for me as a human being. Treating Melissa like a human is very good. But I am one too. And in this space I demand that my humanness be respected, and by that I mean specifically that my experience and my feelings are just as important as Melissa’s.
2. If you’re commenting to tell me my interpretation of what happened or my experience is somehow flawed, you probably want to think twice (or thrice) about whether to comment. If you still decide to do so, you better damn well be able to back up your assertions with actual quotes. (Similar to how I did in the OP! Not that hard!). Saying that I broke the rules? Demonstrate that, with evidence. Saying Melissa was totally calm and didn’t say anything to me out of line? Demonstrate that.
3. Please, make it clear what your purpose is in commenting. If all you’re doing is basically adding to the defend-Melissa pile-on that I got in the post I’m referencing here, then ask yourself, what is the point of your comment? Especially on a post that is seven months old? I’ve already been sufficiently chastised and no longer read Shakesville. So what, exactly, are you hoping to accomplish?
Okay, onto the post:
TW for violence and homophobia.
Note: Yesterday I posted about a painful experience I had on Facebook, and today I want to talk about another one that I had at Shakesville. I don’t normally like to engage in anything that remotely looks like “blog wars” or unnecessary drama, but something happened at Shakesville that I don’t feel is resolved for me, yet the post it happened in is now locked to comments. My only choices are to just let it go and ignore it, or to address it here. I just posted yesterday about the importance of saying “ouch,” and so, I am going to address it here.
I want to begin by saying that I am a huge fan of Shakesville and I deeply respect Melissa McEwan, the main blogger there. Anyone who knows me well enough to know which blogs I’m reading knows that I frequently talk about it in “real life,” reference things they have said in blog posts, link to them on Facebook, and recommend the blog heartily to anyone interested in responsible feminism. I have even gotten counseling client referrals through their “Bread & Teaspoons” posts. I rarely comment there, but it’s because I don’t tend to do a lot of speaking if I don’t think I have something important to say, and often I have so much I want to say that a whole new blog post is more appropriate than a comment.
On Friday afternoon, Melissa posted the day’s Conniving and Sinister strip. It’s a strip that I really love reading; I find it often times hilarious and almost always incisive. When the strip was new, I was so excited about it that I posted about it in my Beauty from Ashes series. But on Friday, that particular one threw me off, because it referenced violence toward Fred Phelps. And while I admit I certainly have violent feelings toward him at times, I tend to think that a culture of violence is not the answer. And, in the past, I’ve experienced Shakesville as being of that same mind.
You can click the link in the previous paragraph to see the strip, but the comic shows an image of Fred Phelps holding signs that say “God Hates Fags” and “Fags Die God Laughs” and Melissa and Deeky looking at each other disgustedly. Melissa says, “You know, the fact that god hasn’t smote that fuckhead is either evidence that god doesn’t exist or reason why I want nothing to do with him if he does.” Deeky responds, “totes.”
I commented, saying,
I have to say this one kind of surprises me, since you folks usually don’t resort to calls for violence against others, no matter how reprehensible their actions may be.
I received immediate pushback from regular commenters and both Melissa and Deeky. I immediately regretted using the terminology “call for violence” since clearly they hadn’t actually called for others to do violence.
But it turns out that the pushback wasn’t really about my wording, because it didn’t seem to matter to them when I clarified that. What ensued was some seriously confusing back and forth which left me completely baffled as to what was even going on.
In one comment, Melissa says,
The piece of this that you are missing is that I’m not saying I want nothing to do with a god who hasn’t visited violence on someone; I’m saying that I want nothing to do with a god who IS IN AGREEMENT WITH FRED PHELPS.
But I look at the comic, and I cannot make heads or tails of how the comic is supposed to be saying that. After literally days of examining and trying to think about it, I cannot see how the comic says what she is saying here that it says. I am no genius, but I’m also not unintelligent, and I am not approaching this in bad faith. I am making a serious attempt to understand where she is coming from, but I’m not seeing it.
The comic said, “You know, the fact that god hasn’t smote that fuckhead is either evidence that god doesn’t exist or reason why I want nothing to do with him if he does.” I believe the meaning of that is crystal clear. But in case it needs to be clarified any more, we can easily—and with sound logic and grammar—extract the following statement from the original: “you know, the fact that god hasn’t smote that fuckhead is … reason why I want nothing to do with him if he [exists].”
A recent post on Sociological Images discusses a cartoon that some believe is quite racist, while others say, “we never intended it to be racist!” You can see the whole post here. But the quote from that piece that I find relevant to this entry is this:
One could argue that cultural producers are at least somewhat responsible for the myriad of ways that an item could be reasonably interpreted.
And while I’m still open to a lightbulb moment in which I’ll realize I’ve been completely missing something, I am pretty darn convinced that my interpretation was completely reasonable and you know what, I’m just going to say it, I think it’s the most obvious meaning of the comic.
And yet, I was getting hammered by commenters and Melissa and Deeky. I was told I was acting like a jerk. Talked to as if I was being deliberately obtuse or acting in bad faith. I got the message loud and clear: I am just a nobody around there, and a jackass nobody at that.
I was starting to get upset, because not only was I intellectually confused but I also began to feel emotionally defensive and hurt. For that reason, I stopped replying after that comment and decided to sleep on it before commenting on it again. I think it is very important to say “ouch” when you get stepped on, but I have found that for me it’s usually a good idea to take some time to think/meditate/pray it over. It helps me get clarity about the situation and figure out how I want to proceed.
Alas, by the time I came back to the post, comments had been closed down.
Melissa had the last word on the comments, and I believe the really misrepresented what I had been doing. And since I can’t respond to her there, I’m going to respond to her here. Emphasis is hers:
Accusations of bad faith are explicitly prohibited by the comment policy, and commenters in this space have been repeatedly asked to approach concerns with the assumption of good faith, yet kataphatic approached me with an accusation of bad faith, accusing me of calling for an act of violence and implying I’m a hypocrite, despite noting that would be out of character for me,
First, I did not approach the comic in bad faith. Behaving in bad faith, essentially, is behaving in a way that is inauthentic. I was being completely authentic when I first expressed my surprise at the comic and later apologized for my poor choice of words. I authentically believed that I was interpreting the comic correctly and reasonably, reading it at face value.
Second, I do things that are out of character for me from time to time as well. I hurt people. I don’t live up to my own values. That is true of everyone. To equate that with bad faith just doesn’t make sense. I pointed it out because I felt it was out of character, and because I had a good faith reason to believe that Melissa might want to receive that feedback. In a different case, say with someone who talked about violence all the time, and/or didn’t try to set up a community in which people are open to critical feedback and the possibility they have messed up, I likely would have rolled my eyes and let it go. Was I wrong in thinking Melissa might find my feedback valuable? I don’t know; this is part of my confusion. After all, Shakesville’s comment policy says that:
We’re all going to make mistakes occasionally—and for that, we need to make allowances. Everyone trips up now and then, even with the best of intentions, which is why we are resolved to endeavor always to be aware of our privilege, and, in moments of failure, remain open to criticisms and suggestions, think twice before responding defensively, and apologize when we fuck up.
Anyway, back to Melissa’s comment:
instead of simply (and politely, and assuming good faith) asking me to explain the comic, because it seemed like it might mean X. Instead of banning someone for an explicit violation of the commenting policy, I addressed those concerns, though perhaps not in the precise tone some people would have liked them addressed. To call that an “inappropriate reaction” is not only wildly unfair, and an implicit criticism of the commenting policy laid out for this space, it’s nothing but a tone argument, which is a classic anti-feminist silencing tactic, which has absolutely no business here.
Okay… this is a bit rich.
I wasn’t polite enough? And yet criticism of her tone is anti-feminist and in bad faith? Talk about a double standard. (I would also like to point out that I never criticized her tone; she’s referring to other commenters).
So, again, ouch.
Plus, I’m not sure why it was my responsibility to ask what the comic meant. It was/is pretty damn clear to me what that comic meant. It may truly not be what she meant, but it’s what she said. And as we all know from feminism 101, what we actually say is more important than what we mean; i.e. that if what we mean and what we say are two different things, we are not above reproach for what we said just because we didn’t mean it.
And the fact is, if this subject had been broached in the first place from a place of good faith, instead of a hostile accusation, the entire exchange would have been fundamentally different.
I already addressed the accusation that I was acting in bad faith but I also want to say that I unequivocally do not believe I was being hostile in any of the comments I posted on that thread.
That’s why accusations of bad faith are off-limits — to avoid exactly this kind of shit. And when someone flagrantly breaches that policy, no less to make an unfounded accusation, at the very end of yet another long week where I have been at the blunt end of being called all manner of failure in threads here and in my inbox, and then I’m told I didn’t respond with enough grace and patience, that’s just exhausting. I’m tired of it down to my goddamn bones.
First, I wasn’t making an “unfounded accusation.” My comment was very much founded on my entirely reasonable and “face value” interpretation of her comic.
Second, and importantly, I want to acknowledge the weariness in Melissa’s comment. I have no idea what it’s like to be her, to deal with rude comments and emails day in and day out; all kinds of abusive and hateful speech directed at her. I don’t, and probably won’t, ever know exactly what that is like. And I cannot talk about this without acknowledging that Melissa is certainly under a heck of a lot of pressure. I absolutely never meant to add on to that, to make her job worse or harder, and if I didn’t truly believe that she would want my feedback, I never would have bothered posting it.
With that said, I can only speak to my own experience. And my own experience is that last Friday I felt like I was treated like just some asshole nobody, and I don’t believe for a second that my comments justified me being treated that way. I never expected that sort of thing to happen at Shakesville, which I have found to be a place that reacts firmly to truly bad faith comments and bigoted asshole-ishness, but which is otherwise safe, compassionate, and respectful. I am still quite confused and frankly, a bit upset. I don’t know exactly how to proceed in terms of my interaction with the site. Do I want to continue to recommend it to friends, colleagues, sometimes even clients, if they may have an experience like this? Do I want to keep commenting? If I choose to stop commenting, do I even want to read a blog in which I am unsafe to comment? Not having Shakesville in my life would be a real, tangible loss for me as a person, a blogger, even a therapist. But I feel stuck. Dialogue has been cut off and I’m left with only my own little blog in which to say ouch.
I want to close this by saying that Melissa may not have the time or desire to engage this. Her blog is huge and mine is tiny; compared to her I guess I am a “nobody blogger.” But I’m going to email her the link to this post and should she wish to come here and talk with me about this in good faith, I would welcome her warmly with the respect that I still have for her.