How shining light on our slanted discourse launched a campaign of hate – and forced me to reexamine my role as a woman
In March I published the piece, “Your Gleeful Liberal Takedown of Hillary Clinton Is Affirming Institutional Sexism.” The response was overwhelming – it received hundreds of thousands of shares and garnered thousands of smart, spirited comments. I was heartened to find that it had resonated with readers – many who had found the rhetoric surrounding Clinton’s campaign perplexingly troubling, and grappled to understand why.
But as the article grew increasingly more viral, a darkness emerged.
Again and again, online forums emboldened anonymous Internet users with a shrouded depository for their venom. I was a “fucking piece of shit,” a “bitch,” a “whore,” a “cunt.”
And this private-messaged to me: “FUCK YOU, YOU SICKENING, FESTERING DISEASE ON THIS NATION. You, and that fucking TRAITOR you worship are just lucky I don’t run shit in this country. Because, if I did, you, her, and every fucking one of her treasonous supporters would be dragged into the streets, summarily tried and convicted of treason, and subsequently TORTURED and beaten to fucking death!”
My first instinct was to scramble to revisit what I had written – to double-check that my words were reasoned and measured, both devoid of emotion and thoughtful, carefully chosen to neither support Hillary Clinton’s candidacy nor to disparage that of any other. I pored over context to ensure I had not branded individuals as “sexists” – but, rather, had crafted an impersonal analysis on the dutiful roles we inhabit within the confines of a sexist society. Check, check, check, check. Stunningly, I was not rejecting the virulence, but humbly taking responsibility for it.
I was asking the question: What had I done to deserve it?
And I soon realized that in this framing of my response, I was complicit in perpetuating a twisted mindset – one that would put the onus on mothers and fathers to teach daughters not be prey rather than teach sons not be predators, that would plot a perverted coordinate grid whereby “X” is an assaulted woman’s choices versus a “Y” that was the culpability she must claim in her assault.
I found myself thrust into the position of struggling to measure the version of myself as a self-described “empowered woman” up against the “dutiful role” I had so haughtily denounced. My head swirled with snapshots of my bowed head, my stammering apologies, my sheepish acquiescence – a catalogue of images acquired over a lifetime, exposed in these five months of blistering sunlight. And with the fully-developed picture came a clarity:
The time for grasping for approval that assents to silence – that is over. And to those who would use your hate to diminish my voice:
Thank you for inspiring me to seek firm footing in my creative space, rather than compulsively create an artificially preemptive space of safety. Thank you for rousing me to speak directly and truthfully on behalf of myself and other women, not slash and edit until I land on a version you deem acceptable.
To be sure, in casting blame on the victimized rather than the victimizer, I had cast myself solidly in a portrayal of victimhood – and it is in shedding the burden of permissiveness that women may go from victims to victors.
So, thank you.
In the words of Ms. Clinton, one of the strongest people I have ever had the privilege of meeting: “The harder they hit, the more encouraged I get.”
Peace and blessings to all of you, and to our great country.