Regular readers of Dooce know that blogger Heather B. Armstrong gets a whole lot of hate mail. Yesterday, she launched a site featuring entertaining examples of it, surrounded by advertisements galore: A little something she calls Monetizing the Hate.
Whether you think this is a brilliant example of turning lemons into lemonade or a shameless exercise in greed and self-pity will probably depend on your existing opinion of Armstrong. And does anyone not have an opinion on Armstrong at this point? I've been a fairly regular reader of her blog for a few years now, and I'm constantly amazed at how someone who primarily writes amusing stories about her family and dogs, who rarely makes a political statement — and when she does, always couches it in like 20 paragraphs on how she respects differing viewpoints and loves her conservative, religious family members — has become such a lightning rod. What the hell did Heather Armstrong do to you people?
You've got Oprah Winfrey at the top of the list, and then it goes on to Diane Sawyer and Barbara Walters, and others like Ann Curry and Katie Couric and Martha Stewart and Lesley Stahl, and everything is fine until you get to number twenty-six, Heather B. Armstrong, and it's like the list suddenly falls off the edge of the earth... I mean, ridiculous. That's exactly what it is. Absurd. But that did not stop me from reminding Marlo about it every time I changed her diaper. I was all, DO YOU KNOW WHO I AM, KID? YOU'VE GOT NUMBER TWENTY-SIX WIPING YOUR BUTT.
To me, that passage is quintessential Armstrong: Funny, self-deprecating, humbled by her good fortune yet justifiably proud of all she's accomplished, down-to-earth, always up for a good poop joke. And to others, that passage is quintessential Armstrong: Arrogant, boastful, just clever enough to feign humility so simple fools will be duped into identifying with her, completely out of touch with the common folk, worryingly obsessed with scatalogical references.
This insistence that she's nauseatingly egotistical, that every display of gratitude or humility is obviously a calculated act, has been around since long before she made the Forbes list, but between that and the recent Maytag episode (in which she harnessed the power of a million Twitter followers to get herself some goddamned customer service — only to be accused of bullying the poor, defenseless Whirlpool Corporation), Dooce-hate seems to be at an all-time high, much of it devoted to taking her down a peg or 12:
Quit the hype and propaganda, you're not even close to being a top blogger. A stupid one yeah?! Now go cash your WIC, welfare, and meet your HUD qualifications so you can keep writing delusional pieces of self absorbed garbage that only YOU thinks is good.
I just wanted to let you know.. that I think your full of crap. I've tried, and I can't really target it to just one specific area for you to improve upon; your are (as far as I can tell from the posts I read on your website) full of crap in every single capacity of life.
It's actually REPULSIVE to me that you're able to make a living doing this. I guess you've rounded up the biggest retarded losers on earth and somehow hooked them into following you.
You have elephantitis of the ego. It's for sure now. Vain, vain, vain. Get a grip.
Believe it or not, SOME people in this world are famous for LEGITIMATE reasons, such as owning a modicum of talent... just because you've been on Oprah DOESN'T MAKE YOU MORE IMPORTANT.
The fact that Armstrong's become a phenomenally influential blogger via some combination of smart moves, timing, lucky breaks, hard work, self-promotion, self-revelation, and terrific writing just doesn't sit well with some people. Some of it is plain old jealousy, to be sure — I'm jealous as hell, and I like her. But what I'm not is threatened by successful women, even ones kicking a thousand kinds of ass in my chosen field. And I can't help thinking that's what's really at the heart of the vitriol directed at Armstrong — and every other lady blogger with any kind of an audience.
I've got a fraction of Armstrong's readers, and I've heard versions of nearly every single complaint on Monetizing the Hate, minus the ones specific to her parenting, Utah, etc., more times than I could possibly keep track of. (My personal favorites so far are the people who believe I should be ashamed of myself for promoting my own book, on my own blog. So unseemly! If I had any real confidence in my writing, I'd trust that the book would find an audience without my having to brag about it. IT IS NOT FAIR TO ABUSE YOUR PLATFORM LIKE THAT.) Every female blogger I know whose traffic exceeds the number of her friends and family members has gotten this shit, and I know a lot of female bloggers. The second some people actually start listening to you, a ton of others become deeply invested in reminding you that it DOESN'T MAKE YOU MORE IMPORTANT.
So I think it's fantastic that Armstrong is putting the hate out there for all to see — and if she can profit from it, more power to her (though the sheer amount of ads, while amusing in context, does make the site very nearly unreadable). Monetizing the Hate is not just a clever way to neutralize the intended effects of hate mail, but an excellent case study in anti-lady-blogger vitriol. Whatever the details of these missives, the aggregate makes it clear that the real problem is not that Heather Armstrong is a bad mommy, a careless dog owner, an arrogant bitch, a bad writer, or a bully — it's that she's a woman with an audience. A woman with influence. And that kind of hatred and fear of female power affects women who are not Number 26, women who don't have blogs or book deals, women who have never been on Oprah. It affects all of us.
Image by Heather B. Armstrong, from her blog.