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May 12, 2010 / Katie

I hate blogging! (On the power of titles)

Last Saturday evening I posted to Facebook a great Salon article by Anne Lamott titled Why I hate Mother’s Day.

I thought that the article was very well-done.  It was empathic toward those of us who don’t have, don’t want, or can’t have children, but still participate in the parenting and nurturing of others.  It was incisive in its criticism of the way that mothers are often blamed for society’s ills and then lauded on this one particular day a year, neither of which treat mothers like human beings.  Overall, I thought it was a great article.

My Facebook friends did not.  They were extremely critical, calling her “bitter” and the article “ridiculous.”  But due to the fact that none of them were articulating specific things she said they didn’t like, and the things they were saying supposedly in argument sounded an awful lot to me like things that she actually said (meaning they were actually in agreement), I’m not sure they weren’t just having a reaction toward the sentiment conveyed by the title—“I hate Mothers Day.”

Honestly?  My mom died 7 years ago and I’m not a big fan of Mother’s Day.  So, I deleted that link because I couldn’t be bothered with those responses.  I don’t normally behave that way, but I’ll admit it this once :)

Anyway, this got me thinking about the power of titles.  I am still getting comments on a post I made about 9 months ago, which I titled Why Young Life is evil, as a shout out to the blog post that inspired it; WYLIE (Why Young Life is evil) by Fred Clark over at Slacktivist.  His post was all about why he believed that Young Life is, in fact, evil.  My post was about my personal experiences in high school with Young Life and other organizations in which I felt marginalized and invisible as a fat person.  I attempted to offer hope, at the end of that entry, to those who might have experienced the same silencing by Christian groups, that the oppression we experience does not come from our God, who accepts us and cherishes us as we are.

Yet, as I said, I still keep getting comments (my most recent one yesterday) attempting to explain to me how I’m overreacting, tell me that I’m tearing down a wonderful organization, or even that what I am saying is laughable.

But authentic sharing and responsible criticism are not overreactions.  There is nothing laughable about empathy.  Debunking privilege is, I suppose, “tearing down” but not in a vindictive way—in a life-giving way.  Because whenever privilege is abolished, and empathy takes over, life and love win.   All of these are things that both Ms. Lamott and I were doing in the articles I discussed in this post.

Now I suppose the question is, would Anne and I have been smarter to use less incendiary titles?  If we’d used something a little more, shall we say, diplomatic as the first impression of our articles, would our message have gotten through to more people?  Seems to me the answer to that is: maybe, maybe not.  Maybe people who are quick to react negatively would have read our articles with a more open mind, but then again, perhaps they wouldn’t have ever read our articles in the first place.

Anyway. What do you think?

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4 Comments

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  1. Heidi / May 12 2010 10:22 am

    I read the article – I don’t think I commented, probably because I agreed with a lot of her sentiments but also like Mother’s Day, so wasn’t sure exactly how to argue for that in a coherent way that supported her article’s points but disagreed with the idea that all Hallmark holidays are necessarily bad (which wasn’t what she was saying but…)

    Whew.

    See why I didn’t comment (I don’t think?)

    I was perfectly happy with what I got for Mother’s Day, which was a gorgeous little boy, shopping for flowerpots, lunch at Costco, and a lovely afternoon with a friend. I think most mothers are…and I’m not sure that Lamott acknowledged that. I think she implied that a lot of mothers do expect angelic treatment all day and I’m not sure that’s true, if I’m understanding her correctly.

    Titles are complex creatures, which is why I’ve given up trying to create meaningful ones in most cases!

    • Katie / May 12 2010 12:28 pm

      I feel like I like Mothers Day insofar as we can turn it into something that is beautiful, but that if we could just find a better way of doing it, I wouldn’t miss there being a Mothers Day at all.

      In my ideal world it would be something like, “Parents Day” or “Nurturers Day” in which we all honor those who nurture us and are honored by those we nurture.

      I wonder if Anne’s strongly-worded sentiments come from a place of pain similar to mine, even if with different roots. Mother’s Day is nothing but a reminder of an aspect of my life which will never again live up to society’s definition of “acceptable.” I can turn it into something personally meaningful for myself, but the energy expenditure to do that and the depression for a good 2 weeks surrounding it are just not worth it, to me, ultimately.

      But that was why I couldn’t handle such vehement disagreement with her posts. As it turns out, I AM capable of coping with people disagreeing with me :) But I prefer it if they have a bit of empathy about how they do so, especially when it is something that I personally am hurting over at that moment.

  2. mysteryofiniquity / May 12 2010 11:38 am

    While I was blogging “religiously” I wrote a lot of posts with incendiary titles over at DeConversion blog (http://de-conversion.com/). I was mostly “deconverting” from Christian fundamentalism and was none to kind about what I had to say. The titles garnered mega-traffic and I’m convinced that that was the reason why people stopped by to read it. We are told again and again that to invite readers in you must hook them with a catchy title and as a literature major in college and later in blogging, this proved to be true. Do I regret some of my titles? Maybe. Do I still provide catchy titles? Sometimes. I find that some of the attention isn’t worth getting when all some people want is to argue. I’ve since run and hid. :-)

  3. living400lbs / May 12 2010 11:48 am

    Katie –

    I read through your “Why Young Life is Evil” post and the comments. The title (and people only reading the title) may be a big part of it, but also: readers’ expectations.

    A reader may just see the title.
    A reader may so identify with Young Life (or as a mother) that they feel attacked.
    A reader may have a sore spot or “button” that you press without even meaning to.

    There’s what you wrote, but there’s also what other people read, and these aren’t always the same thing. Granted writing clearly and concisely can help — rambling forever with vague accusations against undefined communities doesn’t do much except turn people off — and so does adding caveats if you think you’ll be misunderstood. But at the end of the day, if people are going to be unhappy they’re going to be unhappy, and you can’t always help that.

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