Those who are familiar with my writing style understand that I can be quite outspoken. I’m often bold and sarcastic – bolder and more sarcastic than I’d be in person. I’m not the kind of feminist who walks into a room full of strangers (or even friends) and screams, “I’m a feminazi slut, get the fuck outta my way!” However, I have no problem saying things like this online. I write the way I do for a reason – which I’ll get to in a moment. Before I do, I’d like to address a private message I received from a male follower who recently offered up some “helpful” advice on how I should conduct myself online.
This is where I would usually launch into my tirade about mansplainers, and I’d call on every ounce of sarcasm I could muster, but not this time. This time, I’d like to take a more thoughtful, measured approach.
I’ll begin with our exchange. My Facebook friend, whom I’ll call Bill, sent this message to me:
“I always enjoy your posts. As a fan I have to tell you something. You do your best writing being smarter, not angrier. Really not trying to piss you off, just be helpful.”
Bill is a nice man. He, like me, is liberal. From what I’ve seen of his online persona, he is one of the good guys. So my initial reply to him was, “Thanks. Not pissed, but on occasion, I’ll be pissed and I’ll write about it.”
After I hit send, I began thinking about what Bill said to me. I’ve received similar messages from men who want to be helpful and offer advice – I even wrote about that very subject in my book, AMERICAN WOMAN The Poll Dance: Women And Voting. So, I sent another message to Bill.
I wrote, “Again, not pissed, but I wonder – have you ever sent an email like this to a man? Have you ever offered to be helpful – and offered the same unsolicited advice – to a man? I really am curious.”
Bill’s reply, “I tell people that I like that I think they are not being themself [sic] regardless of gender, race, color, creed or national origin. Sorry I bothered you.”
I explained that he wasn’t bothering me and it appeared our conversation was over.
About an hour later, he sent another message: “I just can’t get this question out of my mind. If it was a woman that messaged you the same thing would you have questioned their motive or sincerity?”
My reply: “A woman has never messaged me with a comment like yours. So, no. However many, many men have. I understand you might feel confronted, but since men often message me and offer up unsolicited advice on how I conduct myself, I now say something about it rather than saying nothing. So many men tell me to be more positive. Maybe you can understand that it can be frustrating that men feel a need to do this. I don’t say this with anger or animosity. It’s simply been my and other women’s experience.
“And I don’t message men to let them know how I think they should conduct themselves differently. It has never occurred to me.”
We finished out our conversation with sincere pleasantries, and I can honestly say I have no hard feelings; and I don’t feel Bill is a bad man. But Bill is like many other liberal dudes I’ve encountered who haven’t given much thought to the idea that men often offer unsolicited advice to women – and how frustrating it can be. When these men are confronted about it, most (not all and not Bill) become hyper-defensive and rude. Some of these men can be complete jerks about it. They really think they’re doing women a favor, and they don’t realize they are mansplaining. They also don’t realize how off-putting it would be for them if they were bombarded with messages (from anyone) telling them how to behave.
What they fail to understand is that women deal with this all the time. ALL. THE. TIME. Bill claims he’s done the same with his male friends, but I really do wonder if he has taken the time to send private messages telling other men they should tone down the anger. Maybe he’s called some of them out on social media threads, and maybe he’s has told other men to be smarter when they write Facebook posts, but I will never really know.
My goal is not to embarrass Bill or anyone like him. My goal is to point out that women are constantly being told – often by strangers on the internet – that we have to behave a certain way if we want to be taken seriously. It’s infuriating. My first reaction is to beat these dudes over the head with sarcasm.
If you’re a guy who does this, stop. Stop messaging women and telling them how they should conduct themselves – off or online. If you don’t like the tone of a post, move along. I do. When I see someone – man or woman – behaving in a manner I feel is unsavory, I keep scrolling. Maybe I’ll comment on the thread, but I don’t send a private message. And I’d like to say this again: no woman has ever messaged me to tell me that my posts are too angry or that I should write any particular way. I have heard from women who think I’m hideous or wrong about a certain topic – but that’s another article. I expect that kind of thing from both genders because I’m a political big mouth with strong opinions.
You are not my editor. Policing my message isn’t your job. Yes, you read my stuff and you have a right to agree or disagree with my message and how I share it, but please stop trying to edit me and other women. Please stop thinking it’s okay to send private messages to women with your “helpful” suggestions about their tone.
I mentioned I write the way I do for a reason – and here it is. There are a lot of women who don’t feel confident standing up for themselves when confronted with “helpful” suggestions from strange men. Women are taught to be “ladylike” and “polite.” They don’t want to come off like a “bitch.” This means when a man offers unsolicited advice, they simply say nothing or they say, “Thank you,” but inside they’re incensed. That frustration is unnecessary and can be damaging and unhealthy.
When I write posts or articles from a pissed-off point-of-view, I help more women find their own voice and confidence. I know this because women will write to me and tell me so – and I also know I’m not alone. I have feminist friends who say the same – they get messages from women who thank them for being loud and unafraid to publicly voice a common frustration.
There’s one woman I met online who periodically writes to me to tell me I’ve inspired her to stand strong when men have either told her what to do, or offered her friendly advice – advice she didn’t ask for.
I don’t message random men to tell them how to behave, and when I get notes from strange men who believe they know better than I do, I’ll tell them, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
I will continue to conduct myself in a manner I see fit. You can like it or hate it. You can agree or disagree on the thread or article, but stop trying to edit me and other women. It’s not going to work. STOP.
You certainly don’t want to be named as an example in the next sarcastic opinion piece I write on this very subject, do you?