Against “Don’t Read the Comments”

Here’s a spoiler: Preventing abuse online requires the people running a site or an app to invest time, effort and attention into protecting their community. That’s the bottom line.

Now, many times, people saying “Don’t read the comments” are making a dark joke about the inevitability of abuse on the particularly communities they’re connected to…

Similarly, we might offer “Never read the comments!” as a reminder to people we care about, urging them to be mindful of self-care as a necessary part of dealing with the grinding, exhausting, never-ending stress of sustained online harassment campaigns…

There’s a grave cost to assuming online interactivity is always awful. The burden is felt most acutely in denying opportunity to those for whom connecting to a community online may be the only way to get a foot in the door. Those underrepresented, unheard voices are the most valuable ones we lose when we throw the baby out with the bathwater and assume online comments are necessarily bad.

I am one of many people, I think, who do not participate in broad, public internet discussions. For anyone who already experiences marginalization or straight up bigotry in their day-to-day lives, the lack of tools available to protect ourselves makes it that much more difficult to actively decide to participate in a space where we know we’re likely to be harassed and attacked.

That said, outright dismissing all comments sections everywhere leaves a lot to be desired. It leaves those who have spoken up isolated. And it leaves those who leave bigoted or attacking comments without dissent.

A large part of why there are no comment forms on this site is that I did not have the mental capacity to be moderating conversations when I started this site. And knowing what I wanted to post about, I expected at least a few to come. I could not invest the time to protect any community that might build, so I didn’t open the floor.

I hope I get to reassess that in the future and see a different landscape.

What I Learned From Dating Women Who Have Been Raped

People aren’t destroyed through being raped though. They suffer immensely, but they are just as much themselves after the rape as before.

If you told someone that a man had learned jiu jitsu after being attacked, I think the vibe would be “well, that’s pretty reasonable.” If a bisexual woman decided to date only women after being raped, the vibe would be “oh, she’s broken.

I also think that I was so lucky to have gone on those dates with those women, because I already had a deep understanding that people who have experienced sexual violence aren’t any less awesome or less complete than those who haven’t experienced it. Without that understanding, I think admitting to yourself that you have experienced sexual violence is harder, because you also have to think of yourself as “broken.”

What’s so sad about what I see is that it’s so normal. I don’t see myself as a victim in an otherwise safe society, I see myself as a completely normal and unremarkable member of the female gender. I see women who have experienced more violence than me, and women who have experienced less violence than me, but I don’t see women who don’t experience violence. The fact that some women have experienced more, worse sexual violence only means that they need more help not that I need less help or that my emotional response to a traumatic event is invalid.

It’s super hard work to break through the numbness that is growing up feminine here in the US. The fact that my stories pale in comparison to others doesn’t make mine smaller, it exposes a wretched, ugly truth.

Emphasis mine.

My God, I love you people.

In case you needed a pick-me-up this week, The Bloggess sparked some spontaneous twitter sharing of everyone’s most embarrassing social interactions. Fair warning – you’re going to laugh until you cry.

You can read even more in her twitter feed.

How Sexism Affects Women’s Health Every Day

All over the world, women, for a variety of reasons, experience much higher rates of pain than men…Yet, doctors discount women’s reports of pain and are more likely, when treating women, to discount women’s experiences of pain as emotional or psychological discomfort that they have to learn to live with.

 

  • 57% report being told by a doctor, “I don’t know what’s wrong with you.”
  • 51% report having doctor’s say, “You look good, so you must be feeling better.”
  • 45% reported that they were told, “The pain is all in your head.”

My personal favorites? “You are too pretty to have so many problems,” and “You can’t be too sick because you have makeup on and you are not in your sweatpants.”

 

Lastly, medical research continues to fail to take sex-specific issues into account, mistakenly assuming that male, mostly white male, test subjects sufficiently represent all of humanity. This discriminatory skewing of research, in favor of male physiology, has considerable impact on women’s health, including pain and pain mitigation.

Last year, I had occasion to visit my doctor, who prescribed some medicine. When I asked him if any of the clinical trials for the medicine had included women, he admitted that he didn’t know, but assured me that it was the best solution available. So I looked it up. The trials showed that the medication worked for men, but actually had several high risks and contraindications for women. So I found a new doctor, one who didn’t dismiss my concerns with a paternalistic and sexist arrogance.

I’ve had some ridiculous experiences with doctors because of my gender, including completely outdated and false information about birth control, the implication that I don’t know enough to identify my pain, and having doctors completely ignore my choices because of my mental health issues.

There’s nothing quite like having a doctor tell you there’s nothing wrong with you when you’re incapacitated with pain, or blatantly make fun of your previous health care choices to your face.

And in our modern health care system, it’s basically impossible to figure out how a doctor will react to you and your illness or pain before you’re paying them money for their opinions about your health.

To me, that’s broken. At this point, I have a team of doctors that I trust and am able to communicate with, but it’s been 100% luck of the draw. HealthGrades doesn’t have survey questions for ‘is informed about the latest medical research’, ‘takes time to understand medical implications for diverse populations’, or ‘doesn’t make fun of patients’.

Things that help me cope

I have anxiety and depression. Some days I conquer the world and help the people around me, and others I’m lucky if I changed out of my robe or ate something more than an avocado.

I’m on meds. I’m in therapy. I read blogs. I read books. I take online quizzes. And focus on my happiness. I read about the latest ‘breakthroughs’. And I keep going around in circles.

I’ve recently found myself on an upward trajectory. So many things have changed lately that it’s hard to say what has caused it. But I thought I’d share some things that at the very least break through my fog on a daily basis.

  1. The Unapologetic Fat Girl’s Guide to Exercise and Other Incendiary Acts – I haven’t finished it yet. I don’t even know what I was looking for when I found it. But it has jumpstarted a really healthy reframing of exercise and why to do it.
  2. The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety – I also haven’t finished this yet. And I know the idea of sitting through your anxiety is scary as hell when you’re well acquainted with panic attacks. The reading is easy. It doesn’t feel like work. And most importantly, it pulls me through that fog.
  3. Strong Inside / Out – An exercise website built by someone who has depression. She writes great articles about balancing mental health and the community is super supportive.
  4. Happify – I love the little game Uplift here. Not in a ‘play it forever’ way, but it’s… uplifting. They have lots of different ‘tracks’ that help you reflect on and learn about different things that might be holding you back from happiness.
  5. My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Going with Your Gut – This one is just a healthy reminder that everyone’s a fuck up. I get real down on myself for not being the ‘perfect adult’. But Hannah Hart makes nachos out of saltines.
  6. Yes Please – Take this as a reminder to find something you enjoy. I will always have a sweet spot for outspoken funny women who hold all the cards. Where’s your sweet spot?
  7. Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book – There are some other mindfulness coloring books as well. I definitely recommend it. Color everything the wrong colors if you want. Or the right colors. Or draw your own pictures. It’s been a great way to break a panic cycle.

If you’re struggling, I hope something here helps you. Or, at the very least, that this post makes you feel less alone.

I provide Amazon links here because they’re easy. I actually read almost all of my books through my library’s ebook app. If you buy any of these books, I encourage you to purchase them through your local bookshop.

The Missing Vulva

It hit me on a fairly ordinary Wednesday afternoon, when on a whim I decided to visit the Greek and Roman galleries of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art … that none of the forms showed the reality of female genitals.

Meanwhile, the male statues rock out with their cocks out; dicks are everywhere. Penises of all sizes surround me: curled and flaccid, pert and alert, balls dropped and shrunken. I wandered around, looking closely at all of the female nude statues and fragments. There are no vulvas, no protruding labia, anywhere. There’s no suggestion that vaginas existed.

These marbled statues represented a value – an idealized value – of male and female roles in society that codified a power dynamic and a social order that persists in so many ways today. It’s such a gesture that seems thoughtless until you see it repeated over and over; it becomes clear that it is intentional and deliberate, and the lasting effect, erases feminine humanity. Even the most enlightened of us still have to unlearn cultural definitions of our sex that cast our vaginas as profane, obscene, ugly.

I’m not even sure I have anything to add here. While we sometimes refer back to classical art when talking about shifting body ideals, I’ve never heard anyone point out that, while the statues have wider hips than we glorify now, they seem to have anatomically lost something through the artist’s eye.

Restarting

I’m revamping the blog. I’m not sure how many of you are following me for the specific things I post, and how many of you landed here from my frequent posting in the forums, but I hope you’ll like the change.

The struggles of oppression will still come up. I still feel passionate about that. But I also need to see some happiness in the darkness. And seek the light in the disappointments.

I hope that I can balance the difficult with the art. :)

The Learning Myth

Researchers have known for some time that the brain is like a muscle; that the more you use it, the more it grows. They’ve found that neural connections form and deepen most when we make mistakes doing difficult tasks rather than repeatedly having success with easy ones.

What this means is that our intelligence is not fixed, and the best way that we can grow our intelligence is to embrace tasks where we might struggle and fail.

After all, when my son, or for that matter, anyone else asks me about learning, I only want them to know one thing. As long as they embrace struggle and mistakes, they can learn anything.

Anyone who thinks they’re “not a math person” or “just don’t understand chemistry” should read this. You’ve been duped. The struggle is the point. I’m so grateful everyday that I went to both a high school and college that embraced critical thinking and challenged me more than reaffirming.

How to Talk to Your Friends About Not Threatening to Rape and Murder Women on the Internet

In case you need a head start, I’ve written up some suggested scripts for talking to your buddies:

Let’s all start reminding our friends not to be garbage people! If your friends are garbage people, tell them not to be. If they keep being garbage people, go ahead and stop being friends with them! I know, its scary. How do you make new friends? Will anyone else ever love you like those sexist racists did? Trust me. Your quality of existence will skyrocket when you leave the trash behind.

I’m all for diverse views. However, that doesn’t mean you have to accept all opinions as valid and equally worthy of your time, energy, and patience! Guess what? The “view” that women should stop complaining about equality and instead go make everyone sandwiches is NOT A VALID ARGUMENT and is NOT WORTHY of my or anyone’s attention.

I Don’t Care If You Like It

This comfort with group assessment of femininity in turn reminds me of the ease with which women’s choices regarding their bodies, futures, health, sex, and family life are up for public evaluation. Women are labeled as good or bad, as moral or immoral, by major religions and “closely held corporations,” whose rights to allow those estimations to dictate their corporate obligations are upheld over the rights of the women themselves by high courts.

I wish it were different. I wish that every woman whose actions and worth are parsed and restricted, congratulated and condemned in this country might just once get to wheel around … and go black in the eyes and say, “I don’t fucking care if you like it.”

I think one of the most powerful things anyone can do is learn to make decisions and take actions purely for yourself. Our culture is so obsessed with how our actions are seen by or affect everyone around us. Learning to live your life separate from that judgment is empowering.

(Sorry for the Twitter test hiccup.)