It seems, recently, the fashion-internet-atmosphere is electro-charged with debates about race, cultural theft and appropriation; vilifying both fat and skinny girls; whether or not the idea of “nude” colors in photo spreads feeds covert racism … the list goes on. Squeezed in between outrage inducing posts we find our fair share of trolls tearing apart both authors and commenters for liking or disliking an author’s content. I’ll admit, I’ve felt the need to talk about certain topics for my edification – and my readers have responded. Some have had nothing but positive input and others have called me “delusional”. I get to spend my day wondering just how helpful these posts are towards changing anything. I worry that my thoughts on any matter are going to elicit the screams of trolls who have, at hand, a multitude of insults ranging from name calling to visions of self grandeur. And one question begs answer – why are you coming here if you’re only coming to hate? Why even bother?
When it comes down to expressing your view on the internet, you’re preaching to a choir who already has an opinion, doesn’t care about much else, and has a list of mean-spirited reasons at-ready to tear you down with – including that set of outfit pictures you meticulously posed for. I know you’re shaking your head in disbelief, but this Slate article hit the nail right on top of its pretty little head:
It’s a prime example of the feminist blogosphere’s tendency to tap into the market force of what I’ve come to think of as “outrage world”—the regularly occurring firestorms stirred up on mainstream, for-profit, woman-targeted blogs … They’re ignited by writers who are pushing readers to feel what the writers claim is righteously indignant rage but which is actually just petty jealousy, cleverly marketed as feminism. These firestorms are great for page-view-pimping bloggy business. But they promote the exact opposite of progressive thought and rational discourse, and the comment wars they elicit almost inevitably devolve into didactic one-upsmanship and faux-feminist cliché. The vibe is less sisterhood-is-powerful than middle-school clique in-fight, with anyone who dares to step outside of chalk-drawn lines delimiting what’s “empowering” and “anti-feminist” inevitably getting flamed and shamed to bits. Paradoxically, in the midst of all the deeply felt concern about women’s sexual and professional freedom to look and be however they want, it’s considered de rigueur to criticize anyone… who dares to seem to want to sexually attract men.
I sit, reading that and recall several posts where, for example, fashion bloggers are torn down for choices, for outfits, and for the ever-increasing hot topics cropping up in the fashion world. (A good post on that? Check out Fashion Blogger Bashing on Grechen Blogs). Example: I’ve seen multiple comments about one certain blog – a prime example of jealous rage (for a great read on that – click here), stemming from insecurity and a sense of self righteousness. And no offense to Sister Wolf, here – who is often poignant or funny, this post just exemplifies my point about that one blog that often comes under fire.
… Instead of mimicking the old directly anxiety-making model—for example, by posting weight-loss tips and photos of impossibly thin models like a traditional women’s magazine—Jezebel and the Slate and Salon “lady-blogs” [among others - Birdie's emphasis...] post a critique of a rail-thin model’s physique, explaining how her attractiveness hurts women. The end result is the same as the old formula—women’s insecurities sell ads. The only difference is the level of doublespeak and manipulation that it takes to produce that result…
Oh yeah – being a small person, I get to read all those articles on how even naturally well-proportioned, beautiful models’ “attractiveness hurts other women” or that “Curves are In” and my body type isn’t. I happen to have been built small. I realize that real-life women are not necessarily angry at me because of my size, and that many women in reality could care less about the contents of my closet – but many “feminist” blogs play on this faux-outrage and women (including yours truly) sometimes fall for it. What’s worse are the bands of trolls who hop into the fray, with slurs of eating disorders, anorexia, illness, pretentiousness, selfishness, show-off; all vile words of hatred.
Evil words pontificate outrage on how an author is the bad guy for everything from being small, to wearing interesting looks others can’t afford, or liking ultra-high robo-geisha shoes. I’m supposed to be outraged at how people hate me. Readers are supposed to be outraged at how I don’t want to be hated – how I want to be me. The cycle begins, and pageviews soar.
It’s certainly important to have honest, open conversations about the issues that reliably rake in comments and page views—rape, underage sexuality, and the cruel tyranny of the impossible beauty standards promoted by most advertisers and magazines (except the ones canny enough to use gently lit, slightly rounder, older, or more ethnic examples of “true beauty”). But it may just be that it’s not possible to have these conversations online. On the Web, writers tend to play up the most jealousy- and insecurity-evoking aspects of controversy, and then anonymous commenters—who bear no responsibility for the effects of their statements—take the writers’ hints to any possible extreme. It’s just how the Internet works.
At the same time, many posts on these sites aren’t consciously written with the twisted mess of intentions I just described. Probably many of the writers feel that their work is helping women by exposing sexism and getting important women’s issues onto their radar. But especially for Jezebel writers, whose page-view-generating skills are a matter of public record, and whose careers are dependent on maintaining their stats, the pressure to continuously hit “outrage world” topics must be intense…
It makes me think about every time I’ve scrolled through comments on Slate, Jezebel, or any other “outrage inducing” blog post, reading the legions of comments ripping both the writer and each other to shreds. It’s like any decency one may have goes to hell as soon as they hit the next hot-button topic on the net. Of course, nameless and faceless makes all the more reason to speak out, right? And each outrage-inducing post plays into our dire need for self validation.
And while we’re crying outrage at a system that lets these hot-button topics and transgressions happen, while we’re out tearing each other apart instead of fostering intelligent discussion, we’ve become victims of a system that is subversively wielding our clicks and cash-flow, making money off our outrage. We’ve become part of a system that – instead of unifying – is slowly tearing itself apart, limb-from-limb in an attempt at feeble self-validation and monetary gain. (I have the feeling there’s going to be one person who says “This post is exactly what you’re complaining about.” The difference? I think pageviews are an unreliable measure of my success.)
How do we break this cycle of unintelligent criticism? Is it as simple as not judging and just accepting, and how do you teach an entire internet movement to be so civil? Is it worth putting our positive vibes and discussions out there? Do we refrain from participating in “outrage-world” and it’s inherent discontent – disengage from the wash of negative media offered by authors and trolls alike? Or is that simply “the way the Internet is” – a conscious problem to be considered, but ultimately ignored?