Fear is a Feminist Issue
I started blogging when I was 13, before anyone had coined the term “blog.”
I posted several times a day, long streams of consciousness that covered everything from my skincare regime (Stridex acne pads) to my latest celebrity crush (Leonardo DiCaprio, natch).
“I want to publish something someday,” I wrote in 2001, never considering that blogging was a type of publication. “I want to influence people through my writing. I want to be immortal.”
Those were the days before Internet immortality.
The playful days when you could bare your soul to strangers and publish silly and stupid things online without worrying about those words sticking around to haunt you. I only know what I wrote back then because I printed out a few entries before deleting my account.
Now I’m in my thirties, and I’ve published many things: magazine articles, essays and advertising copy. I still keep an online journal. But lately blogging feels like a party I’m crashing despite my better judgement. I feel obligated to attend: a successful writing platform requires visibility, and Google—that ultimate arbiter of online visibility—favors people who publish often. I also feel obligated to bring something good. I’m a professional, after all. I’m no longer interested in scattering unfinished thoughts and adolescent rambles across the web.
How do you meet the Internet’s insatiable demand for content without sabotaging the quality of your craft? How do you remain raw and vulnerable, two qualities of good writing, while protecting yourself from future embarrassment?
Recently I pulled out those printouts of my web journal in search of answers. The writing was better than I remembered. I’d actively challenged myself to push past my comfort zone and embrace my idiosyncrasies. I wasn’t confident but I acted that way, because it was an ideology I had chosen to wholeheartedly embrace. Ah, adolescence.
Why was I struggling to adopt that same attitude, twenty years later?
I found my answer in a Mashable article about Lindy West, a writer who’s made a name for herself by being all things I want to be: honest, brash and unapologetic. In the article, Aliza Weinberger writes:
"As ubiquitous as the Internet is in our lives, working online can still be like the wild west. The pioneers most at risk on this frontier aren't settlers fighting off dysentery, but women writing and in the public spotlight. Blogs and news sites are full of horror stories like GamerGate where women and minority voices are violently silenced, or even just belittled on the very medium where they live."
Oh my God, I thought. That’s it.
I’m not worried that I’ll one day feel ashamed or embarrassed by the words I publish. I’m worried that someone will use those words as incentive for a full-scale, personal internet assault. I’m reacting to real dangers that didn’t exist twenty years ago.
Outspoken women aren’t just being heckled by Internet trolls. They’re also receiving death threats.
“Misogynists have threatened to rape me, come to my home and kill my family, and silence me in myriad violent ways,” blogger Glennon Doyle Melton recently wrote. “It is not possible to be a woman who speaks up about anything and NOT receive messages like this.”
This violence doesn’t just come in the form of words. People are posting women’s home addresses online and encouraging others to call in fake police reports, so that SWAT teams will crash through their windows.
One blogger I follow received an email with her face expertly Photoshopped into a photo of hardcore porn. The sender threatened to flood the Internet with it—and her contact information—if she didn’t pay a ransom.
Wild west? Hell, sometimes the Internet feels like WWIII.
That realization silenced my inner conflict. I knew what I had to do. I would give up blogging as I knew it—the constant obligation and the feelings of never measuring up. I would bid farewell to the old me who felt scared without understanding why, and embrace a new attitude:
I will be wrong sometimes. I will write things that I will look back on later and wish I hadn’t, probably because I used too many adjectives or was a little self-indulgent in that third paragraph. But I’m going to keep writing, and keep blogging, and keep making myself vulnerable on the internet. Because those 13-year old girls growing up today deserve to have the same fun I did, without being afraid of getting ripped to shreds.
Maybe, like me, they’ll look back on their writing and learn something from their younger selves. I’ve learned that my fear runs deeper than perfectionism or a fear of being judged. I don’t feel confident. But for those girls, I’ll fake it. I’ll push past my comfort zone and embrace my idiosyncrasies. Because this is an ideology I have chosen to wholeheartedly embrace.