If you are a woman or a person of color or both (as are many of us here at Jezebel, as is feminist darling Roxane Gay), your default experience of the internet is likely to be one of harassment. But for others, namely a certain set of writers who overwhelmingly happen to be white and male, the prevailing struggle about online discourse is not "Why am I getting rape threats for a 400-word blog post?" but "Why is everyone being so nice?"
Recently, the Bad Feminist author expanded on this dichotomy and its gendered, racial dimensions in an interview for the Chicago Tribune:
Q: Have you noticed even as online culture supposedly gives everyone a voice now, and reviews in general migrate online, it can often feel as though everyone agrees and says the same things?
A: Absolutely true. It's funny, though: There's a faction of people online who think my writing is leading a "Let's accept everything" wave, as if I am arguing that we accept all pop culture. Well, no. I want people to treat each other as equals. I save my "I love this" essays for Goodreads, but I don't think there's anything wrong with enthusiasm. I wrote a piece last year about "literary citizenship," and said it was important to be consumers and supporters of literary culture. Because there are writers who just vomit their words into the universe then walk away. The critic Jacob Silverman has a book coming out (in 2015) that deals with what he feels is an overwhelming niceness in online culture. I think that's the kind of thing a white man can say.
A: White men don't receive the same level of (expletive) that women and people of color do online. They don't see the harassment. Of course they see a yes-man culture. They're not having their physical appearances — "You're ugly," "You're fat" — brought up. They are not even aware of the real world. It's adorable. Writing about literary culture, they seem to be protecting literary truth. They have good points: Critical rigor is important, what the Internet is doing to rigor is not small. I would just to like to see an awareness that others live in this world, that the subject is about more than a notion of literary integrity.
I'm assuming the expletive was "bullshit," and Gay is right in using that term to describe the madness thrown at writers online by faceless strangers. I'd imagine that most writers are open to respectful dialogues and heady discussions where parties disagree: how else can we learn new things? But being called "cunt" or "the worst writer alive" isn't a dialogue; being called "a white girl" as a discrediting tool (this from personal experience; I'm also black) is not a learning experience.
It does, however, whisk away any fucks we may've had left to give. This is in some ways a blessing, but it also makes a pleasant internet experience seem like something that is only available in direct proportion to your social privilege. It's a telling contrast that Jacob Silverman writes a book about overwhelming niceness when, in January, The Nation wrote a lengthy article on how women in the feminist Twitter sphere regularly tear each other apart. You wonder if Silverman would prefer that his world looked like that. You wonder about all the white men upset by the dearth of literary criticism because everyone's falling over each other being kind. What Internet are they looking at, and can we come?
Image via Melville House.