I could spin off here into why we are all so sensitive and easily offended, why we cannot enter into a conversation with someone of different opinions, and why we fail to offer the same tolerance that we so often demand, but, surely you, reader, have similar experiences. We all agree that words matter, as do online actions and exchanges. Those can be just as hurtful as if they were expressed in public, yet the vitriol continues.
But for professional writers, it’s far worse.
Let me explain. When you're writing for the general public, there's a certain acknowledgment that your words will be read by people you may never encounter in person. That’s the beauty of writing — to communicate what it means to be human with another. Possibly connecting with a perfect stranger who shares the experience of flesh, bones and human consciousness on the same planet as yourself is the miracle of writing. It’s what we all want in human interaction: to connect to one another.
I have had my share of verbal abuse, online harassment and even threats of physical harm. And when I write “my share,” I mean as a female writer. When my male counterparts write advice columns, critiques and less-than-favorable reviews, occasionally they receive a few comments that may dissent, disagree or even spark debate. Mine, on the other hand, inspire outright online violence.
I have had threats, lewd comments and commands to “just go kill myself” or “shut the fuck up, you stupid cunt.” “I’m surprised you even have a job” numbers among the countless other slurs. Worse, a local metal radio show host took to Facebook to offer a “beating to [my] vagina.” Try dealing with this level of nonsense in your profession.
Another local online radio outlet that claims to “empower women” has spent hour after hour tearing apart my journalism (despite having no press credentials of its own) while waving a Christian flag and spitting out vile profanity. Stay crazy, H-Town; you do it well.
During my undergrad years and through classes and internships at Halliburton, MTV, FOX and various newspapers, I never imagined myself experiencing a regular onslaught of abusive language from my readers. It used to not exist, at least in such abundance.
Once, in college, I wrote an unfavorable film review about a group of men on Wall Street who brazenly robbed widows of pensions and bragged about it. I called the film's coarse dialogue and glorification of materialism something akin to “penis-measuring,” and our publication received a sharply worded letter in response.
My editor and I laughed it off. It was printed in our section “Letters to the Editor,” but we dismissed the vile letter as something from someone not wholly rational. If we only knew.
Had I known that letter was foreshadowing the coming days of online journalism, I might have lit a candle for Patron Saint Ida B. Wells and disappeared into the comfortable anonymity of academia. But I didn’t, because who could have imagined what it would be like in 2017 as a female journalist with an opinion? Certainly not me.
I’ve even been stalked by a local musician who sent threats to me every day through Facebook Messenger at 5 a.m. — just to make sure my morning was ruined. My share of abuse feels like the proverbial lion’s share. At what point is enough enough?
It hasn’t just affected me, either. As with Guardian journalist Jessica Valenti and her daughter, it’s affected my children. You can imagine the concern I had during a recent conversation with my 15-year-old son when he needed a new guitarist for his garage band:
Son: Mom, you know a lot of musicians; I need a punk guitarist. Not metal.
Me: Why not metal?
Son: Would you want to play with people who talk crap about your mom?
Me: They didn’t all do that, son.
Son: They didn’t stand up for you either.
Point taken. Hard. Yet I persisted attempting to bring awareness to artists I thought deserved it. Mostly they were very thankful, though some were flippant and others indifferent. Some felt entitled. None of those reactions were especially surprising.
Except a few of them waged irrational campaigns that mirrored a disturbing witch hunt — taking entire articles personally, ignoring the team of editors and numerous other considerations that accompany each piece. Despite never being professional writers themselves, they all acted like self-appointed experts on journalism and media ethics.
Even if I had quoted someone else, these were taken as my own sentiments and not the speaker's; somehow I became responsible for what other people said and believed. Imagine your own line of work, and random members of the general public commenting on your performance in a vicious, hurtful manner, or even threatening you. This is the online reality many writers face. It's not pretty.
But, for now, I've decided to return to writing for myself and, I hope, the rational, intelligent and even-tempered music fans out there. The joy of introducing fans to Houston music has long superseded the late nights, deadlines and other lesser tribulations we writers must endure. I'm trying to keep in mind those things that inspired me to write in the first place: a love of family, poetry, literature and of course music — albeit a bit more carefully.