When you are a woman who writes online -- be it for a big publication like The Huffington Post or in 140 characters on Twitter -- the conventional wisdom is, "Don't read the comments." Anita Hill, a woman who is no stranger to public vitriol, has the opposite suggestion.
In an interview with Broadly, the attorney and professor, who is also the subject of HBO's upcoming film "Confirmation," said that she would tell female writers and bloggers "to read as much of [the hate mail] as you can stand," for one very important reason:
I think the mail is quite revealing. It's revealing of a certain kind of anger towards women, and it's revealing of a fear of equality -- a misunderstanding, a myth of what gender equality means, as some sort of unwarranted threat to men. To some extent, it's healthy to read them.
I've held on to all of my negative [letters]... I do have them, and I do read them. I keep them for a purpose, to learn something.
Writers who aren't straight, white men tend to bear the brunt of online harassment. The Guardian recently did an analysis of their own comments and found that the 10 writers who faced the highest levels of abuse were eight women (four women of color, four white women), and two black men.
As one of those women writers/bloggers/editors, for whom online vitriol has become a near-daily part of my job, Hill's words ring true. After tweeting a (fairly innocuous) explainer about why the wage gap is not a myth yesterday, my mentions quickly filled up with vicious commentary from men who needed to tell me just how wrong I was.
The most charming of the rebuttals looked like this:
The vitriol Hill faced is far worse than anything I've experienced. After all, she came forward with allegations of sexual harassment against a very powerful political figure (soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas), during a time when the term "sexual harassment" had yet to be embedded in the public consciousness the way it is now. But the idea that there could be some sort of revelation -- albeit a depressing one -- in the muck of hateful comments is somewhat uplifting.
Of course, if reading the comments -- or tweets or Facebook posts -- is going to harm your mental health, it's best to just... not. ("Read only as much as you can," said Hill.) But sometimes by reading people's hateful words, you can learn just how little substance there is behind them. It's more about generalized ignorance and anger than about YOU.
"I think some ways it might be helpful to see where [the detractors] are coming from," said Hill. "To say, 'well, I guess it's not even about me personally.'"
Head over to Broadly to read their full interview with Hill.