In case you hadn’t noticed, I have been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. I have the best/worst excuse—I have been writing my first book (the content of said book will be the topic of a future blog…). The book writing process was exciting, terrifying, stressful, and fulfilling. But above all, it was time consuming. So while I maintained interest in my blog I just didn’t have the time or energy to work on it.
However, I often found myself thinking about the blog—I would hear a news story on NPR or read something on Facebook and think, “I need to blog about this!” Then I would sit down and work on my book.
Doing so much writing on the book also got me thinking a lot about writing, and creativity, and criticism. Although this will be my first book, it is certainly not my first published piece of writing. But this process has felt substantially different in a number of ways, one of which being my worries about how the work will be received. I realized during the past six months that typically when one of my articles is published I just never think that much about who was reading it or what they thought about it. If I was being really honest with myself I would admit that in some part of my brain I just assumed that no one was reading the articles I wrote! Which of course is incredibly silly and would be ridiculous and a shame if it were true. Why put all that work into conducing a research project and getting the results published if it is not going to be useful for anyone?!
Nevertheless, working on my book has forced me to face the (reasonable) terror that comes with creating something and unleashing it into the world for others to evaluate.
Unfortunately, during this time I came across stories that raised my terror alert level from orange to red. In the January 2015 This American Life episode “If you don’t have anything nice to say, SAY IT IN ALL CAPS” Lindy West, a former staff writer at Jezebel, tells her story of dealing with internet trolls. She actually interviews one particularly vicious former troll who had used the death of her father to hurt her. He basically explains that he felt threatened and angered by strong outspoken women.
Then there was this:
Feminist writers are so besieged by online abuse that some have begun to retire
One of my personal feminist heroes, Jessica Valenti, shared her experiences of being trolled, harassed online and off, and receiving death threats. She concludes in the article that if she could do it over she would only write anonymously. That the emotional and psychological toll of the backlash she has faced is just not worth it.
I cried reading this article. Where would feminism be without Feministing.com and its Daily Feminist Cheat Sheet? Would Full Frontal Feminism: A Young Woman's Guide to Why Feminism Matters have been as impactful if it had been written anonymously?
Don’t get me wrong, I am not critiquing Valenti for her statement, but rather am lamenting the state of the world in which she (and others) have experienced such debilitating harassment. I admit that I wondered if I should just walk away from this blog. It was on hold anyway—should I even return?
And yet, here I am.
Perhaps I find comfort in my awareness that I am no Jessica Valenti and reassure myself that I probably won’t become a troll target.
But the truth is something bigger and more complex than that.
When I sent my book to the editor for the final stages of production I thought, “Now I just hope that no one reads it.” Which I suppose is not really true. I want people to read it. I want it to HELP people. I just don’t want people to make it about me.
I suppose in this process I have uncovered my own personality paradoxes. I am an incredibly open person with people I know, but I am also private. Sometimes I think that if I hadn’t been a Psychologist I would have become a park ranger, living in a quaint cabin in a national park, spending my days hiking and reading and enjoying a quiet life with a small group of close friends.
I have always felt called to speak out against injustice. Even if that means disturbing my potentially quiet and peaceful life. As a child that meant standing up to bullies, challenging teachers who made sexist comments, and speaking up for what I believed in. And it meant being misunderstood, disliked, (sometimes admired from afar), and often a bit lonely.
As an adult it means pushing students to unpack privilege, it means challenging colleagues when they make racist and classist assumptions. It means writing a book about identity-based bullying, and it means writing this blog. It means facing the inevitable criticism that will accompany publicly challenging patriarchy and advocating for social justice.
But what else is there to do? As long as black men are killed by police officers, LGBT youth are bullied relentlessly in schools, women are raped on college campuses, children are living in poverty, and people defend symbols of oppression (confederate flags and native mascots) there can be no quiet life in the woods.
No one is free when others are oppressed.
So—I guess all I can do is buckle in for the ride. Here we go.
Britney G Brinkman, Ph.D.
EMPOWERTAINMENT aims to take a critical look at media in regards to how gender and women/girls are portrayed. From popular articles, videos, and websites, to original submissions, we want to not only examine the media and its relation to gender, but help shift it.