Friday, August 12, 2005

Sour Duck's Take on Inhibited Writing, Anger, and Brutal Women

Sour Duck had some thoughts on my Intelligent Blogging post. Cool, right?

She disagreed with some of the things I said, and got all riled up to write, and then:

I initially felt very charged and excited by the prospect of writing about some of the issues Kameron inadvertently raised for me through her post; however, as I was mentally formulating responses to it, I also became very aware that I should be careful not to tread on her toes. In other words, I became concerned that if I disagreed with her, she might come on over to my blog and leave a hostile or semi-hostile comment, or post one at her blog. This concern/fear/anxiety, as you can imagine, greatly inhibits your writing. I have no idea how much of it has to do with the fact that she is a well-known blogger, but certainly that has something to do with it.

Dude, if I ever show up on anyone's blog and personally attack them and tell them they're a flaming freakshow, please delete my comment, OK?

Disagree with me, please! Conversation is what this is all about.

Some of her other comments in the post also bring up that funny fear of hostile comments. Apparently, fear of trolls was a big topic of conversation at the Blogher conference. There is a desperate fear that speaking one's own opinion will... make people angry with you.

Well, yea.

Yea, it will.

If you haven't pissed somebody off, you're not trying hard enough.

I haven't had much of a problem with trolls, because I adhere to Teresa Nielsen Hayden's advice about trolls. She's consistently got comments numbering in the hundreds, and the conversation stays civil, intelligent, and relatively on-topic. They're always worth reading:

9. If you judge that a post is offensive, upsetting, or just plain unpleasant, it's important to get rid of it, or at least make it hard to read. Do it as quickly as possible. There's no more useless advice than to tell people to just ignore such things. We can't. We automatically read what falls under our eyes.

10. Another important rule: You can let one jeering, unpleasant jerk hang around for a while, but the minute you get two or more of them egging each other on, they both have to go, and all their recent messages with them. There are others like them prowling the net, looking for just that kind of situation. More of them will turn up, and they'll encourage each other to behave more and more outrageously. Kill them quickly and have no regrets.

This is one of the problems I have trying to read comments over at feministing, because they've let a lot of rather useless assholes propagate, and comments often become off-topic and unreadable.

I know they've got a great hit count there: there's no reason they shouldn't be having consistently great conversations with comments in the hundreds. Unfortunately, one or two assholes are hijacking threads and pissing people off, and a lot of great threads devolve into off-topic pissing matches.

As said, I haven't had much trouble with trolls. Comments like, "Feminists give the best head," and "This is just a FUCKING STUPID POST. U R STUPIDDDD!!!" get deleted outright. Stuff like, "I completely disagree. You're killing babies," might get engaged with if they're willing to get teased out into having an actual discussion instead of just screaming, "U R KILLING BABIES!!!!" over and over again.

I had one persistent heckler whose post I had to delete two or three times. He was a right-winger who tried to start pissing matches at other blogs, and ran in here and guerilla-posted about homosexuality being a "birth defect" and felt it neccessary to give me his permission to go "muff diving" with the nearest "homosexual" I could get my hands on.

Assholes like that aren't looking for an intelligent discussion. They're looking for a fight. And I'm not going to give over any of my time or attention to them.


This is my space. I own and control it, and it's my job to make it a place where my readers can come and engage in a discussion without feeling like somebody's gonna be able to get away with calling them a "cunt" or an "angry feminist." I don't tolerate personal attacks. Attack the issue, not the poster. You may very well get somebody telling you your opinion omits certain facts, or they disagree with your take on things, but when we get to the "you're fucking stupid" place, I step in.

As for anger, and disagreeing with me, I'll steal my response at Sour Duck's blog wholesale:

Oh, lord, please disagree: goodness knows the boys have no trouble doing it. Disagreement does *not* mean you hate a person, it just means you think differently about their ideas. That's a *good* thing. A place without dissent is a place without conversation, and that sort of place stagnates.

As for the anger bit: don't get me wrong, anger is an absolutely fantastic tool. The problem with blogging while running on sheer anger, however, is that you often don't pause to think over the particular issue you're discussing, so your thoughts are more likely to come out disjointed.

When I blog angry, it tends to take the form of linking others' thoughts without commentary, which often implies that I completely agree with those thoughts (and, again, *completely* agreeing with everyone is the first step to stagnation. If you do agree, try a, "I thought this was interesting, but I had another take on it"). It also leads people to assume what I'm thinking about the subject, since I've just left a link and a curse word and not much else...

Anger is a potent tool. It has the ability to get you up off your ass when the shit hits the fan. It also can cause you to flail wildly and smack anything that comes near you while gnashing your teeth in a feiry, but ultimately, unproductive, rage.

The trick is to channel the anger into something more constructive. Have your anger moment, step back, feel it, and then engage the topic again with the anger running just beneath your rational thought so that what you end up with in the end is a biting, intelligent criticism instead of incoherent screaming.

Lots of people get turned off by incoherent screaming, and they just tune out. My goal is to be read. If I'm not speaking in a thoughtful, intelligent, entertaining way (and the anger can add entertainment value, particularly when irony and sarcasm are involved), then people will go elsewhere for thoughts and commentary. Not neccessarily a bad thing, but talking to myself (as noted in Burningbird's post) can get kind of dull.

What drives me is getting mail from readers who've changed their lives or looked at something differently because of what I've written. Beyond self-expression, that's what I'm in it for, and if I'm unreadable, I'm not reaching anybody.

The issue of the suppression of women's anger is a big one, and an ongoing discussion that's been around forever. It's been around so long that I'm still startled to see both men and women all over the net still use the "You're just an angry woman" brush-off. The first insult you'll get in any forum if you don't tow the party line is that you're being an angry feminist (I was recently taken to task for being "an angry white feminist" at an SF criticism blog, of all things).

I admit that when I get pegged this way, it pisses me the fuck off, and the best retort for something like that is irony and sarcasm. Getting into a bitching match with the offender just ends up devolving the thread into a pissing match about who's got the most degrees and/or life experience, and that doesn't get anybody anywhere.

Please don't ever feel you need to apologize for disagreeing with anybody (especially me - I'm really not all that "well known" a blogger!). That's the pure joy of the net, particularly for those who blog anonymously.

I *want* people to disagree with me, intelligently. I get into huge arguments with those around me all the time about things I blog about, and my take on issues. One of my best real-world friends was actually one of the people who e-mailed me about my lazy blogging style, and I was so pissed off with him for a week that I could barely speak.

In the end, since he certainly wasn't the only one who'd brought it up, I read and re-read his comments and looked at my blog again and realized there was a lot of truth to his comments. I was losing myself to the feminist blog "community" and becoming part of a thing instead of being an individual.

That's not something unique to feminist blogs at all; it happens within many, many communities, usually because of the concern you noted: you start feeling like you "know" these bloggers, and feel that if you disagree with what they're saying, you're attacking them. And who wants to attack people whose opinions they respect?

I remember taking on a post of Amanda Marcotte's (now of Pandagon) just before she won the Koufax Award and being a little leery of doing it, cause I knew she read me.

In the end, I posted my criticism, and she and some others hopped on board, and there was a conversation going on that hadn't gone on before. Doesn't mean I hate Amanda: she's superkewl and I respect the hell out of her, but sometimes I'm going to disagree with what she says, and that's OK.

I love that people disagree with me, and so long as it's well-thought out and worth engaging, I'll totally engage with it. That's the great fun of blogging.

Sitting around with a bunch of people who tell you you're perfect and superkewl all day is a great pat on the back, but ultimately not terribly constructive.

10 comments so far. What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

I'm always suprised by the relatively low number of trolls on the blogs I read, in general, but part of that of course has to do with the fact that conscientious people are deleting lame troll comments, I suppose.

I oftentimes overworry that I'm coming off like a troll--we all think we're thoughtful and rational when we post comments, but I imagine at least some of the trolls do, too.

One thing that I'm curious about is where you find yourself drawing the line--personal attacks is one place that is fairly easy to define, but it gets pretty murky pretty easily after that. One difficult example I think is: 'Hijacking' a post's comments by two trolls; well, this is one place where livejournal does a pretty good job, because the comments are threaded, and you can avoid whole threads if you want to.

There is also this: What's a person to do when they are perceived as a troll and they think they are making a point that is apropos and not a personal attack, etc.? In the end I think it seems right that whomever is doing the blog is the final arbiter, but it does seem sort of ad hoc sometimes. I once had my comments deleted from Hugo's blog because he thought I was another commenter--not because of what I had to say but because of what that other commenter had said in the past. So it becomes a pretty big responsibility (as I think Hayden's post says) to the blogger to be fair.

Sorry this is so long, it just struck a chord. And I could rant more about how right you are that people ought to disagree intelligently (and with care and even compassion, if possible and needed) out here, because it makes things interesting, and that's one way that I, at least, learn. 

Posted by jpjeffrey

Anonymous said...

Kam, you're my favorite angry white feminist. :) 

Posted by Patrick

Anonymous said...

Awwwwww.... I should get you a T-shirt, Patrick! :)

"The Brutal Woman is my favorite Angry White Feminist." 

Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

May I have one, too?  

Posted by David

Anonymous said...

jp, yea, to be totally honest, I've seen you at other blogs and listened to a couple of my buddies rant about you offline, and yea, you do sometimes come across as a troll :)

A lot of this, I think, has to do with the way that you phrase things. *I* know that you're just looking for a discussion - I know we e-mailed about it offline once - but there's a way you write that makes many people feel like you're personally attacking them, stuff that borders on the "you're just stupid and illiterate" variety.

This isn't a bitch session about it - I understand it, but I know it's something you've run across on other boards (I read a post of yours once about it).

As for drawing the line with trolls, it's a pretty easy line for me.

What's a person to do when they are perceived as a troll and they think they are making a point that is apropos and not a personal attack, etc.?  

If you've got a good blog administrator and a sincere poster, then the blog admin will either e-mail the poster and say, "Dude, you're coming off kinda harsh, can you tone it down?" or will ask the person to do so within the comments section. If the poster's response is to rip into the admin, the other commenters, and etc. instead of reigning it in and/or apologizing for coming off that way (if they really didn't want to come off that way and didn't realize they were), then you either delete or disemvowel all of their posts.

If somebody reigns it in, it's no problem; let the conversation go on.

And, of course, every blog admin is going to be different. On a bad day, you might just delete anything that rubs you the wrong way. That can be bad, because it limits discussion, but ultimately, it's their decision, it's their space. If they want to emasculate the space, shit, that's their perogative. I don't think the issue of "fairness" really comes into it at all. It is what it is, and a blog admin is going to try and facilitate the sort of audience s/he wants through whatever way they feel is neccessary.

As an audience, it's pretty easy to show your disapproval, too: stop showing up. May make the admin rethink what sort of a place they want, or, hell, it may even be the quiet sort of place they want.


Posted by Kameron Hurley

Anonymous said...

Kameron - I'm glad you moved your excellent response here (it gets hidden in my comments section).

THANK YOU so much for your response. Now that it's in the light of day, your response seems so kind and "common sense". Thanks for that.

I'm currently trying to move my blog into new directions - so that I can occasionally have more direct dialogue with other bloggers' writing. And I'm going to do it, even if I'm kicking and screaming, because otherwise it's just too placid and tame at my place.

The advice on trolls and flamers was helpful, thanks, but I hope you didn't think I was terming you as a potentional troll - I definitely wasn't. I think part of what was at the back of my mind was an exchange between Utopian Hell and SistersTalk (I believe) a while back. But, hey, they both dealt with it and both are still a-blogging.

"If you haven't pissed somebody off, you're not trying hard enough." - I love this line! :D There was a similar comment at Blogher something like, if you're a woman, you'll get criticized, no matter what you do! So you might as well do what you want...

Anyways, muchos gracias for your post.

Take care - SD 

Posted by Sour Duck

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the honesty, Kameron. In all honesty the only person I *knew* I offended/pissed off was Dr. B of Bitch, PhD (and Hugo, who actually mistook me for somebody else). So it's actually good, in a way, to hear that my intuitions aren't completely off.

That said, it helps to hear it directly from somebody I haven't had an altercation of any kind with -- makes it automatically less likely to be a personal axe to grind, and I'm more likely to take it seriously.

You know what it comes down to? It's the damn Philosophy classes I took when I first started college, all of those years ago. Taught me to 'argue' in both the negative and positive senses of the word, and I *still* haven't been able to shake it...though I'll contintue to try.

I suppose on the positive side of things, I think I often do just want to ask 'why?' sorts of questions when others don't, and that can come across as a personal attack. I don't want to quit asking 'why' even when other people think it's innappropriate, but I'm pretty sure there's a way to do it without being a troll.


Posted by jpjeffrey

jeff said...

I think what you said regarding asking somebody to reign it in and then deciding on further action based on what they do then...I think if somebody has the time and wants to make the effort, that's the best way to go about it.

And in that way, at least, I think fairness does enter into it. You might take the time and effort because your goal is good discussion, but I think that probably if somebody is being troll-like, the chances that their discussion is the discussion you *want* is low, so 'doing the right thing' by asking them to tone it down probably has something to do with fairness, too.

Plus, the whole thing about 'this is my space, I can do with it what I want' is, of course, totally true, but I think taking that tach(sp?) ignores the stuff about the blog being owned by one, but the community being owned by everybody, per Hayden's comments on trolls.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for this post. There's been a bit of a turfwar where I live at the moment because I refuse to backdown on what I think is an important issue.

Most people have resorted to personal attacks (threatening my boyfriend, me, telling me I'm stupid) and it's good to hear that there are other ways of dealing with it. It's mostly just got me upset, which is never helpful.

But it's true what you said, that if you haven't pissed someone off you're not trying hard enough. I'd like to think that through the course of it all that some of the people I've been talking to have started to think about things, rather than just saying they don't and then illustrating exactly how little they know.

Anyway, what I actually came here to say was:

Thanks so much for continuing to be one of my favourite reads. I learn so much from you.


Posted by Emma

Anonymous said...

I liked this advice. I agree with it and I use it:

"10. Another important rule: You can let one jeering, unpleasant jerk hang around for a while, but the minute you get two or more of them egging each other on, they both have to go, and all their recent messages with them. There are others like them prowling the net, looking for just that kind of situation. More of them will turn up, and they'll encourage each other to behave more and more outrageously. Kill them quickly and have no regrets."

That's exactly how I handle my comments. I make lots of people angry. But I make my comments on my blog, not theirs. Visiting my blog with your buddies to start a riot after you've read a negative comment about yourself is really, well, childish. Childish comments throw the conversation off-topic and it invites trolls who are just looking for a heated debate so they can make nasty comments -- just for the attention!

I've read many times that one of the subjects at Blogher was women being afraid of the backlash if they make people angry. At the risk of sounding insensitive: get over it. If you're speaking your truth the way you see it, you'll make lots of people angry. I do it all the time.  

Posted by Genia